Posted in learning together, musings

learning together: from history to current events

Rondel and I have been slowly making our way through Joy Hakim’s wonderful series A History of US, an American history narrative that manages to be both honest about our nation’s flaws and proud of her successes at a level that children can understand. We’re on the third book now, watching the 13 colonies gradually coalesce into a single nation, and so far we’ve encountered quite a few striking dualities: religious persecution and the pursuit of religious freedom; the desire for liberty and the acceptance of slavery; the mingling of cultures and traditions combined with vitriolic racism. We’ve seen people leave England to be able to practice their faith freely (as Rondel commented, when will those kings ever learn that laws won’t change what people believe?) – and then create governments equally as intolerant of dissent. We’ve seen how European settlers as a whole used and abused the Native Americans they encountered, and how they built their economic success on the backs of unpaid labor.

He’s six, it’s his first time sailing through the choppy waters of history, and a lot of it is going to go over his head or be remembered in only the most general of ways – but the concept of slavery has been probably the most jarring and concerning element to him. He asked me why one group of people would think it was ok to treat another group of people that way, and all I could say was that people do a lot of horrible things because of greed and the love of power – that people did, and still do, attempt to convince themselves that another group of people is less than human or deserving of less dignity and justice if doing so will make their lives easier or more profitable in some way. We talked about how the consequences of those horrible parts of history echo down to the present time: how difficult it is to ever fully eradicate that toxic way of thinking, and how generational disadvantages persist unless deliberate work is done to counter the wrongs of the past. We talked about the privilege that he will have as a white man, not because there is anything innately superior about being one, but because of those historical roads our nation has traveled – and how that privilege comes with the responsibility to seek justice and equity for those to whom the trajectory of history has not been so kind. Which all sounds pretty intense for a six year old, but it flowed naturally from what we were reading (especially since he is very sensitive to injustice against others) and I think it’s one of those conversations that has to be had throughout life in age-appropriate ways.

And with all of this fresh in my mind, watching Hamilton for the first time thanks to DisneyPlus, I was able to see the diversity of the performers in a way I don’t know if I would have before. The characters’ races are not historically accurate, but I honestly think it is better that way – more thought-provoking, more eye-opening. We are so used to seeing our history in the color white – which is in our present culture the color of privilege. But those revolutionaries, while still racially privileged at the time, were looked upon with scorn and contempt by the British government for being colonists and “provincials.” Many of them were poor, working their way up the ladder of opportunity in a way that wouldn’t have been possible in England; many of them were the unwanted refuse of London seeking a place to thrive in a new world; many of them professed a faith that differed from the official Church of England and had fled from persecution there. They were a motley crew, to use the expression: their government saw them as a source of profit, as second-class, rather than as full citizens to whom full rights ought to be given. In our modern culture, showing us the revolutionaries as black and brown helps remind us of those historical truths. And it beckons to its audience with a call of hope: if the second-class citizens of Britain, the outcast and oppressed, could fight for liberty and justice against a “global superpower” and succeed, then just maybe the oppressed peoples in our nation today (most prominently people of color) have a chance to establish more perfect justice and liberty for themselves as well.

So study history well. Notice the parallels between the present and the past; follow the pathways that led from then to now. Whether you’re six like Rondel, thirty-one like me, or any other age entirely, there are stories to learn, connections to make, and hope and wisdom to be found for shaping a more perfect future.

Posted in musings

toward love, toward justice

A woman from my church – the leader of our church’s ministry for neurodivergent and disabled children, and the mother of one of those children – asked me what my thoughts were on the recent protests, the black lives matter movement, and how it relates to the autism community. To be completely honest, I’ve been pondering exactly that for a while now. It takes a long time for observations to settle into my network of concepts and data, and longer still for me to verbalize those new connections.

