Thursday, April 13, 2006

2005's honor (Marian Anderson) v. 2006's shame

The stamps above are of Marian Anderson who lived from 1897 to 1993. Ms. Anderson was a singer who fought racism and was internationally known. I'll assume we all know her and say thank you to Rebecca for posting the stamps and move on to my point.

Each year, the United States Postal Service puts out many stamps. Due to Black History, they usually do a "Black Heritage" stamp. In 2005, it was Marian Anderson. This year it's Hattie McDaniels. I wasn't aware of that. It's one of the many things I learned over the week. (I think Mike's going to write about that Friday night so I'll just say I think everybody had a great time and know I did.)

Hattie McDaniel was the first African-American to win an Oscar (or attend the ceremony as something other than a servant apparently). So I guess the thinking was, "Them Blacks will just love this stamp!"

Here's the thing. We don't all love the stamp. McDaniel's is a part of history and her story is of interest but that doesn't mean she qualifies for the honor of a stamp. McDaniels played mammys and maids and did so gladly. They were stereotypes. Before someone says, "Oh that's in looking back! In looking back, everything can seem outdated!" No, in real time, McDaniels was criticized for her choices by the NAACP.

McDaniels is a complicated figure and certainly worthy of discussion. She is not, however, worthy of the one stamp we can count on each year -- the one where we can see one of our own applauded for accomplishments.

I'd like to know who decided Hattie McDaniels was the person to pay tribute to this year? My guess? Some White person.

Probably a Gone With The Wind freak who thinks "those people must love that movie because McDaniels won an Oscar for it!" Yeah, that's what we like to do, sit around watching movies about the Civil War where all the characters of color are just happy to be serving Miss Scarlett and bound in slavery. That's our idea of a feel-good movie.

No, "those people" don't all swoon over the love affair between master Scarlett and her Confederate lover Rhett. We don't get all excited in the rooting that things will work out for them (slavery will prevail?) and then feel sad that the plantation system has crumbled.

I'm thinking only under the Bully Boy could the post office make such a ridiculous choice, such an insulting choice.

McDaniel's life is a complicated one and it is certainly worthy of discussion and debate. It is not, however, worth being noted in the Black Heritage series over the very real accomplishments of African-Americans, past and present, who have worked to dispell stereotypes and to advance the cause of civil rights. In the end, the best that may be said of her is that she achieved when others couldn't. Saying that requires examining how she managed that feat and there's not a great deal of pride in that story.

Will 2007 find us honoring Amos & Andy?

I'm posting because I should be the first one who landed. Mike thinks he's going to post tonight but he's getting home late (Wally's getting home the latest, I think). Rebecca's got three entries today so check her out and note that when the rest of us were unable to post she carried her weight and then some. Thank you to Rebecca.

I'll note one thing from Democracy Now! today and call it a night:

Rev. William Sloane Coffin, 81, Dies
And the Rev. William Sloane Coffin Jr. has died at the age of 81. For the past half century he has been a leading anti-war and civil rights advocated. During the 1960s as chaplain of Yale University he was a leading critic of the Vietnam War and strongly advocated the use of civil disobedience to protest the war. In one of the most celebrated trials of the 1960s he faced charges along with Dr. Benjamin Spock and others of conspiracy to encourage draft evasion. He was also an early supporter of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and took part in some of the first Freedom Rides. Courage, he preached over the years, was the first virtue, because ''it makes all other virtues possible.'' In the 1970s he went on to become a senior minister at the Riverside Church in New York. And in the 1980s he played an instrumental role in the anti-nuclear movement.

If you missed the program today, read C.I.'s "Democracy Now!: The Death of The Village Voice?" and you'll know why you need to catch it. Now.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Law and Disorder addressed covert racism

I wasn't sure if I had anything to write about. In fact, I thought I didn't because I'm doing a thing for the gina & krista round-robin about the demonstrations. But Mike came over just now and told me he was writing a little about Law and Disorder. We listened to that a little while ago while we were eating dinner and Mike reminded me that I had a bit to say about the first story.

This was only my second time listening. Ruth's Public Radio Report got me interested in the show and it was one of those "I'll listen" that gets put off. By the way, that's why I'm all for noting Pacifica programs. How many months has Ruth been noting Law and Disorder? I've now listened twice in a row and stuff like that doesn't happen overnight. You hear someone say, "Listen to this!" and, if they're excited, you think about it. If I never listened to it, I think it made a difference just knowing it was out there, just being aware of it. So if you're thinking, "Well, I don't have a blog . . ." remember that you have a mouth. You can use it. And even if someone doesn't listen to the thing you recommend, they know it's out there.

I'm going to focus on the first segment which was Dalia Hashad (of Amnesty and one of the four co-hosts of the show) speaking with the others (Heidi Boghosian of the National Lawyers Guild, Michael Ratner of the National Lawyers Guild). She was in Houston and she's not Anglo/White. She was at a Joe's Crabshack type place (it wasn't Joe's Crabshack) and she was treated in the most rude mannder.

She still left a tip (smaller than she would have elsewhere but still a nice size tip) and when she said that, there were a few groans. I don't mean on the show, I mean as we were listening. But C.I. and my opinion was that if she hadn't left anything, it would have justified the service to the server and other wait staff. The staff would have said, "See, that's how those people are."

