29 July 2008

House Apologizes for Slavery & Jim Crow

The US House issued a formal apology today for slavery and Jim Crow.

So everything's fine now. Move along, nothing to see here.

My gut reaction: Gee, mighty white of them. An apology. That helps.

On the other hand, they can either apologize or not apologize. It's not like the choice is apologize or ... go back in the magic congressional time machine and just nip that nasty little horror in the bud before it starts. Oh, and while you're back there time traveling, guys? Don't colonize. Just don't colonize this time around, mm-kay?

Unfortunately though, that's not the choice. The choice is to apologize or not. And we will not be able to move forward to address the system born from that "peculiar institution" until we publicly acknowledge our part -- as a nation -- in slavery, and the fallout that still affects our nation today. So let me put my disgust and cynicism aside for a minute and say yes, I'm glad they apologized. It's a step, as they say.

After stumbling across this news online, I made the mistake of trying to find out more. Inevitably, there were a whole lotta online comments. Those in the "against" crowd, predictably, had the same tired arguments. Like these:

I believe the blacks owe America an apology for tearing our moral, economic and social fabric. The illegal immigrunts can join them.
My ancestors owned slaves and I have no desire to apologize for the actions of my ancestors. In fact, I think that the federal government should give me reparations for the lost assets caused by emancipation and the confiscation of my ancestors' lands as a result of the War of Northern Aggression. How about that?

Wonder what the black folks in Africa think of the living conditions of blacks in America? They might say you were done a favor.
How many times do these people have to be apoligized to? They were apologized to at the end of the Civil War, they were apologized to during civil rights movements, again during the intergration of schools and all other places. I never owned slaves and neither did my parents. I don't think anyone alive today was ever a slave. It seems to me that the race card is being played only by the African-Americans who just want more and more free handouts from the government. I am sick of it.

Tell all those a-holes to vote to drill for oil and forget about the apology.

I haven't done anything to apologize for. Blacks have got it made here in America and they know it. Everything gets handed to them. They work for nothing and I'm sick of it. Like someone else said here, where are the "thank yous" from these people.

These people couldn't care less about equality, they want DOMINANCE!

Who gives a rats-rear what happened to the slaves over 150 years ago. Where is my apology from them for me having to listen to this bullsh-- on a daily basis living here in Atlanta? . . . Get over it. The Civil War is over. Get a job. Get a life and stop throwing slavery up in my face. You may not like what you hear if you don't. Idiots...

We are going to make a black man king of America. When is enough enough.

You White people better wake the hell up or youll be the next American 'negros'.... Im not apologizing and I'll laugh at the faces of these inadequate and inept beings and hope it ****es them off enough so I can practice my second amendment against them. What a glorious day that will be!!...

You get the idea.

So the argument of the day is -- say it with me, boys and girls:
I didn't own slaves, my grandparents didn't own slaves, I had nothing to do with slavery!

Any time the subject of race relations comes up, so too does this argument. Even "nice white people" use this one. I used it too, back when I believed myself to be colorblind. Why, I remember when the Bohemian was a four-year-old little tyke, and we were reading My First Book of Africa from the library. Everything was fine until we turned to the double-page spread of a slave ship cut-away. I was not prepared to see my daughter go very quiet, touch the pages with her little fingers, and ask, "But ... who would do that to people, Mommy?" So, in trying to explain this atrocity to my four-year-old daughter, my African American daughter, I heard myself saying, "... but Mommy's family didn't believe in that. Remember, Mommy's family came from Norway? Well, they settled in the North, they came much later, after slavery was over." Then I launched into how lots of white people were abolitionists, lots of white people fought against slavery, not all white people's families were slave owners ... ad nauseum.

I needed to justify it. I needed to remove myself, in my daughter's eyes (and my own), from that horrible history. It was important to me that she know that I, and by extension, she, had nothing to with this. It was those bad white people what did that. The racists. Not us. Not me.

