Black Woman Blogging

One black woman's views on race, gender, politics, family, life and the world.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

A Budget Is A Moral Document

I don't know who said this, but it's true: A budget is a moral document. It says what we as a society prioritize as important. Or not important.

Clearly, health care for poor children is not important in California, or not as important as it used to be. Governor Schwarzenegger slashed the Healthy Families insurance program that provides low-cost medical insurance for children whose parents make too much to qualify for Medi-Cal and can't afford private medical insurance for their children.

Sure, I complain about furloughs, but I wouldn't want to wish on any parent the absence of medical insurance for a sick child. Especially if those same parents are donning the blue smiley-faced vest, the red bullseye, or the paper hat in efforts to make ends meet and keep a roof over their children's heads and food in their mouths.

But still no severance tax for big oil, when we're the only state in the union that doesn't have such a tax? You gotta wonder.

I'm not one of those foolhardy liberals who wants to tax everybody and spend on everything. I do, however, think we should have priorities -- stated priorities -- and plan our budget around those priorities, not around who's got the most juiced-up lobbyist prowling the halls of the Capitol or around ballot box budgeting, as priorities can and will change. And I think health care for the children of the working poor needs to be a priority.

So it's come to this. I don't know how we got here, and I don't see any visionaries stepping forward with a plan to get us out of here. All I know is that I want my state back.

California desperately needs a do-over. Or a makeover. Or both.

I hope Governor Schwarzenegger is having a wonderful birthday with his fully insured children.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Golden Butt Kick

It ain’t over for me
No it ain’t over for me
I’ma step up my game and get what’s comin’ to me . . .

It Ain’t Over,” from the movie “Hustle and Flow"

Any moment now, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger will sign yet another stop-gap state budget that now incorporates three furlough days per month for most state civil service employees. The possibility of four of five furlough days per month in the next budget cycle looms.

As one of my college friends used to say, “Whoopdee shit.”

If I thought for a moment that every single state employee, whether they work for an agency or the Legislature OR AS A LEGISLATOR, was going to be furloughed three days a month or face equivalent salary cuts, the furloughs might be palatable. If I thought for a moment that the furloughs were a temporary stop-gap measure intended only to close the budget gap, maybe I could get with them.

But I have it on good authority that the furloughs aren’t intended just to deal with short-term budget shortfalls. Au contraire, Pierre stateworker. The furloughs are intended to get rid of stateworkers, period.

The kind folks at the Department of Finance, whose quant jocks have done all the projections to determine how many furlough days it would take to get stateworkers off the payroll without paying unemeployment benefits, refer to the furloughs, with laughter no less, as “The Golden Butt Kick.”

Anyone with any significant history with California civil service knows that in times past, the state has rid itself of excess state workers by offering “The Golden Handshake,” whereby state workers within shooting range of the minimum service credits needed for retirement were given service credits merely for saying an early goodbye to state service. I would presume that many stateworkers were waiting for a Golden Handshake this time around.

Instead, we got The Golden Butt Kick.

And it’s working. My sister who works at a state agency has been seeing an increase in retirement parties where she works. Anyone who can afford to get out of state civil service is going. Attorneys like myself, already underpaid relative to other government attorneys, are looking for opportunities with the federal government or other local entities. It simply doesn’t make sense if you are at the height of your earning years not to look around to see if you have other options, especially if you are highly educated or have special skills. Why take a pay cut if you don’t have to?

And so it goes for me. I’m looking. Consider my butt kicked. It would be sheer financial foolishness for me to continue to subsidize the State of California with my lower wages for stupidity not of my making, especially if I can find something that pays as much as I used to make before the furloughs. I’m not greedy; I just want what I had before. And it would be stupid for me not to look around and see if I can get it.

It’s especially galling for those of us who played by all the financial rules. BMNB and I waited to buy our house until the boom was over. In the interim, we saved our money, cut coupons, shopped at Winco, and made no big ticket purchases other than cars necessary to replace our aging vehicles. We buy furniture at the Habitat for Humanity REstore. We haven’t vacationed since we married. We rarely ever use credit cards. To just sit and let the State of California take money out of my pocket because other people were stupid with their money? I don’t think so.

