Saturday, January 20, 2018

Shutdown Diary, January 2018: Day 1 - What does it mean for the government to shut down?

Disclaimer:  The thoughts and feelings expressed in this post are solely the author's and do not represent the official position of any government agency.

First, a lot of people have been asking me about the effect of the shutdown is on basic services that they enjoy from the Federal government.  Here's a link to a good article in the Washington Post, a Q&A covering the basics.

Now, what did I do the first day of the government shutdown?  Mostly, it was a typical Saturday.  Walked the dog (several times).  The Boy had a piano lesson followed by his girl-BFF's birthday party.  We gave the dog a bath.  The boy did some homework.  And in the evening, The Boy went to a lock-in and hubby and I had a date night.

But in between all of that, we watched the news to see what Congress was up to.  As of the publication of this entry, the headlines are as follows:

Neither Party's Leaders Give an Inch on First Day of Shutdown
                                                                      -- Washington Post

So . . . a productive day, then.  😐

Lawmakers Play Shut Down Blame Game
                                          -- The New York Times

Always important to establish whose fault a problem is before you solve the problem.  😑


Pink-Clad Multitude Gathers Downtown for 2nd Annual Dallas Women's March                                                   
                                        -- The Dallas Morning News

"Shutdown?  What shutdown?  There's a shutdown?  Of what?  God, I hope they haven't closed down Southfork.  I haven't been there yet, even though I've lived here almost 20 years."  (But, you know, well done, ladies, on trumping the national news.)


Thousands Flock Downtown For Women's March: 'We Have to Keep Standing Up'
                                        -- Chicago Sun Times

The Central Time Zone is feminist.


Head of Popular Girl Band Leads N. Korean Team to S. Korea
                                                             -- The Houston Chronicle
Never mind.  🏂


Why Does Congress Still Get Paychecks During a Shutdown?  It's in the Constitution.
                                                          -- The Washington Times

Sigh.


Photo Shows 'Ivy League Killer' Pretending to Crush Friend's Skull
                                                                 -- New York Post

On a lighter note . . . .  😬

So, there you have it.  Nothing happened in Congress today.  They want to point fingers at each other, but sincerely, they should circle up because, from my perspective, all side deserve a helping of recrimination pie.  Their central job is to fund the government.  If they can't figure out how to work together to do that, then, well . . . that's not good for our country.  Not just bad for the Republicans or bad for the Democrats.  Bad for Americans.  Because a Congress that cannot even work together to accomplish its central function is a sick body.  And this is the body that governs us.  Fingers crossed that tomorrow will be filled with something other than a multibillion dollar game of "I know you are, but what am I?"  Ladies and gentlemen of the United States Congress, I'm not interested in whose fault it is.  I am interested in how you fix it.  So do that thing.

Nighty-night.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Shutdown Diary, January 2018 -- Preface

Disclaimer:  The thoughts and feelings expressed in this post are solely the author's and do not represent the official position of any government agency.

Well, it's a little early yet to start this, I suppose.

It's only 11:20 p.m. Eastern time.  The Senate has forty minutes to decide whether we're shut or open for business.

C-SPAN shows 50 "yes" and 48 "no."  Five Democrats have voted "yes," among them the new Senator from Alabama, Doug Jones.  (The other Democrats are Joe Donnelly, Heidi Heitkamp, Joe Manchin, and Claire McCaskill.)

But four Republicans have voted "no."  They are Jeff Flake, Lindsey Graham, Mike Lee and Rand Paul.  John McCain is not present (out of town recovering from cancer treatments, presumably).  And the Speaker of the House, Mitch McConnell, has also not voted.  He is likely not going to vote this round because if they are unsuccessful, he can bring it back to a vote on a procedural rule of some sort.  So he's probably not going to vote in order to preserve that option for himself.

They need 60 votes in favor of the continuing resolution (the "CR") to limit debate.  This is known as "cloture."  It's the filibuster killer.  If they don't get the 60 (3/5 of the Senate), they can't close debate on the CR.  And, thus, no actual vote on the bill.

Or, more precisely, in the words of the U.S. Senate Glossary (yes, that's an actual thing):  Cloture is "[t]he only procedure by which the Senate can vote to place a time limit on consideration of a bill or other matter, and thereby overcome a filibuster. Under the cloture rule (Rule XXII), the Senate may limit consideration of a pending matter to 30 additional hours, but only by vote of three-fifths of the full Senate, normally 60 votes."

