living history through primary sources

There have been some incredible pieces of historical documents written and distributed in the last month. Three that jump to the forefront of my mind are:

 

 

A 5280 Family Reunion

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35 members of five generations of family who range in age from 7 weeks to a few weeks shy of 93 assemble in Denver and Aurora this weekend. Select moments of storytelling have been:
• two consecutive days of pool with my niece and nephew, including a 10-minute clinic on grips, how to place their left hands on the pool table, and steadying the cue on the padding between a thumb and forefinger. Last night, Diego said “thanks for showing me, Uncle Chad. I wasn’t this good at pool before.”
• telling Ms. Gayles, Aunt Barbara and Grandmother about ten years of vegetables and the proliferation of CSAs, community gardens and urban farms. It’s amazing when a diabetic says, “I had no idea that young people, your age, were so into their food like that,” as we talked about jobs, health, diets, fish chromosomes in tomatoes, the proliferation of and popular resistance to GMOs, and the future.
• stories of Count, Candy and GoGo, who were George’s three Dobermans in Dallas. Count, who was a guard dog, walked Sherry down the street one day causing a neighbor, who could recognize any Doberman, called George to tell him where his daughter and dog were.

Word choice

“These are crimes of domination and violence.” A quote from Senator Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY) related to her efforts to pass a bipartisan bill removing sexual assault reporting from the military chain-of-command. This is after the bill failed in the Senate’s Armed Forces Committee.

Domination and violence. These are a few of my least favorite things. These are two products of centuries of masculinity festering in the New World. Subjugation and genocide.

These are actions that cut through the physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual; or as Elizabeth Kubler-Ross wrote, the four dimensions of being human.

Somehow, in this society, we have created notions that real men don’t have emotions. If you cannot show nor share your feelings for fear of ridicule, reprimand or other denigration, then you might as well have little or no feelings at all.

Something has happened in the collective souls of men. Harry Potter referred to horcruxes, as objects that captured part of someone’s soul. In order for some fraction of a soul to be removed from a being, it had to fragment.

A new form of masculinity is urgently needed in the 21st Century. One where one man’s dignity does not depend on the oppression of some woman, child or other man. Where one man’s power does not correlate to his prowess or cunning, but on his gentleness, patience and trusting of others; particularly, in trusting other men.

The military brass do not trust some other entity to supervise. They don’t know how to trust some other entity. They have created such vast walls to isolate themselves, and the culture of rape and sexual assault that plagues the armed forces, that they fear what will happen by a law mandating that some external force be responsible for establishing protocols and consequences needed to create a new culture, new forms of safety in the day-to-day of being in the military.

By opposing such a change, the military commanders want to maintain an imbalance of power. They want to continue to have the discretion to grant immunity or a get-out-of-jail free card to a private or an officer who rapes, assaults or abuses a woman or another man.

Our political system is still fumbling with gender, masculinity, entitlement, male privilege and patriarchy. Last year, I realized how the term rape entered the public debate due to the shameful statements of two Republican candidates who are well on their way to being elected until they spoke about rape. Suddenly, rape was in the headlines and on tv. The R-word had become okay to say for the first time in my life whereas abortion has been in the public debate and a fixture in U.S. politics for most of my life. There were choices made back in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s to talk about the A-word, but refrain from mentioning the R-word. The men who led both parties in a two-party political system were complicit in the everyday use of the A-word and countless derivatives like “partial birth” and “abortion clinic.”

This is why it has fallen to a woman on the Senate Armed Forces Committee to rectify a culture of assault that has compounded a failed system for far too long. Fortunately, there is one tireless advocate who refuses to be cowed by custom and the way things have been. A new era is here for the military’s endemic patterns of coercion and rape.

when deemed less than human

I am not surprised. This is symbolic of a court system and a set of values that do not consider a 17 year old boy being equal to a human. He is deemed to be less than human.
Part of my shaping of not surprised might be my patina of masculinity, to shield my fragile and sensitive being from the dehumanizing brutality of how humans treat one another.
Grieve. Feel your rage, disgust and disillusionment. And rise tomorrow to live for another day. Dedicate yourself to work towards a life of significance, to make a living, giving life, stoking hope and inspiration, appreciating the beauty and love in the Black people, Brown people, Red people and even the white people too, who surround us.