I've been in that situation before, a lot of times, and I used to not leave a tip. If someone else doesn't want to, they shouldn't. You shouldn't reward bad service. But one Sunday after church, on my grandmother's birthday, we all went out to eat. The food was pretty good . . . when it arrived. We had to remind the waiter repeatedly (it was over a half-hour after we had ordered before we got our food). My aunt ended up doing our refills because we couldn't get more iced tea no matter how much we asked. So she just got up, went over and grabbed a pitcher of tea, filled up everyone's glasses, then went and grabbed another one. Our waiter would snap "I'm busy!" whenever anyone tried to wave him over. We noticed that the other four tables he was going to were tables he visited all the time. The people at those tables were white. We were African-American.

Like Dalia Hashad said, you're never sure if it is a case of racism. Maybe we somehow offended the waiter? Maybe he just didn't like where our table was located? Maybe he thought he was going to all the tables but would get called to the kitchen before he got us and he didn't realize that?

Or maybe someone at the table looked like an ex-girlfriend or ex-boyfriend so he didn't want to come over? Or an old teacher? You never can be sure because racism still is a big issue but it's covert now. Decades ago, they would have denied you service and said, "You're black, get out."
(Or worse.) Now days, it's more covert.

So after the meal, we were all decided not to leave a tip. The waiter hadn't earned it and our party was so large that an automatic tip was tacked on. But my grandmother was really bothered by that. She felt the guy was racist. And she felt like if we didn't leave a tip, he'd feel good about himself. We leave and leave no tip, he's going to tell himself he did the right thing.
So we left a nice tip.

In that situation, you need to do what you feel like. If you don't want to leave a tip, don't. It's not been earned and, I'd argue, that they should actually being paying you after treating you so rudely. But my grandmother's point is one that I act on now. I want them to come to the table after we leave and see a tip and not have the excuse of "Oh, they didn't tip, no surprise" -- I want them to see the tip and think, "I wasn't even nice to them." Maybe a few of them will feel bad. Maybe, the next African-American customer that comes in will get a little better treatment than we got.

Dalia Hashad also talked about how then she is traveling to New York City for the taping of Law and Disorder and at one point, I think in the train station, she's waiting and it's packed. There's one seat that no one's sitting in but a woman has her cup of coffee in the seat. Dalia Hashad walks over and asks nicely if it's the woman cup of coffee? It is. And she finishes eating her muffin before she finally picks up her cup of coffee. Those things are hurtful.

And because racism's covert you're left wondering exactly what the problem was. Maybe the woman didn't want anyone sitting on that side of her? Maybe she's just a mean person? Maybe it was because of race? But, like Dalia Hashad pointed out, these things happen over and over in a week. (Probably in a day for some people.) It's really hard just to forget it. It's like a missing tooth and you know it's gone but your tongue keeps going back to the empty socket. It does a real number on you. And let's say that Dalia Hashad was white, super wealthy and whatever. If that had happened to her still, she would've wondered what was wrong with her. But race probably wouldn't have been one of the questions she wondered about. When race could be a factor (and often is) it is really hurtful because we're told racism is over or at least not that bad but then we come up against something like that and realize how some people really see us which then makes you wonder, "Well what about other people I know? Do they see me that way too but they're just more polite?" It just does a real number on you and not just when you're walking away but for the rest of the day and there have been times for me where it's been for the rest of the week.

So I was really glad they addressed the issue and that they did it by letting Dalia Hashad talk about her experiences. It happens to everyone and it doesn't matter how you speak or how you dress but she speaks very well so you know you can eliminate that factor and the way she was dressed. I know that it made me feel better. There was one time I went to a large box store to get new tires and was left waiting for an hour while people who came in after me (White) were rushed in and out. I probably spent a day blaming myself because I drove up in wind pants and t-shirt. I kept telling myself, "I should've dressed up." It was probably the middle of the next week before I thought, "Forget that." It was a Saturday morning. I was going in to get my tires, not going to Sunday school. I didn't need to wear a suit and tie to expect even adequate service.
But that's what you do afterwards, you start thinking "Well should I have dressed differently" or "Did I sound stupid?" So hearing her speak about it, I think if you could relate to that situation, you really were glad that it was someone so well spoken that was addressing it.

It shouldn't happen to anyone. But I know that I go to that or clothes immediately because you do start blaming yourself when it happens.

If you missed it and this sounds like a topic you want to hear about it, you can listen to it at
Law and Disorder.

I also want to note "'What I Didn't Find In Iraq' by Bully Boy" because I really like that feature. It's a parody of an op-ed by the Bully Boy and how that happened? Friday, Jim was talking about Joseph Wilson's "What I Didn't Find In Africa" repeatedly (Wilson wrote that, discrediting a claim by the Bully Boy for war, and as a result, the administration attacked him and outed his wife Valerie Plame who had been a CIA agent). After hearing that over and over, C.I. suggested that we think what Bully Boy might say if he had to write an op-ed with the same title? We all liked the idea and C.I. urged us to work on while we were behind the idea and to also knock out something on Friday so it would be one less thing to worry about. I think it was like eleven o'clock (maybe later) but we went ahead and thought up ideas. Everyone thought up at least one idea and we worked on them solo and then came back to fit it together and rewrite. Ty had the shortest one and it falls in the middle which is the only thing that anyone else had input on. Here's Ty's (and if you haven't read the feature it's surrounded by longer items):

I did not find Waldo. But I looked real hard.

That still makes me laugh. Ty didn't believe that we liked it, he kept saying it was "sleight" but I think it's funny and so did everyone else.