HOW FINALLY I UNDERSTAND MY MOTHER

96-Me-Young-HPCR-1I don’t remember how many times my mother told me this story and I have, in another context, told it to you too.

My mother, like many young women of her generation, had wanted to attend high school. And college. But the family was poor and there were many mouths to feed. In the end, she had to quit school after seventh grade to take a job. She worked as bookkeeper, a respectable profession. At 14, my mother was respectable. Also naïve and innocent.

The first place she worked was a music publishing house on the Lower East Side where she had grown up. She was there for seven or eight years and finally decided to seek a better paid job.

Immigrant children had trouble breaking into the workforce. And of course, my mother had the additional burden of being female at a time when women were not considered equal. There was no “political correctness” to protect them.

My mother was blond and green-eyed. At 5 foot 7 inches, she was tall for her generation. Her English was better than most of the family since she had been born “on this side” of the Atlantic and had all her schooling in New York.

She was ushered into a room to be interviewed for the job she wanted. A few questions were asked. A form was handed to her and she filled it out. When she came to the box that asked her religion, she wrote Jewish. The interviewer looked at the application, said: “Jewish, eh?”

He tore the application to pieces and threw it in the trash in front of my mother. She said that from that day forward, she wrote Protestant because no one would ever do that to her again.

I’ve told this story before, but I needed to retell it. Because I finally made a leap of understanding between this anecdote and connected it to a part of my mother I never quite “got.”


My mother wanted me to get a nose job. When I turned 16, she wanted me to have plastic surgery to “fix” my nose.

“It’s not broken,” I pointed out.

“But don’t you want it to look ‘normal’?” she asked.

“It’s looks fine to me,” I said. I was puzzled. My sister, by the way, took her up on the offer. I continued to say “no thanks” and my nose is still the original model with which I was born.

Following the last time I retold this story, I realized my mother wasn’t hinting I wasn’t pretty or suggesting my nose was hideous. She was asking me if I wouldn’t prefer to “fit in” with the rest of society, if I wanted to not look so Jewish. Remarkably, this thought had never crossed my mind. Until a few weeks ago.Mom1973Paint

I always knew many children of Holocaust victims refused to circumcise their sons because that’s how the Nazis identified little Jewish boys. I knew non-white mothers frequently sent their lightest skinned children north at young ages hoping they could “pass” for white. But never, until a few weeks ago, did it occur to me that my mother was trying to help me “pass” for non-Jewish.

I’ve heard stories from a lot of people who use racial discrimination as an excuse for all their failures. They see racists behind every rock, anti-Semites behind every smile. There are plenty of racists and bigots no matter where you go, but I’ve sailed through life ignoring it. I was always “just me.”

I never considered the possibility I was turned down for a job because I was, in the immortal words of Mel Brooks, “too Jewish.” I always assumed it was me. I failed to measure up. My personality was too brash. My skills were insufficient.

I told Garry about my revelation. It was quite an epiphany, especially at my advanced age, and I needed to share. It left me wondering how much I’d missed.

I told him I’d finally realized my mother’s persistent suggestion I “get my nose fixed” was an attempt on her part to help me fit in, to not look so obviously Jewish. I had never considered that anyone might not like me for other than personal reasons. I said I thought perhaps I’d been a little slow on the uptake on this one.

Garry said “And when did you finally realize this?”

“Yesterday,” I said.

“Yesterday?” he repeated. If Garry looked dumbfounded.

“Yesterday,” I assured him.

He was quiet and thoughtful. “Well,” he said. “You’re 67? That is slow. You really didn’t know?”

I shook my head. I really didn’t know. Apparently everyone else got it. Except me.


 

Second-Hand Stories – Daily Prompt

REVISIONIST HISTORY AND RACISM – GARRY ARMSTRONG

Three Bad Men: John Ford, John Wayne, Ward Bond

by Scott Allen Nollen

Three Bad Men

As big a fan of these three men as I am, there is a level of revisionist history that is impossible for me to accept.

I had to stop reading the book. At least for a while. It’s a temporary interruption I’m sure, but I needed to back off from Three Bad Men. I need to take a few deep breaths and calm down before continuing.