They're not getting cloture before Midnight Eastern.  Or, at least, I don't think that they will.


So tomorrow's Saturday.  I wouldn't go to work anyway and I rarely work on the weekends anyway.  (I established something called "boundaries" when I left the law firm and have attempted to maintain clear lines of demarcation between "work time" and "home time."  Weekends, unless absolutely necessary, are always home time.)

But the difference this weekend is that it's not merely that I wouldn't choose to work, but, if it were one of those absolutely necessary weekend (which it is, thankfully, not), I would not be permitted to work.  I have not been deemed essential -- that is, excepted from the furlough -- which means that as of midnight Eastern, if there is no funding via the CR or otherwise, I am not allowed to work, even if I wanted to.

So there.

Time now, 11:36 p.m. Eastern.  Twenty-four minutes to go.

C-SPAN shows no movement.

So here we are.  It's been roughly four years and three months since the last shutdown.  Do you remember why we shut down last time?  It was the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare.  This time, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, DACA.  I make no observations of comments about the legitimacy of the government shutdown in either case.

But I can tell you this:  It's not a vacation for me and those like me.  It's day upon day of uncertainty, wondering whether we will be paid when we are brought back to work.  Because Congress doesn't have to pay us. They have to vote to give us our back pay.  In 2013, they did.  But they don't have to, and so this year, just like in 2013, we'll wait and get a little more anxious every day.

11:54 p.m. Eastern.  The Washington Post says that Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell will be speaking from the Senate floor.

I see nothing yet.

Well, I think I'll sign off and walk the dog before I go to bed.

See you on the flip side for Day 1, unless, of course, they get something done in the next five minutes (11:55 p.m. Eastern).

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Parsing “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”

I was just in the car listening to the song, written by Bob Geldof (Boomtown Rats) and Midge Ure (Misfits, Ultravox, and others), for Band Aid, a conglomeration of British musicians in 1984 with the purpose of raising money to help the people of Ethiopia, who were suffering famine at that time. 

And as I listened to this Christmas song of my youth — this feel-goody, do-goody, late-middle-20th-Century, holiday ditty — my early 21st Century, late-middle-aged brain was horror struck.  To explain why, I shall now parse the lyrics of this modern Christmas classic, giving you my line by line reaction. 

It's Christmas time, and there's no need to be afraid.

Indeed, there should not be, Paul Young. 

At Christmas time, we let in light and we banish shade.

Yes. Good things. Good thoughts.

And in our world of plenty, we can spread a smile of joy.

Yes, Boy George, let us share our bounty with those less fortunate. I am with you and for you. 

Throw your arms around the world at Christmas time.

Joy to the World!

But say a prayer and pray for the other ones.

The other ones?  That phrase hits my ear wrong in 2017.  Like setting them apart, over there — They are “the other,” they are not us.  Hmm.  Maybe through the lens of time, this construction “the other ones” to describe people literally starving to death on another continent was an okay construction. In its time. You know. Bob Geldof had his heart in the right place.  And this is George Michael’s voice at its most pure. Letting it go. For now . . . . 

At Christmas time, it's hard but while you're having fun,

Hard to think about other people’s pain when you’re having fun. This is true, Simon LeBon. Humans are selfish creatures. 

There's a world outside your window, and it's a world of dread and fear,

Also true, Simon, true both then and now. And the dread and fear seems a lot more local in 2017 than it did in 1984 when it was waaaay far away in Africa. 

Where the only water flowing is the bitter sting of tears.

Did they intend all along to have Sting sing the word “sting”?  Or is it a happy accident?

And the Christmas bells that ring there are the clanging chimes of doom.

I don’t know. Maybe they bring hope, the church bells, a reminder of faith in a God that saves to the people of this majority Christian country. 

Well tonight thank God it's them, instead of you!

Holy shit, Bono (and Bob and Midge)!  Is “better you than me” really the sentiment we’re going for here? (Here’s where I was literally horror struck.) I mean, Bono really belts it out here, and I’ve always really liked this part. But the line!  The painful awkwardness of that line!  Clang. 

And there won't be snow in Africa this Christmas time.