There are of course obvious similarities between the black community and the autistic community, as there are between any minority groups simply by virtue of being different from the majority. I’ve been listening to Morgan Jerkins essay collection This Will Be My Undoing, and her childhood longing for whiteness – for the ability to confidently belong in circles of popularity and influence – mirrors the longing autistic people often have to be neurotypical. (If you see that the way you innately are makes you a target for oppression and shuts down opportunities for careers, friendships, and more, it makes it a lot harder to live authentically.) Building a society in which all people can belong, can be treated fairly, can move with equal confidence – this is good and necessary for the full flourishing of all minorities, no matter their race, ability, gender identity, or so on.

But the two situations are also very different, and it wouldn’t be right to look at the black lives matter movement and only see it in light of how I, as an autistic person, can relate to it. Our country has harbored violent discrimination against black people for hundreds of years, and the recent occurrences of police brutality (especially combined with the default reaction of many white people to defend and excuse the officers involved) show that it still exists despite the last 70 years of almost completely nonviolent civil rights action. I believe our most recent presidential election was also in part a white backlash to the previous eight years during which the Obamas held their power and influence with dignity, intelligence, and principled character. To a lot of people in majority groups, the thought of a minority group gaining power is threatening – and to prevent it happening they preemptively threaten minorities instead. And in our county, black people have borne most of that scorn, fear, oppression, and discrimination.

One last point I want to make is that oppression compounds. A black, trans, autistic woman is going to be at a massive disadvantage against the norms and institutions of our culture, even more than the average black woman. Just looking at the intersection of blackness and autism, for example, autism has historically been significantly under diagnosed in the black community (though it is getting better, according to the CDC) and the voices of autistic self-advocates are overwhelmingly white. When I think about how much having a diagnosis can benefit an autistic person, it makes me angry that just having darker skin can make it more difficult for an autistic person to get that diagnosis – not to mention the social supports following diagnosis that can help autistic people fully flourish and thrive.

The Bible shows us a vision of society that is radically different than what we have in America today, with our myriad lines of division and discrimination. When the Psalms praise God specifically as King, they do not say that He brings equality. Instead, they say He brings justice, righteousness, and equity (see Psalm 99). He doesn’t place us all on an even footing; rather He gives more grace where more is needed. He forgives more where sin is greater, comforts more where sorrow is greater, provides more where need is greater. As Mary sang in the Magnificat, “He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty.” As we work to build God’s kingdom, it is important for those with power and privilege to set it aside (or to be made to set it aside, when they have used it unjustly), to learn humility, that those who have been outcast or oppressed can also experience those good things. His kingdom, being for all nations and tribes and peoples, is conceptually inconsistent with racism, with in-group power hoarding.

The path from where we are as a country today to a nation patterned after God’s kingdom – a nation of justice and equity rather than injustice and oppression – is not going to be short or easy, and I definitely do not have the expertise to outline public policy. But I do know that change has to happen individually as well as systemically, and I can speak a bit about how to change and grow on that level. Just as I recommend reading books written by and about autistic people to begin to understand the autistic lived experience, so too I would recommend reading books written by and about black people to being to understand their lived experience (and of course I include talking to real people about their experiences as “reading”, especially if you are not a socially anxious introvert like me, since good conversations can be as edifying as good books). Read widely, and let your preconceptions be proven wrong – so your mind can be changed. Read deeply, so you can begin to empathize with those who belong to a different group and see the world from a different perspective – so your heart can be softened. Read prayerfully, letting the Spirit teach and convict you – so your soul can be moved to confession and intercession. For it is only when we have those three things that we can truly know and love the other – whether they are colored or abled or gendered differently than we are – and begin to work together on the institutional and systemic changes that must also take place.

{recommended article} – police violence

“Armed, indoctrinated (and dare I say, traumatized) cops do not make you safer; community mutual aid networks who can unite other people with the resources they need to stay fed, clothed, and housed make you safer. I really want to hammer this home: every cop in your neighborhood is damaged by their training, emboldened by their immunity, and they have a gun and the ability to take your life with near-impunity. This does not make you safer, even if you’re white.