This book chronicles the lives and friendships of John Ford, John Wayne and Ward Bond. Two great actors and one extraordinary director. It’s an interesting read. I have been reading, as is my habit, slowly, savoring. I was enjoying it.

Until I got to the section in which the author claims Ford used Stepin Fetchit and other minorities to “slyly mock America’s racism”.

That’s absolutely untrue.

What I see — and have always seen — is the perpetuation of racism by Pappy. As much as I love John Ford’s westerns, there’s no escaping the racism in his films.

They were still calling Woody Strode “boy” as late as The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962). Even considering his belated attempt to make reparations with Cheyenne Autumn, it was much too little, way too late.

I’ll get back to the book in a while, when I have calmed down a bit. Right now, I’m sorry. I simply can’t continue reading it.

STICKS AND STONES

Weekly Writing Challenge: Power of Names

“Sticks and stones can break my bones, but names can never hurt me.”

It’s an old childhood chant, a miserably inadequate defense against bullies and bigots when one is small and powerless. It was oft-repeated, not only by we, the little victims, but by parents, teachers and other wise counselors. It was supposed to comfort us.

It didn’t because we all knew for a certainty it was untrue.

Names can and do hurt. The hurt caused by a cruel name goes deeper than any mere cut or bruise to the body. Psyches heal but slowly. Sometimes they never heal.

FAGGOT!

RAG HEAD!

JEW BOY!

NIGGER!

RETARD!

GOOK!

Will you tell me those names don’t hurt?

Of course they hurt. They hurt plenty and are intended to. They carry with them the pain and vituperation of generations of haters. I’m almost afraid to put them in writing. They are so ugly, so wrong they may cause my monitor to short-circuit.

It has been argued — here on WordPress by supposedly respected bloggers — that if a member of a minority hurts you, it gives you the right to strike back any way you can. I disagree with all my heart. Racial and ethnic epithets are never okay, not under any circumstances. To say it is justified by what “they did” just makes you a partner in crime. And it is a crime. 

hate speech is not free

Is it the word itself or its intent that hurts so much? Both I think, plus the history such words carry. A hate word carries the power of all those who ever used it. Each time these words are used, their power is renewed, their devastating effects reinforced.

Time to stop forgiving the hate-spewers. Paula Deen’s and Mel Gibson’s (as well-known examples — they are far from alone) hate-filled monologues were no slips of the tongue, nor were they caused by drugs or drink. You could fill me with all the drugs and booze in the world and you’d never hear that from me. It’s not in me.

Those words are never an accident. NO ONE uses these or words to this effect who does not have a heart full of hate. Don’t let them off the hook. They know exactly what they are saying.

Excuses are not repentance. Hate and bigotry do not deserve a second chance.

Other entries:

 

  1. From Russia: with Hope. | Abstractions of Life
  2. THE HASTY TRADITION | Hastywords
  3. Rice Insults My Intelligence | Bumblepuppies
  4. Just Call Me | ripplesblog
  5. Daily Prompt: What’s in a Name | The Cheese Whines
  6. Roles and Identities | Kingdom of Sharks
  7. Word Press Weekly Writing Challenge: the Power of Names | Phylor’s Blog
  8. The Power of a Name | Welcome, somthing drink?
  9. What’s in a Name? | Sam’s Online Journal
  10. What’s In A Name? | The Eclectic Poet
  11. The moniker of Monica | Minnesota Transplant
  12. NOT IN OUR NAME | Unload and Unwind
  13. Contrary, Bitter, Rebellious and Loved | Mary J Melange
  14. Purely Me | Scraps of Paper
  15. Weekly Writing Challege: Power of Names | Simply about Life
  16. A Few of My Favorite Things…. | Coffee Crumbs
  17. Names | Speaking Voiceless
  18. Weekly Writing Challenge: Power of Names | lifebeinggirly
  19. Writing Prompt: The Power of Names | tamiesrealm
  20. On Names… | Tas’und’eash
  21. How Osama Bin Laden And My Parents Got Together And Complicated My Life | Babbleogue
  22. The Lame Name Shame Blame Game! | Once Upon Your Prime. . .
  23. “Found in Translation” | Cosmic Heroism

UNRAISING A CONSCIOUSNESS

Having had ones consciousness raised, it’s impossible to unraise it. I suppose that’s the way it’s supposed to be, but it’s inconvenient.