It doesn’t snow in Ethiopia. Ethiopia is north of the Equator, between the Equator and the Tropic of Cancer. It does rain, though, and they do have rivers, including the Nile (see later verse below).  Also — side note — you know where else it won’t snow this Christmas time? Australia. Do the Australians know it’s Christmas time at all?

The greatest gift they'll get this year is life (Oooh).

Ummmm, I can’t dispute this for them then, for me then, for us now. 

Where nothing ever grows, No rain or rivers flow.

The famine in Ethiopia occurred in the midst of a Civil War. Human Rights Watch and Oxfam UK have concluded that the 1983-85 famine in Ethiopia was “in large part created by government policies, specifically a set of so-called counter-insurgency strategies and ‘social transformation’ in non-insurgent areas.”  In other words, the Ethiopian government did it in order to put down a rebellion. It wasn’t caused by drought. It was caused by politics and corruption. Also, plenty of rivers in Ethiopia, see above, so rivers do flow . . . . 

Do they know it's Christmas time at all?

Probably, they do/did. It’s 62% (roughly) Christian. But I’m guessing their Christmas traditions were/are vastly different from those of the UK (or the good ol’ US of A), but I’m also guessing they celebrate(d). 

Here's to you! Raise a glass for everyone!

“You should feel good about yourself for caring about the benighted people of Africa.”

Here's to them!  Underneath that burning sun!

“Yay, them, in their uncomfortable living conditions!” (Actually, parts of Ethiopia are quite temperate, despite its location in the tropics.)

Do they know it's Christmas time at all?

Yes, probably. 

Feed the world, Feed the world, Feed the world.

Yes. Good. 

Let them know it's Christmas time again.

Assuming they knew and then forgot . . . .

[Repeat and Fade]

So, okay, yeah. The song is of its time. It’s a bit tone deaf by today’s standards, but so is Bugs Bunny and we still love him (mostly). 

Still, there’s this overarching paternalistic theme. I’d never noticed it until today when I was, for some reason, really listening to the song and not doing as I usually do, which is to allow it to sweep over me in waves of nostalgia. It smacks of the benevolent white man coming to save the savages:  “We will give you life. We will show you Christmas. We will save you with westernization.” 

Bob Geldof and Midge Ure didn’t mean to sound like English missionaries going into the wilderness. They had every good intention, I am sure.  But that attitude was kind of baked into mid-20th century culture:  White people must save the brown people from themselves. It never rains in Africa. There is no groundwater in Africa. It’s always scorching hot in Africa.  There are no plants in Africa.  People in Africa live in dirt with flies on their eyelids. (Damn you, Sally Struthers.) The northern European/American experience of a snowy Christmas is the only positive experience of Christmas. (Sucks for you, Australia.)

Today, we don’t think that way — or we shouldn’t — and we are shocked when we find someone who does.  And so this decades old song’s very Western view of the world (and especially the, “Oh Lord, thank goodness it’s not me!”) clangs louder in contemporary ears than it did 33 years ago. 

And, apparently, I’m not the only person who has been struck by the tone of the 30-year-old lyrics this century. Apparently, those lyrics rattled the ears of the Band Aid 30 crowd too.  (Band Aid 30 raised money for the Ebola epidemic victims.)

In my googling lyrics for this post, I found that the lyrics had been changed when they remade the song for a new era and a new crisis three years ago.

Here are the new lyrics, which replace the bit starting with Sting’s line, “Where the only water flowing is the bitter sting of tears”:

Where a kiss of love can kill you, and there's death in every tear.

And the Christmas bells that ring there are the clanging chimes of doom.

Well tonight we're reaching out and touching you.

Bring peace and joy this Christmas to West Africa.

A song of hope they'll have is being alive.

Why is comfort deadly fear?  Why is to touch to be scared?

How can they know it's Christmas time at all?

Here's to you!  Raise a glass to everyone.

Here's to them! And all their years to come.

Can they know it's Christmas time at all?

Feed the world, let them know it's Christmas time again.

Heal the world, let them know it's Christmas time again.

[Repeat and Fade]

No more better them than us lyric, see?  And it’s just a little less us/them than the 80s version. A tiny bit of growth and change over three decades. Good things. 

Merry Christmas. 