Turn off the television. MSNBC, CNN, the local news and Fox are all channels who’s coverage is to disgust, despair and disempower you. Each hour that you are mired on a channel — from ABC to HBO to Spike — is another instant that you won’t have back or get back. Instead, dedicate your life to activities that advance social justice and humanity, dignity and democracy. This means more time with real people, less time in television. And time with yourself. If you are so despondent or rudderless about what this means at this moment in history, remember that adage of Frederick Douglass that “power never concedes anything without a demand. It never has, and never will.”
50 years after the March on Washington and the delusion, smoke and mirrors that we were all equal (and propelled some to purport to being in a post-racial era), let this remind us — show us, instill in us — that many institutions and people do not see us as human. I do not know if they care to quantify us as more than 3/5ths of a human or less than three-fifths, but in our impaired nation, we are deemed less than human.

Let us not isolate ourselves from the other people of color who are other test subjects in a maniacal experiment of racial domination. For the last 12 years, Muslims, South Asians and Sikhs and others have been caught under the heel of Uncle Sam’s strange and trembling empire while Latinos/as, immigrants and people of color have become the next wave of men, women and children to fill the jails, prisons, detention centers, private prisons, parole offices, cells of solitary confinement, tent camps and extraordinary rendition as the Global War on Terror has come home to roost.
And, let us remember that most of the white people in this country, and the vast majority of people in the world, long for justice and democracy and to live in a country that adheres to tenets of justice, liberty, equality and dignity.

inexperience + ignorance + isolation = racism’s 3 I’s

Racism comes from the 3 Is: inexperience. ignorance. isolation.

“When you combine those three I’s, what you get is people who are incapable of participating in and contributing in an inclusive society. everytime that i turn around, it is one of those I’s that people’s behavior is so off-track.

“Wealth has isolated him. as a result of that, and his own volition, had no real experience with a diversity of folks. he proved that he is ignorant or untruthful. or it may be both.

“That is what has happened, and what has been a focus — diversity and inclusion — has been a focus of my career.”

Saturday a.m.: appreciations for walking other paths

I appreciate the paths less taken by each of my parents. My mother, was the first in her family to get a BA. She had sought out adventure, the kind that travel fosters, since high school when she attempted to be an exchange student. Her travel bug metamorphised probably much earlier than that. While attending the state university in Boulder, one of the gigs she chose was to become a resident advisor. 

Through that RA, she made an acquaintance with my dad. One of the few stories that i can recall from what I have been told was how they were supposed to do a new student orientation. Well, when it came time to begin speaking with the students, he was silent and left much (if not all) of the talking to her. A pattern that has been evident for much of the four-plus decades that they have been together. 

The collegiality of RAs led to them getting to know one another, and eventually going on a date. I cannot fathom what it was like for mom, to date a black guy in the mid 1960s. They married in June of 1967, 12 months prior to RFK’s assassination in Los Angeles. 10 months prior to MLK’s assassination in Memphis. 

There are so many instances that I can glimpse how she is walking another, a different path. From having her own business in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Bringing silver jewelery from Taxco, Mexico and selling it around Denver. I have never asked how much she would make, but it was a creative outlet, exploration, and set of skills that mom built in the midst of raising four kids — who in 1980 ranged from 2-10. 

****

My father’s path of embodying a different type of maleness is what has been salient to me. To be a grown male in the latter half of the 20th Century, was a particular thing. Yet, (some of) my father’s uniqueness comes from not only being a man, but a Black man. Who was an oldest child. Having a father who had fought in the Korean War, and later taught at Tuskegee Institute. A father who was not only in the service and a veteran, but one of the Tuskegee Airmen. There are so many layers to my relationship with my father, and I can only fantasize (hypothesize, romanticize as well as idealize and be frustrated by) what my father’s relationship to his father was. My grandfather died a few years before I was born — I want to say three years prior, but I am not convinced. So, what I have known of him have been through stories, photographs, and family traditions, mannerisms and other subtleties that may be passed through genes as much as upbringing. 

A few more forms of my father’s intersectionality include black/male, oldest child/with a developmentally disabled sister, only boy/with two sisters. Over the past decade, I have attributed meaning to who my father is, trying to lump my notions — of identity, experience, values — onto a skeletal structure of what I conceptualize his early life having been. I am more conscious of the gender make-up in my dad’s family, and in my own, because he embodies such a unique form of masculinity for me. 