Here's what I didn't understand: it is not about individuals. It's about a system. It's about laws.

Let me be clear -- this is about the legalized system of oppression put in place by our government, not about whether individual white folks owned slaves or not. If you think we became a superpower so quickly because we're just that good, think again. We got here by stealing Native land, working it with free human labor, and enacting laws to back it up. No start-up costs, no overhead, just pure growth and profit. That's what put us on the fast track to superpower status.

Here's what else I didn't understand: if you are a white person in the United States, you and your family have benefited from this system.

It doesn't matter whether Grandpa Beauregard's granddaddy owned slaves or whether his house was a station on the underground railroad. The laws were on his side. Grandpa Beauregard, if he so chose, could read. Go to college. Live where he wanted. Get a loan to buy land, a house. Pass that property down to his children who then start off a little bit farther ahead in life than he did. And Grandpa Beauregard likely wasn't worrying about being lynched, either.

Land and education. White folks had access to it, Black folks were legally excluded from access. Property equals wealth. It appreciates and is sold for profit or passed on. Education equals opportunity and increased wealth. It raises the probability that your children will also be educated. Now, would you rather be the great-granddaughter of the guy with access to the land and education (not to mention better health care), or the guy who didn't have jack shit and wasn't allowed to build it? Which side of that system would you choose?

Oh, please. Don't even play like you're hesitating.

Which brings us to our next recurring theme: They just need to work harder and quit expecting handouts. Nobody gave me a handout; everything I got, I earned with hard work and effort.

I'm sure you do work hard. And I'm sure you believe no one ever has given you anything. Did your grandparents pass property on to your parents? Did your parents go to college? Do they own a home? Do you? Do people really believe that two men -- one black, one white -- both equally motivated and working equally hard, would get the same results while operating under the legal confines of this system in 1910? How about 1940? 1960? Today?

What about the 2000 Housing Discrimination Study? They sent out 4,600 pairs of testers, separately, in 23 US cities. The testers were identical on paper, but one was white, the other black. Consistent preferential treatment for white testers occurred 21.6% of the time.

Now ... if you rented an apartment tomorrow, you'd have no way of knowing if a black applicant with your same qualifications had been turned down the day before, would you? You'd have no way of knowing that you'd just benefited from a racist system, would you? You didn't choose to benefit from it, you didn't put it in place, you may even be outraged by it; but that doesn't matter. You'll sign that lease thinking you got that apartment solely on the basis of your good credit and consistent work history. But did you earn it? Did you earn it any more than the black applicant who was told it "wasn't available", or who was quoted a price $400 higher than yours?

And did we really work for everything we have? What about unearned wealth?

[As of 2002], 24% of whites receive an inheritance, just 11% of blacks do so. Among those who get an inheritance, whites receive $115,000 on average compared to $32,000 for blacks.15 And these figures do not reflect the gifts children receive during their parents' lifetimes.
To illustrate the significance of these disparities, whites on average are more than twice as likely as blacks to be able to provide a healthy down payment on a home even in the nation's most expensive housing markets or to pay tuition for four years at almost any college or university for one child from an inheritance.

~Gregory D. Squires,
Reintroducing the Black/White Divide in Racial Discourse

Okay, I know some of you are like, "Shoot, I never got $115K, or even $30K, you're crazy!" We're not talking about individuals -- everybody has a story -- we're talking about a system set up to benefit some and oppress others over time.

My own story, you all know: I'm a single mom, three kids, money problems, yada-yada. But even with all that, I've benefited from a system that has historically been better to my family than families of color. My dad lent me money to put down on my house. Without that, I never could've owned a home. And without his college education and occasional loans from his parents when he was young, he probably wouldn't have been in a position to loan me that down payment. No idea how I'm going to pay him back now that the market has tanked, and I can't imagine ever being able to help my kids like that, but I'm in the house. I was approved for a loan, even though I probably shouldn't have been. (excellent credit, shit for income, but hey, white! Just don't let Citimortgage see the kids.)