Monday, October 16, 2017

Me Too

There’s a viral social media thing happening right now in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal

Women are posting, “Me Too,” and/or #metoo, with a request that other women who have suffered sexual harassment and/or sexual assault also post “Me Too,” in order to get a sense of the magnitude of the problem. Sometimes the “Me Too” is accompanied by a brief description of something that happened to them. 

But I think that women, at least, already understand the magnitude:  It’s all of us and it’s for a lifetime. 

In fact, my default assumption about other adult women in America is that they, like me, have been sexually harassed and/or assaulted multiple times in their lives in small and, sadly, sometimes very large ways.

I am fairly certain that there are other women reading this blog who will have experienced some of the following, a sampling of moments from my own life:

  • Someone has, uninvited, grabbed her breasts from behind.
  • Someone has catcalled her to “compliment” her looks.
  •  Someone has catcalled (anti-catcalled?) her to tell her that she is fat.
  • Someone in the workplace has mistaken her role for a more traditionally female role.  (In my case, I was wheeling my litigation bag into court and someone assumed I was a paralegal lugging a lawyer’s stuff for him. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being a paralegal, of course. I couldn’t do my job without them. But I don’t think the assumption would have been made were I male.)
  • The prelaw advisor at her undergrad tried to discourage her from applying to law school, suggesting paralegal school instead. 
  • An older male someone in the workplace has pejoratively asked her age when she challenged his argument. 
  • A male someone has repeatedly  interrupted and/or talked over her during a meeting.
  • Conversely, such a someone has complained that he cannot hear her voice because it’s too soft when no one else seemed to have a problem hearing her. (This happened to me less than a month ago.)
  • Someone in the workplace has suggested that she is being argumentative (which is kind of my job, by the way) because of PMS or “that time of the month.”
  • A stranger on the street has told her to smile.
  • A stranger at a nightclub has danced up behind her, grinding their pelvis into her backside.
  • Someone she knows has forcibly kissed her.
  • Someone she knows has sent to her an unsolicited naked picture of their private parts. (Yes, that really happened, and pre-digital age.)

These examples span decades.  So, no, it doesn’t happen every day.  It doesn’t even happen every week or month. (Though it did happen more frequently when I was young....)  I fully expect to at least occasionally experience more of the similar for the rest of my life.

These things or things like these things (or worse than these things) have happened to all of us.  They are of varying degrees of severity, but these kinds of affronts and/or assaults are part of the landscape of a woman’s world. 

Not just the slutty ones.

Not just the dumb ones.

Not just the ones who wear short skirts and drink too much.

Not just the ones in Hollywood.

Not just the weak-minded ones. 

Not just the traditionally pretty ones.

Not just the young, naive ones.

Not just the ones who are “angry feminists.”

All of us.

And it begins early. I remember getting my first catcall at age 12. Freaking 12 years old, people.

So if it’s all women, why don’t we call it out all the time, or more often? It’s because the “lesser than” status and the “there to please me” status of women is baked into our culture.  You complain?  People tell you to lighten up. It was just a joke, just a kiss, just a sarcastic comment. “I didn’t mean any harm.  I’m sorry if I offended you.”  Maybe they call you a bitch. 

So this brings me to another default assumption I have developed as I have lived my female life in America:  Complaints often go unheard, even, sometimes, by other women. We don’t protest or speak out when these things happen because we don’t want to be shamed as sluts, derailed in our careers, put off or disbelieved.  Sometimes, when it happens we may be so shocked that it happened (or frightened by it) that we don’t speak up because we have, in our own surprise and disbelief, lost the ability to speak up.  Sometimes, we don’t speak up because we just want to forget the humiliation and get back to business.

Besides, until a crowd of famous women start making a stink, no one believed them either. Who would believe the word of a solitary nobody?

Finally, a point I want to emphasize:  It’s not ALL men. I know many wonderful, respectful, enlightened men of all generations. But it’s ENOUGH men to make women like me a tad wary — trust less, be afraid of the night, question motives — by default.

And doesn’t that just suck for all of us?

So how does it all change?

How does participating in #metoo to show the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault improve things?

My friends, it goes back to the “wives and daughters” thing from the lead up to the 2016 election. I wrote about it here.  Though people complained at the time that you shouldn’t have to have a female loved one in order to have sympathy or to be outraged by sexual assault or harassment, that’s exactly what #metoo is getting at. It’s trying to show that everyone has loved ones who have experienced sexual harassment and/or assault. Right? It’s showing that it’s all of us.  All the wives and all the daughters and all the sisters and all the mothers....  Yours, mine, all of ours. 