I started reading history when I was very young, maybe 10 or 11 years old. It wasn’t long before I realized that what we were told in school had little to do with real history. I was astonished at how much history is completely omitted from school curricula. I understand that elementary school history is not real history, but even so, it began to nag at me, a mental itch I could not scratch. The more I read, the more it bothered me.

By  proclivity and coincidence, I’ve lived an integrated life. My husband is West Indian, my best friend is Native American and I’ve been subject to some serious consciousness-raising. I had to call her this evening and complain. She has ruined westerns for me. I can’t watch them any more without thinking about massacres. I need to remind myself that my people were not even in this country yet. They were still back in Russia dodging the Czar’s thugs.

Which brought me back to my original problem. I can’t read about savage Indians slaughtering the brave settlers without saying “Hey, wait a minute … That’s not right!” I truly can’t help it.

Nor can I watch “Gone With the Wind” and not know behind the big white mansion were slave quarters. I can’t watch our cavalry riding out to kill Indians without remembering the broken treaties, the systematic, state-sponsored annihilation of entire tribes down to the last child. It takes a lot of the fun out of watching those romantic old movies and the worst part is that I also love those movies. I would like to turn off my conscience for the duration of the film, but I can’t.

Cherrie refuses to apologize. She merely says “My job here is done.” We laugh.

So I apologize for sounding overly sincere. I don’t like sounding moralistic, but I can’t turn away. I wish I could, at least for the duration of a movie. I understand the history of the world is one civilization conquering another and taking its land for their own. So it has always been.

Today is the anniversary of Kristallnacht — the Night of Broken Glass. This was a pogrom against Jews throughout Nazi Germany and parts of Austria that took place from November 9th through 10th, 1938. It was carried out by Nazi paramilitary forces and non-Jewish civilians. The name Kristallnacht comes from the shards of broken glass that littered the streets after the windows of Jewish-owned stores, buildings, and synagogues were smashed.

More than 90 Jews were directly killed in the attacks. Another 30,000 were arrested and sent to concentration camps, so the real death toll is hard to calculate. Jewish homes, hospitals, and schools were ransacked, as the attackers demolished buildings with sledgehammers. Over 1,000 synagogues were burned (95 in Vienna alone). More than 7,000 Jewish businesses were destroyed.

English: Jews are being forced to walk with th...

Jews forced to walk with the star of David during the Kristallnacht in Nazi-Germany in the night of 9-10 november 1938 (Photo: Wikipedia)

No event in the history of German Jews from 1933 to 1945 was so widely reported as it was happening. The accounts from foreign journalists working in Germany sent shock waves around the world — but not enough to get them to do anything about it. The New York Times wrote: “No foreign propagandist bent upon blackening Germany before the world could outdo the tale of burnings and beatings, of blackguardly assaults on defenseless and innocent people, which disgraced that country yesterday.”

It didn’t inspire the U.S. or any other country to take in the desperate Jewish refugees trying to escape the Nazis. Of the many horrors that occurred during these years, I find this one especially hard to forgive. It is the epitome of the saying commonly attributed to Edmund Burke: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

The world did nothing. Good men and women tsk-tsked and cried crocodile tears as the slaughter continued.

I think my consciousness is about as raised as I can stand for the moment. How’s yours doing?

Republicans and Democrats can be friends? OMG!!

When I read this comment, it was posted in regard to the YouTube video of President Barack Obama’s dedication speech at yesterday’s MLK Memorial. I was horrified :

“… the Republicans and Democrats hold hands behind your backs. It’s like pro wrestling, they act like they’re enemies in front of you but are good friends behind you. Why do you think they always agree on the key issues and have been seen many times spending time together, attending functions together, and even eating together. It is all a hoax to control the people. Research Obama’s evil policies he has instilled without the public knowledge. He will end life as you know, impeach this traitor!”

Is anyone really that naïve? It’s not his politics that appall me, though they are appalling. It’s his belief that people who disagree can’t be friends.

Of course they are friends. They work together, eat together and know each others’ wives and kids. They are human beings, not only politicians. Just as the district attorney, the defense attorneys and the judges are friends.