So, in the words of Terrence Howard’s pimp in “Hustle and Flow,” I’ma step up my game and get what’s comin’ to me. And it ain’t no three-day-a-month furlough.

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Monday, July 27, 2009

Someday We'll All Be Free

I admire that President Obama has taken the high road and is trying to make peace between Officer Crowley and Professor Gates. What concerns me is whether he felt forced to do so by the firestorm of media coverage and the outrage of whites who felt that Professor Gates was playing the race card. To the extent that Professor Gates was playing any such card, in my opinion, he was probably playing the class card, refusing to be discriminated against based on race because he had the class clout to trump the officer's power. That Professor Gates has the ear of the President and is part of a vast network of African American elites that many whites don't know of might have been disconcerting to some.

But to watch the Leader of the Freakin' Free World "walking back" his "stupidly" comment when many like me in the African American community agreed with it? That was disconcerting to me, not because I think I'm right, but because I think the President has the right to say what he thinks like those who came before him. When was the last time you heard a President say anything approximating an apology for a political opinion?

I always thought that the President had the freedom and the right to say what he thinks, even if it's disagreeable to some, and to stand by his words merely because he is the Leader of the Freakin' Free World. Like President Bush, he could admit to no mistakes and the public would have to live with it. I thought it was the privilege of being POTUS.

Apparently President Obama isn't as free as we thought, nor does he enjoy the same privileges as President as did his predecessor. Or perhaps he simply chooses not to enjoy those same privileges of saying what he thinks, no matter what others think. I hope it's the latter. If he walked back his comments for the purpose of focusing on health care, cool. If he walked back his comments because they were displeasing to a large part of the populace, not cool. Officer Crowley did indeed act stupidly. Unless Professor Gates was a physical threat to him or others, there was no need to arrest him other than to make a point unrelated to public safety and welfare: I'm the one with power, you're not. That Officer Crowley was intransigent in his position afterwards was the exclamation mark over this point. He, as a public servant, should be held to the higher standard, not Professor Gates.

First, Judge Sonia Sotomayor has to sit there and take it during her confirmation hearings when some hick Senator told her she "had some 'splainin to do." Then the Leader of the Freakin' Free World walks back his comments about a cop on a power trip.

We ain't free yet, y'all. Don't get it twisted.

But, perhaps, in the words of a Donny Hathaway song, "Someday We'll All Be Free."

Just not this week.

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Thursday, July 23, 2009

What Professor Gates Was Really Guilty Of

My friend Trevor in Oakland always tells me, "Tell the truth and shame the devil." So I'm going to tell the truth, as I see it, about Professor Gates' arrest for disorderly conduct: He was arrested because he lacked humility. He was guilty of being uppity.

Now the media wants to make more of this by questioning President Obama's choice of adverb to describe how the police in the situation acted: Stupidly. Quite frankly, this is about as far as I've seen President Obama step into a American racial issue.

And he's right.

Once the police were satisfied that Professor Gates actually lived in the home, there was no cause to arrest him unless he posed a threat to the police or some other person. From press accounts, which are not necessarily reliable, Professor Gates had the temerity to birddog his inquisitor and ask for his name and badge number. Now, if the reports are true that this officer followed Professor Gates through his house to his kitchen to wait for him to produce ID and proof of residence instead of waiting at the front porch, is it unreasonable for Professor Gates to think that, given the situation -- him, a middle-aged, gray-haired, bespectacled, nerdy-look guy with a limp on the phone to the Harvard Real Estate office from a house in a faculty ghetto -- didn't merit the level of intrusion the officer is reported to have engaged in?

