Thursday, July 7, 2016

Another day, another video

It is hard to know how to feel these days.  Watching OJ: Made in America in the midst of the weekly videos of police brutality towards brown people and an unapologetically racist candidate for president makes me want to stay in bed forever and pull the covers over my head.

The OJ miniseries reminds me of where I was when all of this happened.  I was in college.  I remember being shocked and outraged when I saw the Rodney King video.  I remember thinking in my ignorance that surely these police officers would go to prison.  Police were there to protect you.  They were the people you were supposed to run to in a crisis.  These cops in the video weren't real policeman.  They were anomalies.  They would be punished and all would be right in the world. 

Well of course that's not what happened.  How blissful I was in my ignorance.  Now 2 decades later I can't count the number of times I've seen similar videos of police brutality.  I don't even hope for a trial or guilty verdict any more.  Not only has it become commonplace for police officers to kill black people, but it is also okay if you're just a citizen.  You don't even have to be a cop.  You see a black person.  Make an assumption about that person.  Even if that person is minding their own business and poses no threat to you at all.  You can kill him.  No one will care.  No one will notice.

What if all these videos were of white people being beaten and murdered?  Every time I hear a story about an innocent person being mistaken for a criminal I don't need to hear the race of the person.  I know it is only on the news because that person is dead and likely unarmed and black.

My hope is that eventually such a heinous crime will be caught on video that people will be shocked into action.  I don't know what will be worse than police severing a man's spine or shooting an unarmed man 20 times on his wedding day but I know it will come.  That the end of slavery, desegregation of schools, etc.  all came eventually.  Eventually cops will think twice before killing someone because they know that they will be punished for their crime and go to jail if they are wrong.  

I am so sick of hearing the daily justifications for these actions.  Oh, it's okay that they killed this innocent person because he has a criminal record.  No, he wasn't breaking the law when they shot him but the mere existence of a shady background makes it okay.  Or maybe they were breaking the law.  Maybe they have a warrant for their arrest.  No they didn't have a gun and weren't threatening the police in any way but they might have.  See we killed a bad person.  Eventually this person would have done something so we were doing a public service.

Not that this brutality is new.  It's just that in this age of social media and everyone having a camera in their pocket that they are caught on tape and made public.  People who think there is a sudden surge in police brutality are naive.  The brutality has been going on forever and will likely continue to go on.  It's just harder to ignore now. 

Every time I pass a police officer I have irrational fears of being pulled over for speeding and then being pulled out of my car and being beaten.  If I walk into a store and there are police there I worry that I might look suspicious.  That my big purse will make them think I'm carrying a weapon. That if I talk too loudly or get too close to them they will accuse me of something.  But them I worry that if they don't notice me and I suddenly sneak up on them by walking around a corner they may be surprised by the sudden appearance of a black face and draw their weapons.

I know that these fears are irrational but that doesn't stop me from having them.  I can't imagine that any of the innocent people who have been killed thought they were about to die. 

So yes, OJ was obviously guilty.  The evidence should have been more than enough to put him away for those murders.  But he got off.  He beat the system.  He was a black man who committed a crime and wasn't punished for it.  It feels like a victory in the face of all of the cops who killed black people and got away with it.  I can understand why so many people wanted to believe that OJ was innocent. 

I'm happy that in the end karma came around and he ended up going to jail.  Sure, it wasn't for murder but it still feels like justice.  I can only hope that one day karma will come around for the rest of us too.    Until then I won't make the mistake of running towards police for help.  I will take my chances with whoever is chasing me instead. 

Monday, June 20, 2016


I've had a lifelong battle with other women.  I don't feel like I fit in with large groups of women.  It always feels like they are obsessed with trivial things that I don't care about.  In my experience, women seem focused on making other women look/feel bad and not on supporting each other.  When I'm traveling, I've learned that I will enjoy my night much better if I spend it alone at a restaurant or in my hotel room.  The alternative of going out to dinner with a bunch of women who I can't trust and don't have anything in common with.   
I met a woman through mutual work friend.  She worked for a local engineering firm and was the only women of color in her office, much like me.  During a conference we ended up spending a couple hours getting to know each other.  We found out that we both loved running, dogs and Asian food. We agreed to meet together once a week to walk our dogs.  We ended up running or having lunch together once a week as well.  She had some annoying habits but overall she was someone that I enjoyed hanging out with. 

One morning I got to the park at our designated time and she wasn't there.  I texted her and she responded: "It's raining.  I don't walk in the rain".   Were her dogs aware of this?  Apparently they no longer need to go to the bathroom or get exercise when it's raining.  Let me be clear, this was not a monsoon.  Here in Syracuse, we are known for some really terrible weather.  This was a light rain on a beautiful spring day.  A lot of other people were at the park working out.  No one else seemed to think this was stay at home weather.