How about this one: Okay, things may have been bad after slavery, or even in the '50s, but now there's affirmative action! Now I'm the one discriminated against! Where's my apology? A white man can't get a job these days!

Right. Check out the 2005 Princeton University study in which they had white, black and Latino men with comparable résumés apply for jobs. You know what they found? Employers would hire a white convicted felon before they would hire a black man with a clean record. Yes. This was 2005, people. That playing field is not level.

And then there's the always-dependable: Slavery ended 143 years ago! It's over! Why can't they just move on and get over it?

Yes, technically slavery ended in 1865. The system did not magically change with that announcement, though. Matter of fact, new laws were put in place to strengthen the system! Slavery was over, but it gave birth to segregation, unequal education, Jim Crow, sundown towns, redlining, and lynching.

Michael Donald was lynched in 1981. This was during my lifetime, people, not ancient history. It was my 15th birthday to be exact. Of course, I didn't know that at the time. I was obliviously blowing out my candles in small-town Ohio, comfortably deluded in the belief that slavery was over and things were fine now, the day 19-year-old Michael was hung from a tree in Alabama. In 1998, James Byrd Jr. was chained to the back of a truck and dragged for miles until he was decapitated. One of the guys who did it had a tattoo of a black man hanging by a noose. In 1998. Just ten years ago! This was during my youngest child's lifetime, people. 1998.

And the President vetoed the Hate Crimes Act just last year. Slavery might be "over" but the fallout poisons our country to this day. Is a lousy apology really too much to ask?


Today's apology is not about whether individual white people owned slaves or not. It is about our government acknowledging that the racial inequities existing today are a direct result of slavery and the legalized system of oppression that came from it.

It's about how that system has affected people over the course of generations.

It's about facing the uncomfortable reality that some people continue to benefit from this system today -- whether we choose to or not, whether we consider ourselves racist or not, whether our people owned slaves or not.

Judging from the last four statements from our online commenters above, it's also about fear, power, and not wanting to shift the existing arrangement. Usually the people wanting to keep a given power structure in place are the ones sitting on top of that structure. Just sayin'.

That's why this apology was so long in coming, and why some people feel so threatened by it.

21 July 2008

Beelzebub's Minions

There is a nest of bees under my back deck. I use the term deck loosely, as it brings to mind an elevated structure that one can actually get under. The only thing that fits under my deck are dog toys. I often find myself in the prone position, scraping out a rubber ball or bone from under the "deck" with a rake. You can imagine the difficulty this presents in addressing the bee problem.

A friend of mine has a deck. Her husband built it. By himself. It's huge, overlooks their yard, and could be featured in a magazine. You know those pictures with the flowers pouring out of the pots on the deck in a cascade of color? Like that. Also planted by said husband. He also trims the gorgeous tree with the dark purple leaves that create a canopy over a portion of the deck, and he handles the grill action, also located on the deck. Yeah. If you're going to have a husband, folks, find one of this guy's brothers. They're in California. I asked.

Could you imagine what a different experience life in This Old Motherfucking House would be with someone possessing those mad skillz in residence? Neither can I.

So anyway, bees under my deck. Porch. Whatever. These bees are vicious. I consulted The Internets to see if the feared Killer Bees had made it up to WA state. (They haven't.) No, we have a strain of regular old bumblebees, Bombus Vosnesenski, which, according to The Googles, spend their lives merrily droning from bloom to bloom like hairy, diminutive Goodyear blimps. Under normal circumstances, they're all about the pollination, and are not vicious.

Unless you are close to their nest. Seeing as how their nest is located right at my back door, they're getting a might testy.

The other day, several of them had targeted me for annihilation. After busting out a few ineffectual Bruce Lee moves I didn't know I had, I somehow made it back into the house. Damned if the little bastards weren't furiously flinging themselves up against the glass door, still trying to take their ounce of flesh from my hide. The next day, The Bohemian got stung on the cheek, and Mason got stung on the leg.