Confessions of a Former Bastard Cop, from medium.com

Posted in musings, quotes

the social underpinnings of racism: Trump and the 1950s

In the wake of Trump’s ascension to the presidency, a lot of people like me were left wondering how so many Americans could be so angry and feel so wronged that they were willing to tolerate blatant racism and misogyny in their leadership. There’s been a lot of confusion and a lot of anger, and not a lot of dialogue; each side tries to defend its beliefs by reciting wrongs against itself, or attempts to seize the moral high ground and demonize its opponents instead of listening to their grievances. It’s one of the reasons I’ve had to severely limit my social media time…

But as I was reading The Family Nobody Wanted, by Helen Doss, written before the height of the Civil Rights Movement, in the aftermath of the Japanese internment camps of WWII, I came across a passage that seemed quite relevant today:

First, prejudice is a contagious disease, as easily caught as measles, the babe from his parents, the school child from his playmates, the adult from his fellow workers and neighbors. To compound the social tragedy, prejudice once caught is hard to cure, since it unwittingly serves a number of morbid purposes. When a man is picked on by his boss, he can slam home and take it out on his family, and frequently does; however, a more socially approved outlet is to turn around and release the feelings of hate and anger on those of a minority racial group. If denied certain yearned-for opportunities and privileges, there is a devilish quirk within man which gives him perverse satisfaction in seeing that at least one segment of the population enjoys even less opportunities and privileges than he.

If a person feels socially or mentally inferior, has a persecuted feeling that society is crushing down on him, it is easy to bolster waning self-confidence by convincing himself, “At least there are whole groups of people socially, mentally, economically inferior to me.” Worse yet, he will try to keep minority groups in a deprived and subjugated position, to prove what his ego wants to believe.

Psychologists and psychiatrists have long told us that bottled-up feelings of aggression and anger can be dynamite to the happiness and well-being of the individual who refuses to recognize real causes behind his maladjustments. Multiply these fearful and emotionally tense individuals by thousands, by even millions, and you have social dynamite… Hostility will be exploded in any area where society permits it…

War has always been a socially glorified outlet for pent-up angers and frustrations of whole peoples. In America, our Negroes have provided another scapegoat, and so we have had race riots, Jim Crowism, and the Ku Klux Klan. On the West Coast first the Chinese, then the Japanese, provided another handy outlet for our inner tensions, and we have had discrimination in jobs and housing, an Orientals Exclusion Act, and the “relocation centers” of World War II.

The anger and other negative emotion of the dissatisfied people who voted for Trump is real. Many people felt disenfranchised, ignored, stuck in a world they didn’t ask for, unable to change their fate, feeling like their communities and families were broken. And Trump acknowledged those emotions when most other politicians were oblivious to them. Would these people on their own have decided to take out their anger on immigrants, women, and other minorities? I’m not sure; in many cases, I don’t think so. I know a lot of good people, who care deeply about human dignity and equality, who voted for Trump for one reason or another, trying to look past his faults. But Trump himself has most definitely established those groups as “acceptable” targets for the pent-up anger of anyone who feels ignored, overlooked, or under-appreciated; he has made them the scapegoat of the failures and frustrations of the majority.

Like it or not, whether you as an individual are racist or not, Trump has bolstered the cause of racism by making it more socially acceptable once again; he has directed the force of social anger towards some of the most vulnerable and unrepresented groups of all; he has given hostility a safe place to explode, and so set our country back in its fight against racism and for the equality of all. Racism is in so many ways a systemic issue, not an individual issue; that is why the attitude of the president is so powerful and influential. That is why it matters so much, especially now, to speak up against racism, to push social pressure against it as much as possible.

