FINALLY UNDERSTANDING MOM

I don’t remember how many times my mother told me this story, or how many times I have told it to you. It bears retelling.

marilyn birthday writer

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. 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 get a better job.

Immigrant children had trouble breaking into the workforce. 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 so no one would ever do that to her again.

Finally, I made a leap of understanding. I connected this anecdote to an aspect of my mother I never “got.”


Mom1973PaintMy 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 took her up on the offer. I continued to say “no thanks” and my nose is the original model with which I was born.

Since the last time I told this story, I realized my mother wasn’t hinting I wasn’t pretty. She was asking me if I wanted to not look Jewish. Remarkably, this thought never crossed my mind. Until a few weeks ago.

I know many children of Holocaust victims refused to circumcise their sons because that’s how the Nazis identified little Jewish boys. I know non-white mothers frequently sent their light-skinned children north hoping they could “pass” for white. But never, until recently, did it occur to me my mother was trying to help me “pass” for non-Jewish.

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. I was too brash. My skills were insufficient.

96-Mom-May1944

I told Garry about my revelation. It was quite an epiphany, especially at my advanced age. 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 to “get my nose fixed” was an attempt to help me fit in, to not look so obviously Jewish. I had never considered 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. Garry looked dumbfounded.

“Yesterday,” I assured him.

He was quiet and thoughtful. “Well,” he said. “You’re 68? That is slow. You really didn’t know?”

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

NAMES CAN EVER HURT ME: ON BEING POLITICALLY CORRECT

“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.


Horrible words. Can you still tell me — with a straight face — that names can’t hurt? Will you give me all your arguments that “political correctness” is stupid? That anything which makes it illegal or socially unacceptable to spew hate is too restrictive of free speech? Really? Your free speech? It’s not my free speech. I don’t talk that way and I don’t hang around anyone who does.

Do you actually believe it? Or did you read it as part of some rant on Facebook?

Of course names hurt. They’re intended to hurt. They have no other purpose on earth but to cause pain. These words carry with them the ugliness of generations of haters. It has been argued by otherwise respected bloggers that if a member of a minority (in your opinion) does you wrong, you have every right to strike back any way you can.

I disagree. Racial and ethnic name-calling epithets are never justified. By anything.

hate speech is not free

Is it the word or its intent that hurts so much? Both. Words have power.

“The pen is mightier than the sword.”

But wait a minute. I thought words could never hurt me? (Oh yes they can, yes they do.)

Words bring with them the weight of history. A hate word carries the ugliness of everyone who has spoken it. Each time these words fly into the air, their potency is renewed and reinforced.

It’s time to stop forgiving bigots, stop letting them off the hook. Those hate-filled monologues by drugged and drunken celebrities were no mere slips of the tongue. They were not 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. Because it’s not in me.

People who talk hate never do so by accident. It isn’t because of their environment, upbringing, or environment. It’s a choice they made. They know exactly what they are saying and why. It isn’t a joke. It isn’t funny. It isn’t okay.

Excuses are not repentance. Don’t give bigots a second chance. Be politically correct. It’s not merely political correctness. It’s also the moral, righteous, decent, civil, and humane way to behave.

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:

 

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  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
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  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