In my 20s, i was flabbergasted, sometimes irate, with his inability to express, to divulge, to share. As a kid, he taught all of us the mantra, “if you have nothing nice to say, don’t say it.” (that reads with far too many negatives than my lawyer-father would utter. if my memory serves me correctly) Those notions kind of worked in elementary school and as a teenager, but in adulthood I sought more perspective from him and everyone else in my family on what was coursing through his veins, his soul, his heart and mind. In my 20s, I fought the reality of what was, rather than embrace things for how they were. And those struggles have played some part in things being different today than they would be if I had not banged on the door of his feelings that he did not give voice to. A lot has changed in the eIght years since my mom told me how the only times my father would express his feelings were when he was sloshed. 

 

Omnipresent Identity

omnipresent: present everywhere at the same time. 

I have walked much of my 34 years in this life seeing myself, and the world, through the lens of race. My particular racial identity being mixed, mulatto, a half-breed of Black, white. There is a sprinkling of Native American blood in there, too — but I don’t live in a culture where we bother with one-sixteenths. There was a elementary school phase where i was name-called an Oreo; by a handful of white classmates (in an overwhelmingly white school). 2005 was the first time that I began to put my identity in terms of class. In June of that year, I had an epiphany that my white mother came from a working-class, white family. That was the first time that I had uttered that phrase. Seven years later, I am confident that ‘working-class, white family’ is a phrase that my mother will not use for the rest of her life.

I have entered into identity’s abyss in recent years. On Super Bowl Sunday of 2008, one of my two surviving grandparents passed. Dick Uhlenhopp had been in hospice for a month or so. Prior to that he had lived independently and on his own since Grandma Shirley died in October of 1987. Aside from my paternal/maternal great-grandmother, Buddy Jackson, my branch of the Jones/Uhlenhopp family trees had been spared death for the 21 years spanning from 1987 until 2008. What was different, in 2008, was that I was nearly 30 when Grandpa Dick passed. And I had been poking around family history, and asking quesionst hat had never occurred to me before, or topics that I had quietly agreed to remain silent about, as my siblings and others had. But with Grandpa’s death, I began to see how deeply identity goes. How many layers of an infinte onion, identity is.

Identity has become a doorway into personality, opinions, values, vantage and feelings.

I remember an exercise in college, where we were asked to compose a list of 20 or so identities for ourselves. Then we narrowed the list down to 5 by eliminating 15. Then we were told to whittle five down to one. In a room full of students of color, most of us had been selected for our leadership in student of color groups. Most of us settled with a singular identity emanating from our racial origins of Blackness, Latino/a lineage, API, immigrant or Native ancestry. That is, all of us saw ourselves as people of color. Except Sherman.

There was one guy who picked ‘friend’ as his one identity. He chose it over all others. I remember sitting near him, perplexed. Unable to fathom how a guy borne of two Chinese immigrants in Canada could see himself first as a “friend.” See himself only as a friend, especially when I saw his black hair, eyeglasses, toothy and nerdy smile wrapped in the skin and features that I had learned was Asian. I had even known that he was majoring in Economics, was raised in Saskatchewan, finished high school in Hong Kong, and had siblings. But at the time, all that I could distill Sherman down to was race.

How things have changed over a decade. I sense identity, multiple identities, everywhere (I suppose that I did with Sherman, too. But I placed a value on one identity over all others). I like to taste identity in the air, as if it is nectar of a flower or the smoke of a fire or from industrial pollution. Identity is that readily available. Identity is omnipresent. I listen to stories similarly to how a serious fan logs a baseball scoreboard. Identity has become a multi-faceted, nth-dimension in each of our souls and characters. Race and class are simply veneer for deeper stories, lives and identities that are buried within. I have come to see identity as including:

  • siblings: number of siblings, and place in sibling order (or an only)?
  • gender:
  • place of birth:
  • hometown: (do you consider this the same as the previous answer? that is indicative of something else)
  • place of current home:
  • closeness to mother/father/grandma/grandpa: relationship, distaste, struggles
  • favorite subject in elementary school: math, spelling, recess, science, p.e.
  • you get a high school diploma, GED or college degree:
  • more street-smarts, more book-smarts, or some of both?
  • math or literature: or as i like to say now-a-days, do you speak more fluently in numbers or letters?
    … aka, MS Word or Excel?
  • major or subject studied:
  • type of work:
  • reader: of fiction, current events, (even that distinct subpopulation passionate about) sci fi
  • paying rent or a mortgage, or multiple mortgages?
  • favorite author:
  • favorite vegetable:
  • favorite meal: breakfast, lunch or dinner?