And if that realization takes hold in the hearts and minds of all whom #metoo wishes to convince, maybe the future wives, daughters, sisters, and mothers will have fewer sad defaults (like mine) that shape how they view and move through the world.

So, yep, me too. 

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Excuse me while I geek out about Star Wars for a moment

First, for those uninitiated into Star Wars culture, there’s something known as the Expanded Universe. The Expanded Universe grew up in (more or less) the late 80s/early 90s,during the void between the first (or “second”) trilogy — the Luke Trilogy, I like to call it — and the second (or “first”) trilogy, the Anakin Trilogy.  The Expanded Universe existed in the form of novels, comics, games, etc. It followed the families of the movie characters we know and added new characters, storylines, aspects of the Force, types of Force users. It expanded the Star Wars universe. (See?)

The Expanded Universe persisted after the Anakin Trilogy until Disney acquired Lucasfilm. With that acquisition, the Expanded Universe became “Legends,” and only the movies, certain cartoons, and certain print media were deemed Star Wars Canon. (Personally, I loathe the use of a word like canon to describe Star Wars, like its a religion, but I didn’t make up the lingo, so I’m stuck with it and shall use it.)

I never took of the Expanded Universe. But I was aware of it, vaguely.  In the Disney landscape of Canon and Legends, only Canon is real and relevant to the storyworld. Except...except that Disney keeps reintroducing aspects of Legends (the former Expanded Universe) into Canon. Click here for examples.  So Legends/the Expanded Universe remains relevant in the Disney Star Wars era when theorizing what might happen next in the movies (and cartoon and print media). 

Still with me?  Good. (Honestly, I wouldn’t blame you if you weren’t. That explanation was tedious. Tedious but necessary, I think.)

Now that we’ve been through all that, I present to you, in bullet point format, my theory about the Kylo/Rey Trilogy, inspired by the most recent trailer for Star Wars: The Last Jedi, season 3 of the Star Wars Rebels cartoon, the Clone Wars cartoon, and my tenuous knowledge of the Expanded Universe/Legends. 

  • There were folks called Gray (or Grey) Jedi in the Expanded Universe.  They drew from both sides of the Force, but fell to neither. (Except for when they did, but never mind that for now.) They were neither light nor dark. They were balanced. 
  • Anakin Skywalker was The Chosen One who would bring balance to the Force.
  • In the Clone Wars cartoon there was a planet called Mortis, a supernatural world, the source of the Force, if you will, where dwelt The Father, The Daughter, and The Son. The Daughter was Light. The Son was Dark. The Father remained in the middle, balancing the Force. 
  • In Star Wars Rebels, season 3, there’s a character called The Bendu. The Bendu is a force sensitive creature who describes himself thusly:  “Jedi and Sith wield the Ashla and Bogan. The light and the dark. I'm the one in the middle. The Bendu.”  He’s in the middle, like The Father. He’s balanced. 
  • In the finale of Star Wars Rebels season 3, The Bendu uses the Force. When he does this, stones rise from the ground and begin to swirl around him. He’s scary-powerful and he shows everyone just how powerful (and terrifying) he is in this episode. 
  • In the most recent trailer for The Last Jedi, Rey meditates, in touch with the Force, and rocks float, the ground cracks...like The Bendu.
  • This frightens Luke. And he’s seen it before.  He says he wasn’t afraid of it then and he should have been afraid, and that’s why he fears it in Rey. (Assumption:  Luke saw that before with Kylo Ren/Ben Solo when he was Luke’s student.)
  • In The Force Awakens, Kylo Ren tries in many ways — including patricide — to suppress his light side so that he can become like Darth Vader, fully Sith. (But, query, was Vader fully Sith?) It’s a struggle for Kylo Ren. We see, I think, a continuation of this struggle in the most recent trailer for The Last Jedi.  Neither light nor dark appear suit him. 
  • Also, in the most recent trailer for The Last Jedi, Rey says that she needs someone to show her her place in “all this.” The next scene is Kylo Ren offering his hand to someone. The trailer wants us to think it’s Rey he’s offering his hand to and that she’s asked him for guidance. It’s equally plausible that she’s talking to Luke, though. What’s clear is that she’s confused as to where she belongs. Maybe neither light nor dark suit her either.
  • Maybe Rey and Kylo Ren do join forces in the Force.
  • Maybe Rey and Kylo Ren become Gray Jedi. Neither light nor dark.
  • Maybe they are the ones in the middle, fulfilling their grandfather’s (assumption about Rey) legacy to bring balance to the Force. 

