Some news stories that caught our eye this week:

Mo’ne Davis, Little League superstar, graciously signed balls in the L.A. Dogers dugout. Go, Mo’ne!

Who’s got the time to make a complete list of rules for women? This guy is asking for one.

You know the people who say stuff like “I’m not racist, but…”? There’s a new drink just for them.

I was 20 years old the year the O.J. Simpson trial made “gavel to gavel coverage” a new genre of television. I don’t remember where I was when the verdict was announced. The moments that left an impression on me were less dramatic. Certain conversations during that year were bursts of consciousness for me, as a young white person doing work against domestic violence.

It was obvious to me that O.J. had committed the murders. The story of jealousy, control, rage, fear was very familiar and utterly plausible. It wasn’t something I found even a little bit hard to believe.

The fact that so many people believed O.J. was innocent didn’t surprise me. I was used to massive denial of violence against women. Victim blaming was nothing new. Ditto valuing fame and football over women’s lives.

But one thing did give me pause: As far as I could tell, only other white people saw it my way. In a poll after the trial, 73% of white Americans said they thought O.J. was guilty. 71% of African Americans said not guilty. The split became a cliché about racial polarization in America. For me, it was a clue that my perspective was limited by my experience as a white person in a deeply racist society.

face-vase-illusion

In the feminist, collectively-organized shelter where I worked, it was a given that dismantling structural racism was inseparable from our work to end domestic violence. But this was the first time that the awareness I had developed in learning to be an ally against racism bumped up against my own experience of gender oppression. The thing I knew for sure – about the insidious reality of men’s violence against women, propped up by cultural permission and silence – was in conflict with another truth. That the criminal justice system is thoroughly poisoned by racism. That the deck is stacked from policing to prosecution to prison and that dehumanization and disenfranchisement of African American people are more reliable outcomes than safety or justice.

(Of course, these truths aren’t contradictory at all. But back then I didn’t have the skills to form a coherent picture. The media coverage at the time was not much help. On TV, in the polls, even among friends, the question of guilty or not guilty felt like a divisive referendum on which deserved attention: racism or sexism.)

A light bulb went off when I realized: I don’t have to privilege my reality as the reality.

I didn’t change my mind on the facts. I was still convinced O.J. had murdered two people. But I stopped arguing for my point of view. I stopped asserting that I knew the truth. Instead, I tried to tell the truth about the reality that was so clear to me, and at the same time, tell the truth about the reality that was harder for people like me to keep in focus.

What sticks with me after 20 years is what it feels like to shift from acknowledging something is true, to integrating that truth into how I see the rest of the world.

There is a kind of revelation that is like looking at a picture with the page folded over, then lifting the flap to see what part of the scene was hidden before. This was not like that. This was like turning the page upside down and seeing a whole other picture emerge. And then questioning whether this way is right side up after all.

We bring you this guest post from Leah Holland with the Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs.

Recently, the folks at Can You Relate invited me to write a guest post on their blog. I planned to write about how trans folks are impacted by reproductive coercion. Then Michael Brown was murdered by a white police officer and I felt compelled to change topics.Audre-Lorde-no-border

Working in the anti-violence field with an anti-oppression focus keeps the intersections of peoples’ lives in the forefront of my mind. I can’t ignore that the impact of abuse is different for children of color than for white children. I can’t ignore that children of color must be taught how to interact with the police differently than white children.

And I don’t want to ignore it. You see, I’m in the middle of planning a wedding and a pregnancy. My sweetie is brown. I am white. We talk a lot about where and how we want to raise our children. My sweetie asked me this morning what I thought the hardest part will be for me being a white mom to a brown baby. Easy: OTHER PEOPLE.

Needing to trust other people is what is scariest to me. That was one of my biggest hurdles in deciding to have kids—knowing I can’t always keep them safe. I know all the stats about who is more likely to sexually abuse a child (hint: it’s someone the child knows).

In an interview for Ebony’s Ending Rape 4ever series, Monika Johnson Hostler says: “I always tell people, ‘As a parent do I worry about stranger danger?’ Yes. [However] the people in our lives that are associated with us, that it appears that we trust, those are the people I worry about most.” YES! And with the reality that one African-American is murdered by police every 28 hours, comes the recognition that the people we’re supposed to trust to keep us safe don’t keep everyone safe.

I’ll never be able to understand what it’ll be like for our child to be multiracial. But my sweetie and I will do our best to get them ready for the institutional, systemic, and individual racism they WILL face. If the other bad stuff happens too, at least I know our child will be believed, told it’s not their fault, and get help. And if our brown baby identifies as trans, we’re ready to parent at that intersection too.