Embracing more of our identities is vital in order to weave together stories that encapsulate more of the lives each of us has lived. I am unsatisfied with race alone, because as my father has pointed out, he finished high school in an integrated high school in West Virginia rather than attend a segregated school in Tuskegee. It wasn’t even his choice, but his parents sent him to live with family in Charleston, WV.

Back in 2005, I began to sense the nuance of identity by exploring the distinctions between each of my parents. My white mother has certainly had race privilege her entire life. Yet, I have come to appreciate how she lacked many of the class privileges that my father was raised with. Since then, I have explained it simply as “my mother had the race privilege while my father grew up with the class privilege.” The vestiges of my mom being the first in her family to get a four-year degree are alive today. In ways that I choose not to ask my extended family about, but alive, nonetheless.

Taking class identity and blending it with race identity has been an awakening experience. Class, is such an avoided topic, that what that means needs explanation. Middle class for me has been a father who’s entire career was as a white collar employee with the federal government. A father who had union representation, was trained as a lawyer, and has had comprehensive health insurance for as long as I can remember since i got my first physical the summer after kindergarten. I got a physical as a six-year old because the family was headed to Kenya. A gaggle of dependents and a diplomat for the US Embassy in Nairobi.

So I add:

  • health insurance coverage: any or out-of-pocket?
    … PPO, HMO, Medicare or Medicaid?
    … that you have on your own, or are a dependent on someone else’s?

I have honed how i tell my 1984 story, too. After years of telling the chronological story of living in six countries, four states in the country, three continents over 15 years, I now say how I finished kindergarten in Denver and began the first grade in Nairobi.

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Last year, I was asked: Who are your ancestors?

Such potency in four words. There is a fits-and-starts fascination with history in this culture. For the most part, a historical amnesia when it comes to the history of families. How many people can tell where all four of their grandparents were born, grew up, and lived? How many of us readily know the years that our four grandparents were born, and died?

 I have a much lengthier answer than I did seven years ago because I have slowed down to ask. To explore, and to inquire with family members over the phone, and email messages as well as in person. The stories are too vast and invaluable to not ask now. There is a great risk in waiting until I will see my last living grandparent.

Armchair Elder

I saw her seated to the far right of the third row. Who was this white-haired woman glaring at me as I strolled down the aisle. I asked to enter the third row, seated just next to this elderly woman, with my mind using a single verb to describe her as she glared at me. I took my seat on my Southwest flight home. I had a story coursing through my head howt his white woman was fixated on my brown skin. As it turned out, she happened to be a curious, storytelling, fellow traveler.

It began when she asked me how the buckle of her seat belt worked. I learned two further data points within minutes, which were this was an 85 year old woman who was on an airplane for the second time in her life. The previous flight was two weeks earlier when she’d flown to RDU from MDW. Meanwhile, I have been on planes regularly. My first flights began at age six (nearly three decades earlier than the octogenarian seated to my left). One of the few questions that she asked me was if my other airplane rides were bumpier than our shared springtime flight from North Carolina to Illinois. I told her that, yes, they could get bumpy.

We shared an armrest, and she shared countless stories. For the next 80 minutes, I had a history tutorial courtesy of Mrs. Marilois Anderson of Morocco, Indiana.

Marilois lives in a duplex. She was a nurse until age 60 in a tiny Indiana town across the stateline from Chicago. At four, her parents moved from southern Indiana to Morocco, as her father got work for the telephone company. Her mother worked for Ma Bell, too, working the switchboard from their home. One time, Marilois placed the mouthpiece in her mouth, getting an electric shock that made the line go dead. Her father had been to war, too. He was a medic and driver. My young mind was curious about which war it had been. It was one of oodles of questions that I can not know a definite answer to.