In criminal law, we had it drummed into our heads that a police officer's superior judgment is to be taken into account when evaluating the legality of him or her doing a "Terry" type of stop -- that they are better able to assess the "totality of the circumstances" in deciding whether someone should be stopped, asked for ID, etc. Because they encounter crime all the time, even when they don't have a warrant or exigent circumstances, they are better able to evaluate whether an intrusion into someone's liberty is warranted for the greater good.

Although this was beyond a "Terry" stop, with that in mind, even if the police received a call about a breaking and entering, what about the "totality of the circumstances" would lead them to believe that Professor Gates, in all his disabled, nerdy, intellectual, bespectacled glory, broke into someone else's home or that, once he produced ID and proof of residence, that his conduct was such that he merited arrest? Did they not see "African American Lives" on PBS?

Oh, I get it. He had the temerity to be uppity with the police in his own home. I can't use the term "assertive" because that's reserved for white folks.

But being uppity isn't a crime. It might get you killed, however. But it isn't a crime.

But therein lies the problem: If a white, middle-aged, bespectacled, nerdy professor had birddogged his inquisitor similarly, would he have been arrested for disorderly conduct or simply told, "Sorry, sir, for the intrusion. We'll be on our way now." Gotta wonder. Having lived in Cambridge and attended Harvard Law School, my money's on the latter outcome.

That a black police officer was present at Professor Gates' arrest is of no moment to me. It doesn't make it any less racist or any more right. Here's a dirty little race secret: Sometimes black police officers racially profile black people, too. Sometimes they are more incensed when we act uppity than white police officers are. Sorry, I'm just telling the truth and shaming the devil.

I understand how Professor Gates felt. I lived in Cambridge, and I was not at all surprised that his neighbors, who should know him by now since he's been chair of the African American studies department at Harvard since Jesus was a baby, would call the police on him. I now live in a small town in Placer County, California. When my husband and I moved here as one of the few black couples in our neighborhood, I told him, "Don't get too comfortable. You know it's coming." He didn't get what I was talking about. "You know," I smiled wryly. "Our 'nigger' moment. Sooner or later, someone is going to call us 'nigger.' It's inevitable." Now, it's sad that I think that way, but when you're brought up by a black father who grew up in the Jim Crow South, in the Depression, no less, you are never allowed to get too comfortable being black in America because assuming your own equality and humanity might get you killed like Emmett Till. In fact, I'm sure my father saw it as his parental duty to make sure we never let our race guard down, that we never got "too comfortable" so that we could assume we would be treated equally to whites and could behave as whites and get away with it. Call it incarceration prevention.

But why should we be inconvenienced, why should we not be allowed to be comfortable in our own neighborhoods and homes, because of someone else's racism?

Six months went by. "It hasn't happened yet," BMNB remarked. "Just you wait and see," I shot back.

Well, last month, it happened. From a child, no less. My husband was coming up the walk after a long day at work, and some neighborhood kid blurted out, "FUCKING NIGGERS!" My husband stopped, did a double take, and yelled, "HEY! THAT WORD I DON'T LIKE." To the credit of our neighborhood, one of our other next-door neighbors, who is from Guam, said to the kid, "Hey, that's not cool. That's extremely disrespectful." The friend of the child apologized, but the child never did. His foster father, our next-door neighbor, then wanted my husband to come and speak to his kids about what happened and how wrong it was. Problem is, my husband was scheduled to take our own great-nephews and great-niece, as he does every Wednesday, to his church's Manhood (and Womanhood) Development program to learn, of all things, values and respect. He came by the next day to speak with the kids, but the offending child was not at home -- he was "in therapy." I told him he had discharged his duty -- it wasn't his job to teach other people's kids how not to be racist. He had been inconvenienced enough.