75-ElectionNK-2A

Does anyone really think otherwise? Why would they not be friends? They are not on opposing teams. Quite the opposite: everyone in Congress is on the same team. American. The good of the nation is what they are supposed to stand for, not their party and its politics. They represent us, but ultimately, they represent the country.

Does this person also think baseball or football players on opposing teams don’t socialize off the field? That our professional lives so dominate us we don’t also have personal lives?

To know there are so many people who hate so much they have lost touch with reality scares me more than anything else going on in this country.

Regardless, it’s a fine speech, no matter what your political persuasion may be. I have posted it so if you missed it, you can catch up.

We are all people first. We aren’t what we do or even what we believe. We aren’t Republicans, Democrats, Liberals or Conservatives. We are men and women, parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents. Sisters and brothers. Friends. Above all else, human. There are — and ought to be — allegiances which supersede political labels. Too many people are too busy hating to remember tolerance, reconciliation and love.

Intolerance is the evil we must forever fight. It’s the cause of war, murder, genocide and cruelty. It has saturated all of history with blood. It’s the thing that is fundamentally wrong with the world.

Daily Prompt: P.C. – Some just call it civility

PC Prompt

Politically correct. To be politically correct means to tread carefully on other people’s sensibilities. I’m for that. Very much.

In a lot of places here in the good old U.S.A., “P.C,” means you can’t go around spewing racist epithets even thinly disguised as humor. For all the morons, bigots, racists and the socially challenged, a simple rule — “DON’T SAY THAT” — works a lot better than sensitivity training. So many amongst us have no sensitivity to train.

English: No racism Lietuvių: Ne rasizmui

Even if the morons who insist they don’t mean it — in which case why are they saying it? — I feel any rule or law that protects me and mine from having to listen to hate is political capital well spent.

I wouldn’t call it political correctness. I would call it civility. Good manners. Common decency.

If anyone feels not calling other people insulting names is cramping their style? These are for whom such rules were made. These are just the folks who need them. Most people have enough smarts and good manners to know when to shut up without being told. For everyone else, we have rules.

When we are amongst friends and we know one another well, we relax, let out guards down. Especially when we are a minority among others like us with similar culture and history, it’s all good. We are family, we act silly like family. But if you are not one of us, leave your mouth outside. I don’t need to be insulted. I don’t want to be made to feel uncomfortable or unsafe.

Many people still think racism is sort of cute. I think they should be eliminated from the gene pool. Go Helen.

HellenMirren BigGun

The Non-Complexities of Pretty Racist Chef Paula Deen

See on Scoop.itBooks, Writing, and Reviews

By JOSH MARSHALL JUNE 21, 2013, 11:50 AM

Paula Deen Diabetes

I must say. I love Paula Deen’s defense. It has the benefit of being both ridiculous and perhaps something her critics could actually agree about. According to the Wall Street Journal, “A representative for Paula Deen says that the 66-year-old celebrity chef used the “N-word” because she has roots in another era.” Or as you might translate this, ‘Look, she’s on the old side and pretty racist.’ Which sounds about right and sort of like the criticism rather than the defense.

Another thing it made me think about though is that these days, in 2013, if you’re in your 60s, you really didn’t grow up in the ‘Old South’. More like you grew up in the Civil Rights Era. Paula Deen was born in 1947. So she was 8 or 9 during the Montgomery bus boycott, sixteen for the March on Washington and twenty-one when Martin Luther King was assassinated.

It’s worth remembering how ingrained these words were for whites from the South from a certain era, not only for people who were fierce opponents of civil rights but even from some of their greatest advocates. The words signal the mental world of Jim Crow.

I’ll always remember this story told by Roger Wilkins, who was a young attorney in the Johnson administration, but also then and later a civil rights leader, historian, journalist and more.

This is back during the bleeding, breakthrough years of the Civil Rights Movement, with a President who is pushing through the big epochal legislation that changed the face of the nation but also helped wreck his presidency (in electoral terms) and tear the Democratic party apart for a generation. Notably, for Johnson, he did all of this with his eyes quite wide open.