Mrs. Anderson’s maiden name is Carter. She married in her early 20s, and had three children – one of whom lived in North Carolina, the nudge she needed to get on an airplane in her mid-80s. I got a glimpse of memory, the mind’s work, and the moment-by-moment nature of life when I asked her husband’s name. In the long pausing presence, I noted that she was unable to recall the name of a partner who died six years ago. She pulled her wallet out for a second time out from one of her two handbags. Her eyes searched for an ID with his name on it. Not on the credit card, nothing on her Medicare card. Then she did find a membership card for the World War II Memorial. Her eyes scanned the colors and images, and I read the name aloud: Mrs. Milton Anderson. I had a great uncle named Milt, too. My uncle Milt had fought in some war decades before I was born. For the 20-some years of overlap, I heard few stories of his service and his life.

Thanks to history, my ancestors and their stories, there were so many reasons that made Marilois’ memories of Morocco so familiar to me. She even said to me how she wanted me to meet her son, Jack, when I come through Morocco.

Multiple times during our flight, Ms. Anderson said that the airplane felt like we were “just sitting here.” It was magic when she peered out from her window seat. She remarked at how incredible it was that we were flying at 30,000 feet. When the floor of the clouds opened, she said, “I can see something.” I got a glimpse of how curiosity and adventure can live on. Can live in us. In her bike rides, her love of the public library, where the librarians of Newton County let her borrow knowing that some day, Mrs. Anderson, won’t bring her two books back.

Primary sources, found freely online

An excerpt from 1970, found online today:

But many … have become disillusioned after a time by their experiences with liberation groups.  More often than not these groups never get beond [sic] the level of therapy sessions; rather than aiding the political development of [those involved] and building a revolutionary movement, they often enourage escape from political struggle.

All this in the second paragraph of an article titled, “What is the Revolutionary Potential of Women’s Liberation?” I removed the references to women and women’s movements and women’s rights to make the passage applicable to numerous oppressed populations. It is applicable to sexism, racism, classism, homophobia and xenophobia.

Therapy is critical. And this suggests that it alone is insufficient to sustain, or continue to nourish the souls and liberation of those involved. The clarity of mentioning political development and political education is a clear second step after one has taken the first stage of deep healing. In order to grapple with the inner injury, there has to be an external system to grapple with.

Politics is a use of power.

In my own experience, revolutionary groups with only the therapy stage lose those who have been a part of them once they have healed. When there is a lack of new engagement, new opportunities, new levels of discourse then the initial emphasis of “therapy sessions” is insufficient.

On the other hand, the on-going presence of the initial stage of healing and a second track can create a dynamism and interplay between the two tracks.

 

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There are passages that demonstrate how significantly times have changed:

 

As well as what remains the same:

Many of the characteristics which one needs in order to become respected in the movement — like the ability to argue loud and fast and aggressively and to excell in the “I’m more revolutionary than you” style of debate — are traits which in our society consistently cultivates in men and discourages in women from childhood.  But these traits are neither inherently male nor universally human; rather, they are particularly appropriate to a brutally competitive capitalist society.

The authenticity fixation has reached its limit in certain circles, and is pervasive in others. It may be perishing, but it has a long, slow death.

***

Eleanor Holmes Norton describes the intersection crash of race + family, in the Black Women’s Manifesto, writing:

With black family life so clearly undermined in the American environment, blacks must remake the family unit, not imitate it. Indeed, this task is central to black liberation. The black male will not be returned to his historic strength – the foremost task of the black struggle today – if we do not recreate the strong family unit that was a part of our African heritage before it was dismembered by the slave-owning class in America. But it will be impossible to reconstruct the black family if its central characters are to be crepe paper copies acting out the old white family melodrama. In that failing production, the characters seem set upon a course precisely opposite to ours. White men in search of endless financial security have sold their spirits to that goal and begun a steady emasculation in which the fiscal needs of wife and family determine life’s values and goals. Their now ungrateful wives have begun to see the fraud of this way of life, even while eagerly devouring its fruits. Their even more ungrateful children are in bitter rejection of all that this sort of life signifies and produces. White family life in America today is less than a poor model for blacks. White family life is disintegrating at the moment when we must reforge the black family unit. The whole business of the white family – its softened men, its frustrated women, its angry children – is in a state of great mess.