Posted in book lists

what I’ve been reading lately

After a rather long stretch of time in which I mostly reread my favorite fiction (Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter on repeat!) and kept up with the news and our church’s Bible-in-a-year plan, I have been diving back into the world of books. I realized that I have a lot of time in which I can read but not do much else (while Aubade is nursing, especially at night), but of course holding a book is complicated by said nursing… so I had been reading the news, surfing the web, and spending altogether too much time on Facebook, which was not helping my postpartum mood in the least. Then I remembered that all the libraries in my county have come together to create the Greater Phoenix Digital Library – meaning that more books than I have time to read are available on my phone, for free, with a simple app and the PIN from my library card. Honestly I’m not sure how I managed the boys’ newborn phases without this…

So, despite finding that a lot of the books on my wish list are checked out by other users of the library system, here are four books I’ve read this week that were completely new to me, in a variety of genres:

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou

cagedbirdangelou

This is of course a classic, and most people who haven’t read it are still familiar with some of Angelou’s poetry, at least (I knew of her mostly through her poetry, to be honest – Phenomenal Woman makes the social media rounds fairly frequently, and I love it every time I read it). But for me, who grew up in an educated, well-off, white family, it was eye-opening to see the deep personal and emotional impact of both intimate individual hurts (like parental divorce and sexual abuse) and systemic oppression (like the racism and poverty Angelou faced herself and saw affect her community). Someone’s story can be far more impactful than all the statistics and social study lessons in the world, especially when told with the simple power and unpretentious elegance of Angelou’s writing. It’s not an easy read, because of the painful topics it deals with, but it is definitely worth reading.

The Family Nobody Wanted, by Helen Doss

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This is a memoir of quite a different type, although it touches on some of the same themes. Doss and her husband discovered as a young couple that they were infertile and that the demand for Caucasian infants to adopt was far greater than the number of babies available. So, in the 1940s and 50s, they built their family by adopting the unwanted children – children of mixed heritage who didn’t look “white” enough for mainstream American families to consider – and ended up with 12 children all together! The book is an honest look at their family life, addressing the racism directed at their children and family but mostly just full of hope and humor (I laughed out loud many times at the anecdotes Doss related – she is quite adept at capturing the funny side of disastrous moments as well as the dialogue of her young children).

Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel

stationeleven

After reading two memoirs, I decided to switch things up and chose this post-apocalyptic novel after seeing it on one of Modern Mrs. Darcy’s booklists (in general, that is a helpful site if you aren’t sure what book to read next!). I don’t normally read this type of fiction because it is dark and suspenseful and keeps me up all night, and this was no exception… The basic premise is that a strain of the flu wiped out the vast majority of the world’s population, disrupting civilization to the extent that people are living without electricity, without medicine, scavenging and hunting to survive, holding on to what scraps of art and culture they can salvage, and falling prey to cults and prophets who offer some explanation for why so few survived. Mandel’s characters are diverse in personality and background, and the different ways they experience the pandemic (as well as the years before and after it) feel very authentic. I particularly liked how the threads of theatre, music, and literature wound through the characters’ stories without devolving into preachy passages about the meaning and value of those things in a broken world; the novel is far more about what it means to be human, and how humanity survives and even perhaps recovers from an event so utterly devastating.

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

halfthesky

Kristof and WuDunn examine the inequality of women in the developing world in a number of different arenas, including forced prostitution, rape (as a tool of shame or a weapon of war), maternal mortality and injury, and education. Each issue tackled is presented in light of the story of one or two individual women, spotlighting the problems involved as well as the complexities faced in addressing those problems; for instance, we see how difficult it is to truly free an underage girl from forced prostitution in the story of one young woman who returns multiple times to feed her drug addiction – which was in itself instigated by her captors and abusers. Some stories are inspiring; some are less so; and the statistics that they illustrate are often bleak. As a new mother myself, having experienced a labor (with my first) that would have resulted in death or serious injury without access to a surgeon, it is horrifying and saddening to read about women who have had similar experiences without the medical care available to me and others in the West. There is so much pain and death that could have been avoided. On the other hand, however, the book also shows us the stories of whole communities that have been improved by simple investments in education, or by deciding to take justice for women seriously. In addition to the stories and the statistics, a unique and valuable aspect of this book is the appendix listing specific organizations that are working in effective ways to address the issues faced by women in the developing world, to give the reader ideas of whom to support. I would encourage anyone – especially anyone who believes that things like rape and maternal care are only “women’s issues” – to read this book and see just how much communities can grow and heal when they come to realize that women, as in the eponymous proverb, “hold up half the sky.”