And that's what Professor Gates' arrest represented to me -- being tired of being inconvenienced by someone else's racism, whether it was his neighbor's or the police officer's. I desperately wanted to see him take this to trial because when Professor Gates stood up for himself on the steps of his house, he was standing up for all of us black folks who are tired of being inconvenienced by other people's racism. He was standing up for my husband's predominantly black fraternity at Stanford when, during a fraternity outing, they were forced up against their cars, hands behind their heads, with drawn shotguns aimed at them by Palo Alto police officers for no other reason than they were black men riding in a caravan of cars late at night. He was standing up for a tired, black woman Harvard law student who slumped down in the back seat of a cab riding through Charlestown trying to catch a plane home for Christmas break. He was standing up for my Harvard law school roommate who was called "nigger" walking on her way to class from Somerville. He was standing up for my husband's pastor who was recently stopped by the police for no other reason than being a well-dressed black man driving a Mercedes-Benz. He was standing up for every black father who, when teaching his son to drive, has to also teach him to keep his hands in sight and his tongue in check if he's ever stopped by the police, since speaking one's mind or reaching for one's ID in the glove compartment could mean certain death for a young black man stopped by the police. He was standing up for all of us.

Like Professor Gates, we're sick and tired of being inconvenienced by other people's racism.

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Shine A Light

I could write about Skip Gates' arrest for disorderly conduct in his own home. Lord knows it's got BMNB hoppin' mad, since he,too, was asked for ID at our front door. By a repo man with piercings and tats who came to take the car of the prior owner of our house, no less. ("Why do I need to show someone ID at my house? It's MY house!). I don't know whether it's a black man thing, a southern thing, or both, but you just don't mess with a black man in his own home. But enough about that.

I could write about the late Walter Cronkite and my immense respect for him as a journalist and as the catalyst who ended the Vietnam war, IMHO. But that will have to wait.

Last night I received word that a old friend of mine from "back in the day," when I was a young, single, professional woman in Oakland, has passed away. I left the Bay Area in '98, and she followed shortly, taking a better position doing what she loved in the arts. It hurt my heart to know she had passed and that I hadn't kept in touch. I'm absolutely horrible at keeping in touch with folks, even my best friend. I hoped this friend of mine had not suffered, that she had been loved and cared for in her time of need.

The reason why her passing hit me as it did is because she gave me an enormous gift, a gift she probably didn't even know she gave -- permission to be myself. She hung out with a group of us young African American attorneys and professionals, and although she wasn't an attorney herself, she never let it make her feel out of place or less than. I admired how she could fit into any group and carry herself like she belonged, like she never doubted her place or right to be anywhere she damn well pleased. I don't even know if she knew that she projected this air. But it was certainly contagious.

As an older member of our Geoffrey's Happy Hour crew (I'm told Geoffrey's has long since closed in Oakland), she often dispensed wisdom to us younger black women on dating and life. She would tell me when I was being too judgmental about people, men in particular. She would affirm my "and so-and-so can kiss my pretty black ass" attitude when I felt I'd been wronged. But most of all, she let me know that it was okay for me to be black and female and smart and strong and vulnerable and uppity and generous. That it was okay to be me and nothing less. That despite what the working world and sometimes those close to me told me, I was perfectly okay the way I was and I wasn't to change a thing, damn it. That although I wasn't anywhere close to where I had hoped to be in my career and my love life, I'd get there. She just knew it.

What I admired most was that she was doing what she loved. Growing up black and doing what you love are oftentimes at cross purposes, at least in my generation. Because our parents wanted the best for us -- financially security that serves as a hedge against the whims of racism -- most black people of my generation were pushed to go to college and do something that would make money. Education was viewed as professional job training, not enlightenment, because enlightenment doesn't pay the bills. She, on the other hand, followed her own path. She worked for a non-profit arts organization and later left the Bay Area for a position with an even better non-profit arts organization. Working for a non-profit is a dicey proposition at best -- you never know where your next sponsor or grant is coming from. Working for non-profit arts organizations is even more dicey and truly a labor of love, because the arts community feels it first and hardest when the economy sours. She wasn't concerned with the things that preoccupied so many of us young black professionals -- the next promotion, the house, the car, the cute husband/wife and the 1.9 children. She did what she loved and encouraged us to do the same with her mother wit and wisdom gained from experience. Instead of being threatened by the young and highly educated black women who surrounded her, she shined a light on us. She wanted us to be fabulous, to be all that we wanted to be.