Thank you for your patience.  I really needed to get that out somewhere. Now back to our regularly scheduled momming. 

  

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

That Day I Lost My Shit Before A Hearing

I woke up at 2:30 a.m. that morning, and had not been able to get back to sleep. It wasn't from anxiety that I woke up, even though I had a big, important hearing later that morning -- a hearing that touched on national policy issues, a hearing that our executive office in DC was interested in, a hearing I'd better not screw up.  Okay, maybe a little anxiety was at play . . . But mainly, I think, I woke up from being 47 and from experiencing that phase of life that being 47 begins to introduce you to -- the one with temperature issues, lack of sleep, and a higher risk of heart attack. (Lo, do I loathe to blame something on hormones -- because that's so lame, and it feels anti-feminist. But insomnia is one of the symptoms too, for the condition that afflicts women "of a certain age.")

Anyway, I woke up WAY too early on a day when I really needed to sleep, and I suffered for it. 

The day before the day of the big, important hearing had been a tough day too.  This big, important hearing was not happening on its original setting. It was happening two weeks later than originally scheduled.  And, long before, I'd arranged my schedule so that other important (but maybe not quite so big) matters, would occur a couple of weeks after the big, important hearing. With other matters deferred to after the big, important hearing I would be able to focus exclusively on the big, important hearing.  And then I could focus on these other important, but not quite so big, things after the big, important hearing had concluded.  That way they wouldn't compete.  See?  Planning ahead.  That's what a good lawyer does. 

But then the big, important hearing got moved right on top of all the other important matter that I also needed to handle, and that I'd carefully scheduled to avoid the big, important hearing.

So, you know, shit. 

And I don't have help. I don't have associates I can shove things off on. I share a paralegal with five other lawyers. I do not have a secretary. We are lean at the government law office (despite the generalized complaints in the wider world of government waste).

Anyway, the day before the day of the big, important hearing was trying for two reasons:

First, I had all the other important stuff I had to cram into that day because I would not have time the rest of the week (or at least the next two days, as previously supposed) because of the resetting of the big, important hearing.

Second, the exhibits of my main opponent were not delivered to me in a manner in which I can access them.  (They were delivered via a website link, which my office IT policy forbids me to access.) The link was sent on Friday night.  On Monday morning (the day before the day of the big, important hearing), I saw the email with the link I was forbidden to click. I immediately  informed my opponent of this problem.

One lawyer on that vast team of attorneys on the other side told a paralegal (via email copied to me) to have hard copies delivered to me.  Perfect. Hooray!  Another lawyer at the same firm emailed me about setting up a call or emailing them. But I didn't need that, I needed the exhibits to read them and decided if I was okay with them.  And lawyer the first was having them delivered. I had also informed opposing that I would have to leave at 3:30 for an appointment with my son.

So, I waited for the hard copies while I worked on my other cases. The binders didn't arrive before I had to leave.  I sort of expected this:  their exhibit list was vast. 

So I left at 3:30 p.m. as planned, thinking, "Oh well, they'll be delivered in the late afternoon and I'll just get in early tomorrow to look at them right before the hearing."

Except they weren't delivered. 

When I arrived at the office, I had nothing.  I was not happy. 

In retrospect, I see that there was a miscommunication within the the big firm -- as between the two lawyers communicating with me about the exhibits -- regarding delivery of exhibits to me in a form I am permitted to accept. That can happen. And maybe I should have confirmed before I left the office that the notebooks would be delivered by X time. (Still, it's the responsibility of the party offering exhibits to get them exchanged, not mine to demand them be delivered. Just last week I had emailed exhibits and the email bounced back so I had to hustle and get paper copies in the snail mail so that they would be timely delivered.)

So, already exhausted at the beginning of what was sure to be a long, tedious, and mentally taxing day, I was not in a frame of mind to be magnanimous and understanding. And neither was my boss, who directed me to request a continuance before the big, important hearing started based upon the failure to exchange exhibits.