The fact that she didn't have the courtesy to call me to let me know she wasn't coming and that she would just let the time pass and assume that I would be okay with it because it was raining is ridiculous.  I hung out with her a handful of times after this.  Each time I saw her after that was less enjoyable than the last.  Suddenly her flaws become hard to ignore.  She was a bad dog parent.  She was materialistic and obsessed with impressing the other wives of her husband's co-workers.  She was trying to use my connections to gain traction at work.  I'm sure these problems existed before but I let them go because there were positive things to balance them out.  Eventually I stopped hanging out with her completely.  She ended up moving across the state when her husband got a better job.  I haven't spoken to her in years but she does occasionally pop up in my Facebook feed.  Every post reminds me of why she and I could never be friends.  

I have met several women through online running groups.  I love these groups because we are all going for the same goals and everyone is extremely positive and supportive.  As a person who typically runs alone, these groups give me a sense of community.  Every once in a while I meet these women in person by running in a relay together or having dinner before/after a race.  And every time, I feel left out, annoyed, bored, etc. 

From women "forgetting" to pay their race/hotel/rental car fees to women being selfish and not considering the needs/wants of other people in the group, they are consistently unbearable.  This has been easier to avoid since most of the groups also have male members.  I find that I am often the only woman in a group of men or that I am waiting/commiserating with the men in the group while the women are being annoying.  I am generally the wife who is hanging out with the husbands at weddings, Christmas parties, etc. 

I'm sure there are great women out there but my life has been full of unreliable women.  Even in cases when I have women that I would consider to be my friends, I can never completely let my guard down with them.  I cannot cry on their shoulders and count on them to support me the way that I support them or the way that my male friends support me.  I'd like to think that there are other women out there like me but really, at this point, I don't care.  I'm too old for this shit.   

Friday, January 1, 2016

New Year, Same Problems

For most of my life I have been in charge of managing my brother's life.  Anytime he got in trouble or couldn't handle the stresses of life it was my job to make sure that he didn't hurt himself or someone else.  This became exhausting pretty quickly.  I started to resent my brother for always needing attention.  For not being responsible for his actions.  For needing the rest of us to tailor our lives to making sure he was okay. 

As he has gotten older my brother has been less destructive to himself physically but has not made any progress towards managing his life as an adult.  On Christmas Eve I found out that my brother is in yet another financial crisis created by him being careless and assuming that the rules of the world don't apply to him.  It has been less than a year since I saved him from the last financial crisis. 

Part of me wants to step away.  He's in his mid thirties.  He lives in another state.  At some point he has to step up to the plate and take care of himself.  But then I think of the other times that I have stepped back and I worry about things becoming worse.  As unfair as it is, this seems to be my burden in life. 

I have never had any desire to have children.  But I feel like raising my brother is a job that I got when he was born that will never go away.  It would be so much easier if my brother had a disability that was visible.  People would understand.  But with mental illness people can appear completely normal to friends and co-workers and be a complete mess inside. 

You can't force an adult man to see a therapist and go back on meds when he isn't a danger to himself physically.  And honestly, even if you could, I don't have fond memories of his time in therapy.  Weekly office visits and lots of drugs but no real progress.  Violent episodes.  Suicide attempts.  Jail time.  I am grateful that those days are over but still hopeful that there is a better alternative. 

Monday, December 21, 2015

BET Takes A Giant Step Backward

On the season finale of Being Mary Jane, Mary Jane ended her relationship with "The White Boy".  Not really a surprise since all of her relationships are unhealthy and end in a ball of fire.  Fans expect at least one new love interest per season and, subsequently, one epic breakup.  Usually the relationships have a honeymoon period and the viewers get sucked into thinking this one might last before the hammer drops.  But the difference between the other break ups and this one is that nothing actually happened this time. 

There was no argument that lead to this breakup.  Just Mary Jane deciding one day that she was black and could not maintain her blackness if she dated a white boy.  She spouted off all kinds of BS about how black men got her in a way that white men never could and that she couldn't date a white man because of this because it was some sort of betrayal to her race.  WTF.

So all black marriages have a 100% success rate because they just get each other?  Or 0% of interracial marriages last because they don't?  Shame on BET for this sort of ignorant 1950's mindset.  Black people and white people are different and they shouldn't be together.  Stay with your race.  Never stray from what society tells you is best for you. 

Relationships work when people listen to each other, respect each other and let their guard down enough to open themselves up.  For all the single women out their who cheered when Mary Jane ended the relationship and in the next breath complained to their girlfriends about how hard it is to find a good (black) man shame on you too.  I'm so over media telling me who I'm supposed to be.  The last place I expected to see racism promoted was on a network that is supposed to make me feel good about being black.  

Friday, December 4, 2015

Weak Women in Print

It feels like every book that I have read lately revolves around a collection of weak women.  They are either victims of some sort of abuse or completely dependent on men for every aspect of their lives. This is the narrative:

My husband doesn't respect or treat me well but I'd be lost without a man to do everything for me.  I don't know how to navigate this world without my big strong husband to make me feel safe.  I am of course the mother of daughters who are somehow strong and independent despite not having a strong female role model (like their mother).  I am resentful and bitter.  But when I am left alone (husband leaves me either tragically or voluntarily) I must learn to survive without him guiding me.  I went to college and had a career but I left all that behind to support my man.  Now I've been out of the work force for a decade and am not qualified to do anything but whine and lament the loss of my rock.   How much is our mortgage? Who is the insurance company? Oh woe is me how to deal with all these things alone.  No, I didn't work or pay attention to household finances.  I was planning parties or hanging out with the other PTA moms at the gym/ Target/Starbucks.  Gimme a break.