She was from Chicago. Need I say more? The thing I love about black Chicagoans is that most of them are only one or two generations out of the south. They have the street smarts of city dwellers, a love of the blues and black culture, and the words and ways of black southerners. Had things worked out for my grandfather, I, too, would have been a black Chicagoan. You know the joke: Black southerners fled the south for Chicago; the ones who ran out of money ended up in East St. Louis. My grandfather died before he could take my father and his siblings out of the south. I imagine my life would have be so very different, that I might have had the affirming confidence she did.

And now that I face down the second half of my life on a career path that I can't even tell you how I got on, I hope to recapture a bit of that light she shined on me, to follow in her footsteps of doing what I absolutely love. Yes, I have the house, the man, and the 1.9 children are in the works, but I'd be lying if I said I jump out of bed with passion for my work like she did for hers. That I'm willing to put up with all the organizational drama and crap like she did because she loved the end product of her work. I don't always feel that way about what I do. Sometimes the end product of what I do is, well, an end product.

But more than that, I hope to shine a light on all the fabulous young black women coming behind me and let them know it's going to be alright. That it's okay to be black and female and smart and strong and vulnerable and uppity and generous and whatever else they are. That they're going to be just fine. Because she told me so.

Monday, July 20, 2009

'Splainin', Home Trainin', and Showing One's Behind

As you know, I enforced my own personal news blackout regarding the Judge Sotomayor confirmation hearings. Couldn't bear to watch or listen, which made my morning drive to work a bit more difficult since I listen to NPR when I drive in. NPR provided gavel-to-gavel coverage. I listened to a lot of Sirius XM instead.

Wouldn't you know it that the Judge Sotomayor confirmation hearings were the spark that got my husband, Black Man Not Blogging (BMNB), paying attention to the news such that he put aside his usual ESPN radio, classic soul hits station V101.1 and whatnot to actually follow coverage of this event?

"You know, there was some Senator from Oklahoma yesterday who told Judge Sotomayor that she "had some 'splainin' to do.'"

Why is he telling me this?, I thought. The one person I could count on to be uninformed just turned into Edward R. Murrow.

I took the bait. "Do you mean 'splainin' as in the southern sense of the word, like 'let me 'splain that to you . . . . '"

BMNB, a born southerner, interrupted me. "I don't know anything about a southern use of the word, but this guy was talking like Ricky Ricardo talking Lucy."

Oh no he didn't.

Normally, when I write about news events for this blog, I read the local paper and national news websites to get all versions of the events and the proper names for all the participants. I haven't even bothered this time. You don't have to tell me this Senator was white and male. I already know. No one else could possibly perceive their rank in the social and political hierarchy of this country to be so high that they could speak to a federal judge in that manner, no matter what higher office she was seeking.

To me, such language is racist and sexist (since we don't have a word for language that is both) disrespectful, and demonstrative of a profound lack of home training. Or rather, home trainin'.

First, let me admit my bias. I clerked for a federal appellate judge, one of the few African American ones in the nation at the time. I never expected to get the clerkship, but I never lost sight of the fact that it was an extremely valuable opportunity for which I should be grateful. Added to this was the fact that I later found out that my mother knew this judge from when he was a district attorney and my mother was in charge of creating false identities for undercover officers at the DMV. Their paths had crossed long before, and my mother held this man in very high esteem. She didn't have to say a word. It was understood that, even as a grown woman and law school graduate, I was to be on my best behavior in his presence because he was a judge and someone she knew and respected. I was to work harder than the rest and give this man no trouble. In other words, I was not to "show my behind." More on that later.

I never did call, nor did I ever imagine calling, my judge by anything other than "judge" or "your honor." If I recall correctly, we law clerks for the judge spent the first few days rising to our feet whenever he entered a room until he finally excused us from this ritual show of respect. Long after my clerkship ended, whenever I contacted him, I always called him "judge," even after he took senior status. It would never enter my mind to address a judge, federal or otherwise, as anything other than "judge" or "your honor" or to assume a level a familiarity that in any way hinted at anything less than respect. I had at least that much home training.