Some news stories that caught our eye this week:

The Army just released new regulations that specify “unauthorized hairstyles.” Thousands have signed a White House petition challenging the racially biased restrictions. “While the Army certainly isn’t the first to impose these kinds of prohibitions, it may be the most egregious example, considering that the 26,000 black women affected by AR 670-1 are willing to die for their country.”

What does the science documentary Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey and social justice have in common? Neil deGrasse Tyson. A must-read for the feminist science fan.

The White House has a new PSA about sexual assault as part of the 1 is 2 Many campaign. What do you think of it?

MLKpinI am not talking about exercise or turning off the electronics—both good ideas—but about social justice work. Last week, the speaker at our Shabbat service to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Dr. Alexes Harris, grabbed my daughters’ attention. Instead of leaving them feeling like the world’s problems are too big to fix, she inspired them to be actors in their own lives and community. WOW! Anyone who gets my kids as excited about justice as the latest beauty blog is someone I need to pay attention to.

One of my daughters said, “This speech was not just about Dr. King’s legacy, but what I can do today, with attainable ideas, small things that are acts of social justice.” Yes, she really said that. Here is a shortened version of the speech that got her there:

I am a mother, wife, daughter, friend, professor and social activist…. I am a person, who was raised in a community that stressed the importance of caring for my family members, my neighbors, and people around me. I am a sociologist who conducts research on social stratification and inequality in the United States…. I was asked to speak about Dr. King’s legacy, what this might mean to us today and how we can become more engaged in social justice work. I would like for you first to picture Dr. King in your mind. Visualize his picture in a frame on the wall in your living room. Then picture a portrait of yourself on the same wall right next to his picture. And envision a square frame around your face. There are four sides. Think of each theme I raise as one part of this frame. With each part of my discussion, I hope I help you think of your role as a social activist—your part to play in Dr. King’s legacy. How do you fit in as an individual in the broader discourse about Dr. King and social justice? My aim is for you not to be passive in the celebration of Dr. King’s life, but someone who celebrates his legacy by taking action all year round.

FRAME #1

For the first part of our frame, the right part, I will begin by discussing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy…. Dr. King spoke and wrote about poverty, inequality, and racial injustice in the United States, he fought for the right for all people to vote, he eloquently spoke about the insidious effects of poverty, state oppression, and violence. He spoke out against the Vietnam War; he fought for workers’ rights, equality in living wages, and the right for unions to organize.

“I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of thermonuclear destruction. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality.… I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits. I believe that what self-centered men have torn down men other-centered can build up. I still believe that one day mankind will bow before the altars of God and be crowned triumphant over war and bloodshed, and nonviolent redemptive good will proclaim the rule of the land (Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance speech).”

He was arrested over 20 times, had his home bombed, and gave over 2,500 speeches. His legacy is that everyone who says his name respects him and that we have the right to vote and we have a social justice vision to strive for: three meals a day, education, culture, dignity, equality, and freedom. For everyone regardless of our race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, pay grade, nationality, immigration status, and age. This is Dr. King’s legacy and this is social justice.

FRAME #2

The second piece to our frame, the top part, is the connection to current issues today—pressing down on us…. Many people note that we have a president of African American decent and suggest that we are “post-racial” that racism is no longer a problem. Unfortunately, many of the same issues that Dr. King spoke about we still struggle with today…. We see in every arena from education, to poverty, to homelessness, to incarceration rates, to HIV transmission, people of color and poor people continue to suffer in this country. Whether it is from direct racism, color blind racism, or inattention to or lack of caring and love, we have several problems in our society that need attention.

We need to continue to make changes in our criminal justice system—we need to tackle the racial and ethnic disproportionality. We need to tackle the criminalization of our mentally ill, of our poor, and of our children. Washington’s incarceration rate has roughly tripled since the 1970s, and is estimated to increase by 23% in 2019. Partly due to the war on drugs we have over 16 million people with felonies (7.5% of the U.S. population), and over 2 million living behind bars. Nationally, 1 in 3 adult Black men have a felony conviction. In Washington, studies show that among felony drug offenders, Black defendants have higher odds of being sentenced to prison than similarly situated White defendants. Criminal conviction leads to limited housing and employment opportunities, legal debt, political disenfranchisement, and a host of problems experienced by families and communities….