I’ve read many things about Johnson in this period and it’s really human, almost Shakespearean stuff, because you’ve got this guy raised in the Jim Crow South, who’s gotten religion on the civil rights issue and is pushing the stuff in spite of the politics. And yet at some level he’s still an old school guy from Jim Crow Texas and can’t make sense of why after he’s been part of pushing through this landmark legislation and putting the presidency on the side of right that African-Americans aren’t more grateful to him. On thr contrary, the country starting to tear itself apart with riots in the big cities and young African-Americans and many non-young African-Americans not at all satisfied with the post-Civil Rights Act status quo.

In any case, Wilkins – then in his early thirties – saw all of this up close and clearly loved and admired the guy at a deep level and understood and breathed the historical context of all he was accomplishing and yet saw his limitations and how he was actually totally lost in the racial politics of the 60s.

Back to that anecdote, Johnson’s there with a bunch of aides in Oval Office, Wilkins included, and in a moment of frustration he slips into using the word ‘nigger’. This is from an American Experience documentary. It starts with the historian Robert McCullough talking and then Wilkins comes in …

“McCullough: [voice-over] It was called “the Golden Chalice”, the marriage of the President’s younger daughter, Luci Baines Johnson. One reporter said, “Nobody was invited except the immediate country.” It was August 6, 1966. There was war in Vietnam and riots in the streets, but there was still more Johnson hoped to do. What he wanted was time — time to build his Great Society. “We can’t quit now,” he told an aide. “This may be the last chance we have.” But time was running out.

Over four long, hot summers, riots had become a brutal fact of American life. Johnson looked helplessly on as more than 150 cities went up in flames. Detroit was the worst — 43 dead, 7,000 arrested, 1,300 buildings destroyed. Johnson dispatched army paratroopers and prepared to send his own task force to investigate. As part of the task force, Roger Wilkins was there as the President issued his final instructions.

Roger Wilkins, Attorney, Johnson Administration: And he started in a low-key. “I don’t want any bullets in those guns. You hear me? I don’t want any bullets in those guns! You hear me, gentlemen? I don’t want any bullets in those guns. I don’t want it known that any one of my men shot a pregnant nig — ” and he looked at me and his face got red. I was the only black in the room. “Well, I don’t — I just — no bullets in those guns.” But he was clearly embarrassed, and everybody in the room was embarrassed. So then he told us to go home and pack and get an Air Force plane to go to Detroit.

And as we’re leaving, he called me and he said, “Come in here, Roger,” and I went into his office with him. And he didn’t say anything. I mean, I knew he wanted to say, “I didn’t mean to say ‘nigger’,” but he meant to say ‘nigger’. And I knew he wanted to say, “I apologize.” He didn’t know how to say it.

And so he walked me over to the French doors that went out to the Rose Garden, and it’s the area where Eisenhower had his putting green. And he looked out, and he looked at me, and he looked down, looked out, looked down. There were pockmarks on the floor where Eisenhower’s golf shoes had hit the floor. And he finally looked at me, and he looked at the floor, and he said, “Look what that son of a bitch did to my floor!” And then he patted me on the back and said, “Have a nice trip.” And that was his way of apologizing. It was very human, I thought.”

Not to state the obvious, but Lyndon Johnson was born in 1908.

It’s not proven from the deposition – but the nature of the plaintiff’s deposition combined with Deen’s ‘defense’ in her deposition makes it pretty clear that Deen speaks like this … today, pretty much all the time. And far more than ‘talks’ like this, it seems pretty clear that she thinks that way too.

That’s why I think it’s a good thing when this stuff comes out. Because it shakes us up from the comforting denial that there aren’t a lot of people in the country still living in the Paula Deen world, which it would be nice to think is the world of the 1920s but in fact, for a lot of folks, is the world of 2013.

Marilyn Armstrong‘s insight:

A beautifully written reminder that it was Lyndon Johnson who got it done. Others talked the talk. He walked the walk. He knew in pushing through the civil rights bill, he was falling on his political sword and ending his career. He used all his political leverage because he believed he was the only one who could do it.He was probably right. It was LBJ’s finest hour, an act of genuine political valor.

The heart has gone out of our political system. We may never live to see it again.

See on talkingpointsmemo.com