So, yeah.  No pressure.

And then I entered the courtroom.

 (Here's where I lost my shit.)

The younger of the two lawyers I had communicated with regarding exhibits started trying to explain. I was not interested in explanations. I raised my voice. I said vaguely angry and frustrated things. (Inside, I uncharitably thought, "You young, single, nonparent at a big firm with a large staff, you can't possibly fathom the pressures I am under," or thoughts to that effect.)  Then I dragged the other, older (which is to say, he is my age) lawyer I'd communicated with about exhibits into it. (The my-age lawyer, incidentally, is someone I have known since law school and a Facebook friend -- so very likely to read this. Hi! 😊)

The courtroom fell silent. All eyes (it seemed to me anyway) turned to me in my pique. Still agitated, I told the younger lawyer we'd just talk to the judge about it and, inwardly mortified at having made a scene, I made my way to my seat (stacked high with four binders -- my exhibits for the hearing delivered at last).

A colleague, a friend who was a fellow young associate at my old law firm (and his old firm too), made his way to me and asked if I was okay. 

"I've been better," I said, exasperatedly. And then I told him that it'll all be okay because, in the end, none of this is personal. It's just our jobs. At the end of the day, I said, we will finish our work and no matter what happens in that big, important hearing, we will remain beautiful children of God, if you believe in God, and good humans, if you don't. 

I was calming down. I'd regained perspective, the perspective I always seek to hold in my head with this job:  that this is merely my job. It's not me. It's but one side of a multifaceted life that includes family, friends, puzzles, books, games, occasional crafts, photography, long walks in the fresh air, music, writing, fabulous shoes, and so many other beautiful things. This job, so full of so many conflicts and frustrations, is not personal.

And then another lawyer friend said she couldn't wait to read the blog entry on this. "When do I have time?" I said. But then I thought, yeah, perhaps I do have time. Perhaps I needed to be reminded that this occasional writing thing, this public diary, is good for my soul. So, thank you, friend. 

At a break in the hearing, I gave the two lawyers I'd barked at hugs and we all said we're sorry. We're all still friends. I'm glad they don't think it's personal either.

So what did I learn here?  Maybe nothing. Maybe that I should confirm that a delivery I am expecting is actually on its way. Maybe don't schedule anything within a month after the scheduled date of a big, important hearing. Maybe take deep cleansing breaths before I enter a courtroom when am out of sorts. Maybe those things. Yeah. Maybe just that no matter what happens, it'll be okay. 

(By the way, in case you're wondering: continuance not granted. But I got extra latitude with the exhibits.)


Sunday, August 13, 2017

Colorblind




I have been blind.

I have been self-deceived. 

I have been ignorant.

Let me explain. Or try to . . . . 

I grew up in the immediate post-segregation era of the South/Southwest.

And I remember a few racial conflicts at school, but not that many, really. It was never so on-the-surface as TV and movies make it seem.

But I also remember people saying "the N word" to describe black people, people of African ancestry . . . and the "sand-N-word" to describe people of Arab or Indian descent, and other slurs to describe Asian and Hispanic people.

I remember it coming as a shock to hear it, even then, when segregation was less than a generation in the past.

But I do remember it being said -- when everyone in the room was pale.

Sometimes, I think kids said it just to be provocative.

Sometimes, I think kids said it to try it out like you'd try out a curse word.

Sometimes, I think they were copying what they'd heard grown-ups say.

Even so, these word weren't uttered very often, but I heard them.

And they stung my ears.

But I didn't say anything.

Standing up for what is right is hard to do.

It's even harder for a kid.

You want to be liked by everybody, even the assholes. And it's hard to comprehend, when you are young, that sometimes that's not possible, to be liked by everybody. You think you can thread the needle. Maybe just be silent and the bad stuff will go away and we'll all be happy.

So I was silent.

I got, maybe, a little more outspoken as I got older -- once, I took on a college friend on the topic of race. Once.  But mostly I still stayed silent, hoping the bad stuff would go away.

College, law school, career, marriage, parenthood: I was exposed to more people, more cultures, more points of view. . . .

And it seemed like the bad stuff did go away. 

At least, I didn't see it in my world anymore. Not even in secret when everyone was pale . . . .

With age, with wisdom, with experience, and with the ugly reality of racism staring me in the face, I understand, now, that I do not understand.  I do not understand what it is like to walk in the shoes of a person of color.