I'm so over the weak female lead in every novel.  The supporting female characters are generally catty, hateful bitches who are just as weak and inept as the main character, making it impossible for them to be a good friend to them.  The worst of it is that most of these novels are written by women.  Seriously, is that how you view women or worse yet yourself?  Is this the image of women that you want to put out into the world?  Are these the only type of women that you think people will find interesting or believable?  This weakness is rarely important to the story.  But yet it is always there.

I often find myself running a Bechdel test in my head.  Can two female characters have a dialogue without talking about a man?  In my own personal take on the Bechdel test I also look for conversations between women that don't revolve around their children.  Enough already.  Women are not weak, baby-making waifs whose can't tie their shoes without a Xanax and a man.  I like my characters likable, maybe even relatable.  What I don't like is hating a character and celebrating all the bad things that are happening to her.  Hoping the next book I read breaks this trend. 

Monday, August 24, 2015

Inequalities in Prison Terms in the U.S.

I was excited to read about the 25th anniversary of Friday Night Lights in the 8/3/15 issue of Sports Illustrated.  The book, movie and TV series are all held up as some of the best of all time.  But, almost as a side note, the article highlighted the inequalities of he criminal justice system.  Either the author didn't notice it or didn't want to turn his nostalgic article into a political article. Sports Illustrated missed a key opportunity to address an issue that society is struggling with right now. 

Person A- Abused by relatives.  Spent time in foster care.  High school football star.  School helped him cheat in high school so he could stay eligible to play football.  The help stopped once he was injured and couldn't play.  Flunked out of college. Charged with aggravated assault after hitting someone with a beer bottle during a fight.  No prior felony record.  Misdemeanors for driving without a license and failure to pay child support.  Given 10 years probation.  Stopped making regular visits to his parole officer.  Sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Person B- Family law firm.  High school football star.  Attended Harvard.  Joined family law firm.  Admitted starting a fight with his girlfriend and her ex-husband that escalated into a brawl.  B and two friends entered the ex-husband's house uninvited and continued fighting with the 8 people inside.  Charged with burglary with intent to commit assault- a serious felony.  Placed on 5 years probation and had his law license suspended for 5 years.

There is big difference here.  Why was one given 10 years probation and the other 5 years?  Was person A told that if he violated his parole he would then have an equal amount of jail time?  Did person A ever receive therapy to deal with his childhood hardships?  Person A didn't have the family support or resources that person B had.  Person B not only had a family of lawyers supporting him but the personal knowledge of the law to know what would happen if he didn't follow the rules.   

I am not advocating violating parole but there are too many people spending years in prison for non-violent offenses.  And more often than not, they aren't given therapy or skills in prison to cope with the real world once they get out so a lot of them end up coming back. 

It is hard to believe that race and economic status didn't play a role in the unequal treatment of the two men.  Person A is black and poor.  When he was injured and could no longer play for the football team, he was subjected to racism from the football staff and community.  The football team provided him with the support that he never had from his family.  Once that was gone, he was on his own again.

Person B is Hispanic and comes from a family that is prominent in the community.  I'd like to believe that person B would have been sentenced to prison if he violated his parole but it seems unlikely.  And if he was sentenced it probably wouldn't have been for 10 years. 

No matter what your background, there should be a set list of rules for offenses so that judges don't sentence poor, black people to longer sentences.  A good lawyer or a bad judge shouldn't decide someone's fate.  At some point the criminal justice system needs to stop solving everything with a trip to prison.  Rehabilitation will have to be a key part of  treatment.  The reason we have more people in prison than any other developed country is because people are in jail for non-violent offenses.  We put all of our money into building new prisons and very little on programs to prevent people from going into prison in the first place. 

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Learning to Let it Go

My brother and I were rarely spanked when we were kids.  We were frequently beaten.  My mother didn't know how to cope with having 2 young children with minimal support so she took it out on us.  Sometimes it would be an overreaction to something that one of us had done wrong.  Usually, we were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Sometimes being in the room, minding your own business was enough to warrant a beating. 

It took me a long time to forgive my mother for this abuse.  For years I would inappropriately hit my friends and boyfriends and overreact violently to situations that other people would just brush off.  I still struggle with controlling my temper and letting things go.  I know that I get this from my mother.

The most difficult thing to deal with is my mother's complete change of opinion on corporal punishment.  At least a couple times a year there is a video of a parent beating their child in a grocery store parking lot or a famous person putting their child in the hospital after a routine spanking.  My mother is the first one to express her outrage at these parents.  She is careful to say that yes, that sort of thing was okay when she was a kid but it's not okay now.  But she never admits that it is the sort of thing that she did as a parent.  That she was wrong.  It is always them.  It is never her.

I don't expect her to have this epiphany.  I know she won't ever apologize or admit that she was wrong.  But it still bothers me.  I don't know if I will ever be able to let things go but at least I'm only screaming at her inside my head.