In more recent years, I was introduced to a local judge at a bar association function who was a childhood friend of my late mother's. When I told him who I was, he looked at me real hard, slowly beamed, and said, "Come here, girl. You're family." With that, he gave me a strong hug and a kiss on the cheek. Now, mind you, despite the fact that this judge's history with my family precedes my birth, he will always be "judge" to me. I cannot and will not call him by his first name, or "Uncle Judge," or any variant thereof. Why? Because my mother would come back from her grave, and, in her parlance, "slap the black off of me" if I spoke to him in any way that did not connote respect for him as an elder AND as a judge. I don't get to speak to him that way, because he is not my peer. My mother gave me at least that much home training.

Mind you, home training is a function of culture and class. Although African American culture is portrayed in the media as disrespectful and often lacking in self-respect, this is the image that sells but does not necessarily reflect the truth. It isn't representative of my upbringing and the upbringing of my family and friends. Respect is a big deal in African American culture, in my experience. It is why we don't get to call elders by their first names, even if they are your in-laws. To this day I call my mother-in-law "Mrs. X," and my husband calls my father, "Mr. Y." When I hear people, usually white people, address their in-laws by their first names, I flinch. To borrow a phrase from my mother, "I ain't never gonna be that grown" that I can call my mother-in-law by her first name. At best, she's "Mother X," but her first name? That's off limits to me. (Although I have to admit, there is one elder cousin my siblings and I fell into the bad habit of calling by his first name, but he was cool with it and my mother let it slide.)

I learned about the socio-economic class aspect of home training when I was a graduate student at Princeton. A local black mayor came to speak to an assemblage of us black graduate students. (And yes, there were so few of us that you could fit us all in a classroom.) History professor Nell Painter was there. I don't remember what the mayor said to us, but I do remember what Professor Painter told us when he left: "Whenever an elected official or dignitary enters the room, you are supposed to stand."

At first, I was miffed that she said this. I didn't appreciate being chided like a child, and I thought to myself, "Well, we didn't have a lot of elected officials or dignitaries coming to the south Sacramento when I was growing up, so how was I supposed to know?" Little did I know or appreciate that Professor Painter, as an African American professor, was trying to prepare us across our different socio-economic class lines for the worlds we would enter as Ivy League-educated African Americans.

Which brings me to my next point. Part of African American home training, or at least my African American home training, is not "showing your behind." "Showing your behind" means doing something that is so over-the-top in public that it embarrasses not only you but your family. The term is often used to describe children's temper tantrums or bad behavior in public venues such as stores and churches, to wit: "So-and-so's child showed her behind in church yesterday." It can also include really bad adult behavior, like parents who cuss out teachers in front of their classes or employees who cuss out their bosses in a meeting, to wit: "Sharon showed her behind up on her job yesterday and now she wonders why they're firing her." It's synonymous with "acting a fool."

What I learned in law school is that there are levels of showing one's behind. If what you've done is really bad, you've gone beyond just showing your behind; you've "shown your ass." And, as my African American law school friend from the south demonstrated by verbal example, if what you've done not only embarrasses yourself and your family, but the entire African American race, you've gone beyond just "showing your ass": You've reached the highest level of bad, mortifying behavior, to wit, "showing your monkey ass." Or, as she put it in her southern accent, "showing yo' muhnkay ahyess."

So, I don't know what the white analog of "showing your monkey ass" is, but whatever it is, that's what the Senator from Oklahoma did when he told JUDGE Sotomayor that she had some "'splainin' to do." His profound lack of home training as to how to properly address a federal judge not only embarrassed him and his family, but the entire white race. That he would even form his lips to speak to her in such a racist manner, well, that's just a hybrid of ignorance, hubris, and white privilege all rolled into one. He would have never addressed then-Judge Alito with a feigned Italian accent. I guess our white, male senators believe they can speak to a woman of color, even a woman of color as powerful as Judge Sotomayor, any which way they please.