And I have not realized what a bubble I have chosen to live in, either, having excised the bad stuff from my orbit.
But, slowly, slowly, I have begun to recognize the subtle privilege that having pale skin, blonde hair and blue eyes gives to me.

What do I mean?  I mean that people never assume I'm a threat. I'm a white middle aged woman. When I walk into a convenience store, no one assumes I might be there to rob it.  No one follows me with their eyes as I peruse the aisles.  I am essentially alone in there.  And in daily life, no one assumes I might not be that smart, or that I might be lying, or that I might be lazy simply because of the color of my skin.

So, disgusted and disturbed by this realization (that my skin color gives me a silent, constant advantage), I quite subconsciously decided at some point in my adulthood to sort of triple down on my notion that skin color doesn't matter, that skin color is utterly unimportant to a person's value as a human.

Towards this end, I began to remove the words "black" and "white" from my vocabulary, at least when describing other humans.

I've even avoided using those terms with my son. We tend not to talk about people's race first, and maybe not at all, except as an incidental interesting fact among many items that make up a person.

But . . . .

Recently, news and events in the world force the issue of race even into the consciousness of a white, male suburban child . . . And confuse him.

Now, now, I see that my utter avoidance of the topic of race in an effort to minimize its importance is a mistake. This is wrong thinking.

I mean, I do believe that one's skin color doesn't define one's worth.  That's not wrong thinking.

But I failed to realize that my willful colorblindness is, itself, part of the white privilege I abhor.

What I didn't understand until very recently is that a person's skin color does matter when the person may be instantly judged by some people -- by many people? -- based upon the shade of their skin.  A person who may be scrutinized in large and small ways because of the color of her skin cannot choose to be colorblind like me.

I don't mean to say that I think people of color are always overtly discriminated against the way they were 50 or 60 years ago.

But color, or the subtext of color, is always there. Unlike me, people of color can't just decide race doesn't matter and choose to ignore it. Race, on some level, always matters.

My wrong-thinking hit me in the face one day when my husband and I were talking about white supremacists (a sad topic of recent news) and my white son asked me if we were white.

Yes, really.

I'd been so meticulous in avoiding the topic of race that I had created this confusion for my little man. Even in my response to his question I couldn't release my discomfort with being a white person in a society where racism still exists.

I said, "That's what people call pale people like us, yes."

My discomfort with even calling my white self and my white son white is a problem.  Yes, it shows my extreme discomfort with the white privilege that I do have. I don't want it, but I do have it, whether I acknowledge and accept it or not.

My attempts to reject it by refusing to call white people white and black people black, inadvertently sweeps the issue under the rug:  If you fail to acknowledge that a problem exists, you cannot fix the problem.

While my colorblind attitude does teach my son not to see race as a proxy for human worth, it doesn't teach him that other people do use race as a proxy for human worth.  It does not teach him that such prejudice is or can be a barrier for people of color.  And, even though we did not create the problem of racism, people like him and me need to rally against it.  Sometimes, even though you didn't make the mess, you still have to help clean up the mess.

He needs to understand that, to some people, the color of our skin means something.  To some people, being pale with blue eyes is better than being brown with brown eyes.  And he needs to understand that people who think that way are wrong.  But, finally, he needs to know racism is out there . . . still.  I can't and I shouldn't protect him from the knowledge that racism exists. 

 It's a hard thing to teach: that race doesn't matter, except when it does.  One thing I realize now: you damned sure can't teach it while remaining colorblind. To teach how to resist racism, you have to allow that race and racism exist.

I see, now, that I need to ensure that he understands that it is out there because one day one of his friends who is not Caucasian may face a racist comment.

One day, one of his friends may be scrutinized while buying a coke at a convenience store for no reason other than his or her skin color.

One day, he might find himself in a room full of other white kids and someone may say a racial slur.

And I want him to feel the courage to do what I didn't do as a kid. I want him to have the courage, the strength, and the conviction to say, "That's not right."
It's not enough not to be racist. We must be ready to confront racism when we see it. 

So the bad stuff didn't go away, like I'd thought, like I'd hoped. I hid from it.  And this may be the most jarring and unsettling revelation for me: the world I live in is far, far uglier than I thought.

I will try to make it better, starting here.