What have you all been reading lately? I’d love to hear your recommendations, since I have a short window of reading opportunity open right now!

Posted in musings, quotes

Arizona primaries, and loving my state well

Well, the results for my state’s primary election are in, and I’m really not surprised by them. Disappointed, yes, but not surprised.

We’re known as a state that undervalues education, that struggles with racism, and that wrestles with substantial income inequality and poverty. Our national “face,” for a lot of people looking at us from afar, is Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a man who has faced accusations and lawsuits concerning abuses of power, racial profiling, election misconduct, and failure to investigate sexual crimes. So it’s not really a surprise that people who dismiss illegal immigrants as lawbreakers rather than understanding the dynamics of family ties and desperate need, who are okay with law officials playing racial favorites and coming down more harshly on Hispanics and Muslims, who harbor some nostalgia for the Wild West when might made right and the strong man was the honorable man, would overwhelmingly vote for Donald Trump.

For me, who have always looked at my state in the best possible light, it’s a disappointment that’s hard to get over. Maybe my fellow citizens here aren’t as good as I thought they were, from the subset that I happen to know well. Maybe this isn’t such a good place to live and raise my family as I’ve always thought, if people are so incredibly welcoming of the dishonest and self-serving “leaders” who offer them satisfaction and validation.

But do I love my state because of its (actual or perceived) good characteristics, or do I love it because it is my home and I want it to become the best that it possibly can be? Chesterton wrote on this exact topic over a century ago, and here I’m going to replace his example city with Arizona:

Let us suppose we are confronted with a desperate thing – say Arizona. If we think what is really best for Arizona we shall find the thread of thought leads to the throne or the mystic and the arbitrary. It is not enough for a man to disapprove of Arizona: in that case he will merely cut his throat or move to [California]. Nor, certainly, is it enough for a man to approve of Arizona, for then it will remain Arizona, which would be awful. The only way out of it seems to be for somebody to love Arizona: to love it with a transcendental tie and without any earthly reason. […] If men loved Arizona as mothers love children, arbitrarily, because it is theirs, Arizona in a year or two might be fairer than Florence. […] Men did not love Rome because she was great. She was great because they had loved her.

– G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

I don’t know many people who love Arizona in this way (although I do know a few, and I’m incredibly thankful for them). So many people I speak to are using the state for what they can get out of it, and counting down the time until they can move away. College students come for the universities and then head out again, glad to be gone. Snowbirds come down for the golf courses and mild winters, but keep themselves apart from the permanent population and head back to the places they truly consider their homes each spring. People gripe about the job prospects, the pollution, the bad drivers, the housing market, the immigrants, the homeless, the transit system, the public schools, and (above all) the weather.

And I get that we have problems, a lot of problems, and some very serious problems. But this is my home. This is the place I love, the soil into which my roots have sunk deep, even if it is pretty lousy soil (clay or sand, take your pick!). I get angry sometimes, at work or on social media, about the constant cloud of Arizona complaints, even when they’re completely justified, in a similar way to how I get upset when someone casts aspersions on my children (I was angry at my brother-in-law for over a year because he made a negative comment about Rondel once… I’m not quite that bad about my state).

Am I going to let this love just be an emotion, or am I going to put it into action, working to transform my home into a thing of beauty and grace? I tend towards contemplation instead of action, but true love will, I think, result in both. I think of a pastor at my church who, after years of traveling and living across the world, has settled down here and devotes himself to building community, establishing relationships across lines of race and religion, and creating a literal oasis in the desert. He sees Arizona with objective eyes, but because he also sees it as his home, he has made it part of his vocation to labor for its betterment, instead of leaving or complaining. If there were more like him, maybe someday Arizona really could become “fairer than Florence” – and maybe then, we would elect politicians who displayed things like beauty, love, justice, and truth.