He's lucky my mother isn't alive. On behalf of white people, she would have slapped the white off of him, just as a matter of home training.

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Hope in an Envelope

Three furlough days per month with the possibility of four or a 5% pay cut, and the possibility of layoffs to boot – it’s enough to make you say “enough.”

And so I have.

I didn’t think I’d be in the job market this soon, especially in a recession. But I have to assess my options. I have to see if what I’m working with in terms of experience and qualifications will command a better wage and a better position.

It was different when I was single and young and apartment-dwelling with time on my hands for my 401(k) to rebound. But now I’m married and middle-aged with a mortgage and a 401(k) that’s down 29%, up from being down 65% earlier this year, mind you. I have responsibilities not only to my husband, but to creditors and to my older self when I’m no longer able or willing to work.

I have to assess my options.

BMNB thinks I’m crazy to continue to subsidize the State of California through my lower state worker wages. He thinks I need to chuck it and work, as he does, for “a government that prints its own money.”

My sister thinks I need to ride it out. “If you just wait, this will eventually get better.”

I don’t think I have the luxury of time. Plus, at the risk of sounding elitist, I’ve invested far more time and money into my so-called “human capital” than most. Fours years of college, three of law school, and year and a half of graduate school.

And I’m still paying for that investment. I need to make it pay off in a way that is not only remunerative, but fulfilling for the rest of the time I’m healthy and working. I don’t want to look for another job after this. I thought I was done with job hunting. I wanted this to be my last job before retirement.

I have to assess my options.

So I ran across a job announcement for a really cool position in a really cool place far from home.

“But it’s so far away,” I whined to BMNB. “I did that commute before. I don’t know if I can do it again.”

“If you like the job, just apply for it and let’s see what happens.” BMNB always sees the positive side of things whenever I’m involved. He’s envisioning telecommuting, flexible hours, meetings by webcam, etc. I’m envisioning listening to people snore on the train and the smell of coffee-laced executive drool emanating from my seatmate at 4:45 am.

“I don’t know what it pays,” I thought to myself. However, the description sounded exciting, even fun. Like a big, fat perfect career pitch you’ve been waiting for at the home plate of your life. And everything I’ve done so far appears to have prepared me for the position.

So I did it. I sent a resume (with a summary section – it’s been more than a minute since I’ve revised my resume), cover letter, articles I’ve written, and one article written about me.

Call it hope in an envelope.

Just the act of putting myself out there – even if it’s for a position I’ve got a snowball’s chance in hell of getting in this economy – gave me hope. Because I know in my heart what BMNB says to me all the time: If you take one step, God will take two.

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Happy Birthday, Black Man!

I forgot -- one of my favorite black men is having a birthday today. He knows who he is. We've been friends for twenty years this summer, through bad relationships (he kept me from commiting a crime against an ex after a particularly bad breakup), bad bar exam results, fallouts with law firms and friends, career adjustments, loss of parents, marriage, and, for him, children. And despite the passage of time, we can pick up wherever we left off just by starting a conversation, which we don't do as much as we should. He is the personification of honor, chivalry, hard work, values, and kindness, traits we don't give black men enough credit for having these days. Plus, to be able to speak to a trusted friend over the years and not have to apologize for or change who you are when you speak to him because he knows your history? Priceless. Mastercard can't touch that.

Happy Birthday, Black Man. Here's to another twenty years of friendship!

Who's Afraid of a Wise Latina?

I cannot be the only one cringing at the Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings for Judge Sonia Sotomayor. I cringe because I hear her backpedaling, or as they say in pundit-speak, "walking back," from her comment about a wise Latina. I cringe because although we all know the votes are all there for her confirmation, she has to go through this process where she has to become raceless, genderless, and unthreatening to the overwhelmingly white and male Senators who hold her fate, and to the voters who elected those overwhelmingly white and male Senators, to make it through. Just like many whites who cannot have a conversation about race without attaching outrage or moral blame to it, she has to act like the consideration of race or one's racialized experiences do not belong in the justice system because they subvert or taint the justice system. That justice is color-blind when in fact justice has, for most of our history, been lacking in any color but white.