FRAME #3

Third side of our frame, the left side, what is social justice and what does it mean to you personally?… Dr. King said, “There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.” What does your conscience tell you? I can’t write this frame for you. But, in Dr. King’s words we can find encouragement. Dr. King outlined common goals for social justice—beliefs that are common across all faiths and societies. Speaking on poverty and inequality he said, “In the final analysis, the rich must not ignore the poor because both rich and poor are tied in a single garment of destiny … We are inevitably our brothers’ keeper because of the interrelated structure of reality.”

Dr. King told us that we must care about each other, we must care about those less fortunate than ourselves…. This is our common bond across faiths, cultures, and age groups. I encourage you to reflect on what social justice means to you personally. What does your faith, your education, and your experiences tell you are unjust and that you must change? Even if we are afraid, or feel overwhelmed? What can we do to make a difference?

FRAME #4

Finally, for the fourth part of our frame, the bottom, I ask you how can you become engaged and take action?… I suggest that we start within our families and among our loved ones. How can we make their lives better?… We can talk about our values, what our Rabbis, Priests, Imams, and teachers say. We can reinforce to our children that what they read in the Torah or learn in school is not just about words or ideas but about action and interaction. It only means so much if we don’t live by example.

We can make sure our children look out for other children who may be different from them, who may be new to their school, or may not have as many friends…. We can acknowledge our own mistakes, that we are not perfect, we have limitations, but tomorrow is a new day to try again.

We can call others into question when they make racist or homophobic statements in our presence. We can simply say, “Your words are inappropriate and hurtful.” We need to be mindful, as Dr. King said, “There comes a time when silence is betrayal.” When we are at work we can say that that joke is not funny, in fact it is offensive. We can stand up in little, but immense ways for ourselves and others.

In sum, if you think about our four frames for social justice:

  • To our right, we have Dr. King’s legacy—and Mandela’s—and so many others who have come before us who have given their lives for social justice: freedom, equality, and improved quality of life for others;
  • Above our heads we have—pressing on us—contemporary social problems: poverty, homelessness, unemployment, incarceration, inequality in terms of living wages, health care, access to quality education. Problems that can weigh us down but we are reminded that our fear, our sadness, is our fuel to push on…. Let whatever you are afraid of be your courage to fight for change. Only you can figure this out;
  • To our left we have our personal definition of social justice—issues we personally care about and want to make a difference in; and
  • Below us, guiding us, we have our action steps: every day actions, short-term and long-term actions we can take to make bigger strides towards social justice.

You have your personal frame for social justice. Now, you can no longer wake up and ignore social justice. You can no longer only remember Dr. King on his birthday or our national holiday. You have a personal reminder of his legacy—a personal frame—that should remind you of the work you have ahead of you…. I leave you with Dr. King’s words, “Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”

Want to hear more from Dr. Harris? She has a book coming out, A Pound of Flesh:  Monetary Sanctions as a Permanent Punishment for the Poor where she talks about how the system extracts money from criminals as further punishment, even after they completed their incarceration, and how this stops them from ever returning to society as contributing individuals.

Did you watch the Golden Globes? I did. I used to watch because I LOVE movies and television and was always caught up with who’s who and what’s what. Now I have 2 small children and I’m lucky if I know the names of the characters on Super Why. I watched because I might just be a liiiiitle fanatical about Amy Poehler, and she was hosting along with Tiny Fey. (Squeee!) I thought they killed it—it was great. tinaandamy

However, some people took issue with the amount of estrogen at the event. Seriously. It’s an event celebrating an industry that has a terrible track record for treating women equitably and with dignity, and some folks can’t handle it when women have the mic. Talk about silencing. Whether we like it or not, the media has a powerful influence on how we think and act in the world. And unfortunately, the Golden Globes illuminated those issues—sexism, racism, heterosexism to name a few—that create the conditions in which violence thrives. From Michael Douglas who half-jokingly worried about how his role might make him seem gay (message: It’s not OK to be gay, folks) to the complete lack of women represented in the nominations for writing or directing (message: Women aren’t good at this job).

It’s a reminder that women and girls are receiving negative messages everyday that objectify and degrade us. They limit us and wear us down. And they influence and train men and boys to disrespect women.

But there are some good things happening out there in media-land! Amy Poehler (yes, I maybe have a huge crush on her) has a series of Ask Amy clips that send great messages to girls. The folks that brought you the documentary Miss Representation are regularly calling out the media when it behaves badly with their #NotBuyingIt campaign. And check out this PSA from the Geena Davis Institute of Gender in the Media. Speak out about the deluge of negative images the media sends us. We don’t have to buy it!