The Internets advised bee dust, applied with a bee duster at dusk. My hardware store didn't carry these items, so on the advice of some guy sporting a buzz cut and a red apron, I settled for wasp and hornet spray. I'd thought to go for this foam stuff instead, but Mr. Aprons insisted that wasp and hornet spray was the weapon of choice. The can claimed a 27-foot directed stream. This, as you may have guessed by the name, is intended for wasps and hornets, which tend to build their nests up high, like in the eaves of your house. One can stand well back, direct a stream of potent potion at the nest, and run like hell before they know what hit them. Bumble bees, however, tend to nest down low, like under a board or a cheap-ass, low-rider, wanna-be deck.

The only way to hit this devil's brood would be to settle into the prone position on the opposite side, shine a flashlight under there with one hand to mark my target, let loose with the 27-foot directed stream (which, given the size of the "deck", would be reduced to about six feet), deftly get to my feet and make like a gazelle back over the nesting site without falling on my ass before they swarm me.

I wasn't really feeling this plan, being nowhere as nimble or quick as I was before moving here and getting my fat on. Also, according to The Googles, these guys can lock on to the flashlight beam and use it to hone in on one's ass like a squadron of pixie-sized stealth fighters, so I'd need to have the presence of mind to turn off the flashlight during all this. Better yet, just drop it, like deploying chaff and flares to draw the little bastards to a false target.

Regardless, I needed some protection. Not owning a bee keeper's suit, I made do with what I had lying around the house.

I dug out the camping poncho I'd once bought during a miserable, rainy "summer" vacation on the lovely Washington coast. In lieu of an apiarist's veil, Male Offspring kindly provided the protective headgear seen to the left.

Grabbing my flashlight and Mr. Aprons' aerosol can of death, I went to do battle. I stretched out on the grass, clicked on my light, and -- surprise -- my "deck" was apparently built over what used to be a small concrete porch. My beam reflected back at me from a concrete barrier wrapping entirely around the area where Beelzebub's minions had made their land claim.

I'd underestimated the enemy.

They'd chosen a fortress from which to make their stand. This would be close-in, hand-to-wing combat, requiring me to stand over their entry point and aim the stream directly down between the narrow cracks of the deck. Miraculously, my aim was true and I made it back in with no stings, being closer to the door and having avoided the prone position.

This morning, I found my weaponry was deficient. Mr. Aprons clearly needs to refine his pest eradication skills. The bees are not resting in peace, but are plenty pissed off. Instead of waking to find a field of wee casualties, I found instead a whirling dervish of frenzied, collective rage. Berzerker Bees, if you will.

I'm going back this afternoon for the foam.

15 July 2008


Do you all remember The Rat? If not, click and go read -- absolutely essential backstory for today's tale of intrigue.

What? You think I don't see you trying to skip ahead? Please, I can hear the heavy breathing from here. You probably read Cliff Notes as a kid. To quote the Brady Bunch dad, You're only cheating yourself Bobby; and cheaters never prosper. In fact, sometimes they end up divorced with an ex-wife who suddenly develops a penchant for voodoo dolls. That's right, Bobby. Think about it.

I'll wait.

Okay, so the other day I come home from work, open up the fridge to grab a beer, and come face to face with ... The Rat. Like you didn't see that one coming.

Yeah, okay, you got me. Ha, ha, very funny, son. But wait ... what's that red ... holy scalpels, Batman! The Rat had been stitched up like a grisly FrankenRodent! It's true. The Rat was sporting an I-incision with bright red stitching, complete with decorative beadwork. Apparently, my eldest and my youngest spent the afternoon in a study session reviewing Male Offspring's freshman biology lab notes.

Here are the gory details. My kids are nothing if not creative. And twisted.

Warning: This presentation is intended for mature audiences and contains disturbing elements of extreme violence, blood and gore. Animals were definitely harmed for this presentation. Procedures not carried out by licensed medical personnel.