Oh, so it's like THAT. When a Latina is nominated to a position that holds for her the potential to become one of the most powerful women in the United States, she has to prove that she's absolutely no different than any white male jurist and would analyze and rule the same. This despite the fact that Justice Alito was allowed to freely and positively refer to his ethnic background in conjunction with his judicial temperment and philosophy during his confirmation hearings.

Who's afraid of a wise Latina? I guess Senators Sessions and Hatch.

I call B.S. But I don't blame Judge Sotomayor.

But, to borrow from an En Vogue song, "And now it's time for a breakdown."

Have we forgotten that the majority of racial injustices cloaked in the mantle of dispassionate and unbiased jurisprudence have been visited upon people of color in the U.S. by white male jurists? It was white men who gave us the Japanese internment cases, Plessy v. Ferguson, and the Dred Scott decision. It was also a white man who, having had a hand in the internment of Japanese Americans, drew on his empathy (There, I said it. Empathy. Since when did "empathy" become a dirty word, like "liberal"?) and sense of justice and used all his might to procure a per curiam opinion in Brown v. Board of Education.

Have we forgotten that courts have adopted a reasonable woman standard in judging workplace sexual harassment of women? That recognizing a woman's gendered experience and what might be considered harassment to her, as opposed to what men might think is or isn't harassment to her, is part of applying the life experiences of others, marginalized others to be precise, to come to a fair and just result? To think otherwise is to think that a noose is just a pretty rope with a loop. Or that a confederate flag is just "heritage, not hate" when it's hung in the breakroom of an overwhelmingly black workforce.

But no, we're not supposed to consider this because that's bias, not empathy. Prejudice, not jurisprudence.

I wish with all my might that Judge Sotomayor had the power to say, "Yep, I said what I said about the wise Latina thing, I meant it when I said it, I still mean it, and I have the votes to get where I want to go. So if you have no further questions . . . . "

But she doesn't. Like many intelligent, Ivy League-educated people of color, she has the intellect, the accomplishments, the connections, but not the power. That power, unfortunately, is in the hands of a mostly white, male Senate Judiciary Committee that doesn't understand the nuanced difference between bias and empathy and that judging isn't simply a matter of fair and colorless versus prejudiced and color-considering.

I hope Judge Sotomayor makes it through this process so she can sit on the highest court on the land for the remainder of her lifetime.

And then have the power to speak her mind, freely and without apology or "walking back."

Because the Supreme Court desperately needs a wise Latina.

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Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Today, A Mother Is Burying Her Child

Today, a mother is burying her child.

This is taking place around the world, for countless mothers of children, some famous, some not. Whether or not that child was largely unknown to the world or the King of Pop, the pain is not any less than that of any other mother who has to bury a child.

"It's not the natural order of things for a parent to have to bury a child." My father often says this. Burying a child was, and probably remains, one of his greatest nightmares. When he faced down that possibility many years ago, my father, as devout a Christian as I imagine Mrs. Katherine Jackson to be, walked the floor all night, praying and speaking in tongues, flagellating himself with belts to show the Almighty that he was indeed His humble servant and to plead with Him not to take his child, or to take him in his child's stead. God showed him mercy.

And this from someone who never carried a child.

I can't imagine the pain that Mrs. Jackson is feeling today, and that pain is made all the more difficult by the fact that she doesn't have the option of hurting privately. Her son was public property, and she had to share him with the world. She is still doing so in his death.

I would hope that all the critics, naysayers, and New York politicians would show restraint, mute their criticisms, and keep their unkind words about Michael Jackson to themselves, for just one day.

Because, on this day, a mother is burying her child.

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