Photo by VIUDeepBay

Photo by VIUDeepBay

Last summer was the fourth year my family spent a weekend at Jewish family camp. It’s a great experience that I look forward to. Campfires, talent show, crafts, folk dancing, learning and building community, all on the shores of Puget Sound.

Last year was all those great things once again. But I also had an unsettling experience that I’ve been thinking about since. One of my boys had a tough time in the kids program. He is a sensitive kid, and the stress and stimulation of camp was more than he could handle. He was agitated and needed help to calm down. The children’s program director—who was also a teacher at a local synagogue’s religious school—stepped in.

The way he handled the situation was spectacularly unhelpful. It was like a textbook of what not to do to de-escalate a kid. Over several conversations, his responses ranged from inappropriate to absurd. He ranted about being in charge. He was self-absorbed. He warned my kindergartner not to “start fights he couldn’t finish.” It quickly became clear to me he did not have the skill or emotional maturity for the job he was doing. I wondered how he could have kept his job as a religious school teacher if this was how he handled conflict with kids and parents.

I recently learned that this program director, Lydia Katz (pronounced L’Dee-ah), is in prison on child molestation charges. He admitted to having a sexual relationship with a 14-year-old girl he taught in religious school. According to news reports, the sexual abuse went on the same summer he spent with us at camp.

When I heard the news I was shocked but not surprised. I started rethinking what I saw and didn’t see, what I did and what I should have done.

The charging papers described Lydia as a “dynamic and charismatic individual who is able to easily engage with youth.” One way of seeing him was as flamboyant, fun, youthful, outside the box. Another was as narcissistic, immature, manipulative.

Sometimes we do exactly the wrong things to protect our kids from exactly the wrong people. A friend’s preschooler came home recently from a “safety” presentation convinced that “strangers will murder you, your sister, your parents, and your dog.”

Telling kids to fear all strangers is a useless message. And the flip side of that message is downright dangerous: you can trust all adults who you “know.” It is not that trusted adults are likely to be abusers, but abusers absolutely are likely to be trusted adults. (90% of teens who are sexually assaulted are hurt by someone they know. That number is even higher for younger victims.)

The world where only strangers and monsters are unsafe is a fantasy. As much as I may wish I could teach my kids a simple rule that would keep them safe, in the real world they need to develop independent judgment about who to trust. I try to talk to them about the complex process I use to gauge whether someone is safe or trustworthy. I explain why I decided to open the door for this stranger, but not another. Why I chose this neighbor’s house as the place they should go if they need help. When I will talk with someone on the street, and when I just keep walking. Even as young kids, they have to make these decisions all the time, and I want us to practice together.

Now we have the chance to reflect and practice as a community. I’m sure I was not the only one who noticed Lydia was immature and had terrible boundaries. What did we think that meant at the time? What do we see now, with the clarity of hindsight?

This is not about assigning blame. This is gut check practice.

It takes practice—even as an adult—in part because our gut reactions are not pure. We all internalize a lot of garbage that can be hard to filter out. My oldest son once wanted to know, “is it racist if I don’t like someone who’s African American?” My first answer was no—assuming you’re not rejecting a person because of their race, you can dislike whoever you want without being racist. Of course that is true, but I told him he also needs to know this: racism can gum up the works of your intuition. Unconscious negative messages can interfere with your gut feeling about the person in front of you. You can develop strong and reliable intuition by being aware of your feelings and talking about them.

Lydia is a mixed race, Black and Jewish, gender bending young man with a large personality and a big dramatic streak. Some of the news coverage made it sound like that was reason enough to be suspicious of him. But being uncomfortable is not enough to identify a problem. You have to figure out if you are uncomfortable for the right reasons. Racism and homophobia can serve as dazzle camouflage—a cloud of confusion that an abuser can use to hide in plain sight.

It is important for kids to know that the adults in this situation know exactly what happened, without euphemisms or ambiguity. Being confused leaves too much room for excuses, minimizing, and victim blaming.

I will tell my kids this: Lydia did not deserve the trust he was given. He had sexual contact with a 14-year-old girl. He sent her “romantic” messages. He used the trust he had as her teacher to his own advantage. He put his own desires ahead of his responsibility not to hurt her. He knew it was wrong and he knew it was illegal. He lied about it and he asked her mother to keep it secret. If you had a feeling that Lydia was not okay, you were right. That gut feeling was right. Remember what that felt like, and practice trusting that feeling. Let’s talk about what you can do when you have that feeling again.

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