The Lion, The Bitch, and the Whole World

I have three cats at home.  They are not big cats.  They are house cats.  Each cat has its own personality and I live for each of them every single day.  They bring me joy and comfort.  I tell them about my day and they meow at me.  They are my very best friends.  (I am a lesbian with no children so this is not an understatement.)

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I care about animals and I’m sad that Cecil the Lion was murdered. I have seen the outpouring and I have been heartened by the outcry. I’m glad that the dentist who killed Cecil the Lion had to shut down his practice and go into hiding.  The killing of animals for sport is senseless and terrible. People should be upset and outraged.  Jimmy Kimmel’s heart-felt commentary felt right and accurate.

Jimmy Kimmel

But then I saw the backlash. I saw the backlash from many of my black friends and I was surprised by it. In a way, I felt hurt. I saw people or color posting poignant and painful admonishments about how some folks get upset about the killing of an animal but don’t seem to notice or speak up about the killing of black people in this country and worldwide.

A good friend of mine reposted the following commentary from the Facebook page “Son of Baldwin”.  (For people who care about issues of race and equality in this country, please, read this blog in its entirety and don’t skim.)

 

With zero edits or interjections, from Son of Baldwin:

  1. A white man slaughters a Lion in Zimbabwe. The man, Walter Palmer, a dentist, of course, denies his part in it. Using his Whiteness to the fullest of its capabilities, Palmer claims that the black Zimbabweans he paid off tricked him and he had no idea what he was doing, that the slow and painful death he caused the Lion is black people’s fault not his. (http://www.cnn.com/…/zimbabwe-cecil-the-Lion-kil…/index.html)

White people around the world are absolutely outraged over the Lion’s inhumane slaughter. They want Palmer convicted. They haven’t said anything yet about Palmer’s Whiteness evocation, however.

  1. Black cisgender women are turning up dead in prisons (http://thinkprogress.org/…/fourth-black-woman-found-dead-j…/). Sandra Bland, Kindra Chapman, Joyce Curnell, Ralkina Jones, Raynetta Turner; five black women that we know of. (This number expands if we include non-black women.) In these cases, the outrage from most white people is muted, replaced by averted gazes, exasperated sighs, lips curled with skepticism. They want the cops protected. They start online campaigns to raise money for the cops’ defense.

By reflex, they seek reasons to justify the murders and strip black people of our humanity. They mock both our pain and cries for justice, regarding both as the assurances they need to confirm that their plans are working.

They attempt make our murders a public service rather than crimes against humanity. This is genocide by omission; that is to say omitted from the public record through the use of a PR strategy that every American institution is in on–and many white Americans condone and support, either by their action or inaction–to make the destruction of black lives seem like our own fault.

  1. Black transgender women are being slaughtered in the streets (http://janetmock.com/…/02/16/six-trans-women-killed-this-y…/). Islan Nettles, India Clarke, London Chanel, Penny Proud, Yazmin Vash Payne, Ty Underwood, Lamia Beard–to only scratch the surface. (This number multiplies if we expand it to include non-black women.) In these cases, most white people and most black people find common ground. We say they “tricked” people and we sympathize/empathize with the murderers.

Collectively, we recite the anthem of viciousness reserved for those who we believe have no discernible humanity; or, at least, no humanity that our own inhumanity allows us to recognize:

“That’s what they get!”

By reflex, we seek reasons to justify the murders and strip transgender people of their humanity. We mock both their pain and cries for justice, regarding both as the assurances we need to confirm that our plans are working.

We attempt make their murders a public service rather than crimes against humanity. This is genocide by omission; that is to say omitted from the public record through the use of a PR strategy that every American institution is in on–and many white and black Americans condone and support, either by their action or inaction–to make the destruction of transgender lives seem like their own fault.

  1. The American Lesson: White people > Wild animals > Black cisgender people > Black transgender people.

There is enough implication to go around.

 

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I was hurt because I’m one of the people who speak up. I’m not always great at speaking up. I don’t always know the right thing to say. But I frequently speak up. I try. The commentary drawing conclusions about Cecil the Lion and #blacklivesmatter seemed really unfair. I’m an activist and I hold my activism close. I felt hurt that I was being accused of somehow being insensitive about black lives because I’m a white person who cares about animals and a specific lion.

I’m also a queer person and I care about transgender lives.  I care about all the issues listed in the commentary above and I cared about those issues before the mainstream media found a poster child to make it cool and host a reality show about it.

I give a shit.  I have always given a shit.  I have been very loud about giving a shit.  I have never been ashamed about the fact that I give a shit. You can call me a bitch but I still give a shit.  I give a shit about the things worth giving a shit for.

This whole lion thing, and the subsequent intricacies, really caught me by surprise. Lions, animals, and the injustice perpetrated against endangered animals should be a totally non-controversial, legitimate thing to fight for.  Caring about Cecil and publically voicing my opinion should be a social-justice no-brainer. Right?

No.  Not so much.

I initially felt really defensive.  I was mad.  I am a shit-giving activist and I try to consider everyone.  All the time.  Always.

But then I realized something.

Most white people, or folks of privilege, do not understand that worrying about the death of a lion is a privilege. Worrying about something other than yourself is a privilege.  Room to worry about a dentist and the animal he killed is room to worry. Room to worry is a privilege. Room to worry is a privilege that people of color do not have.

People of color have their worry filled up. Filled to the brim. With their families, children, neighbors, themselves. They worry about being pulled over. They worry about being shot at by police officers. People of color worry about being pulled from their vehicles.  They worry about dying in jail. They worry about being murdered by those who are sworn to protect the law. They worry about the law.  They worry about the laws of this land. They worry about history and gerrymandering and voter disenfranchisement. They worry every second of every moment. They worry deeply when their children are out of their sight, especially if said child is a young man of color. They worry in a very real way and for several very real reasons.

For white people, and other people of privilege, being an activist for Cecil the Lion, or for people of color, or for LGBTIQ people, or for others who are disenfranchised, seems like the right thing to do. White folks have the time and the privilege to decide when it’s time to worry. We have the privilege to pick our battles. We can decide about Cecil the Lion.  We can decide on our issues and which issues need address.

For white people, it seems like the issues we pick are separate and deliberate.  It seems that our issues are mutually exclusive. They’re just issues.  When white people become activists, we decide what matters; we pick our battles.  We decide on Cecil the Lion. Or we decide on Sandra Bland.  Or we decide on Michael Brown.  Or we decide on Green Peace.  Or we decide on Relay for Life.  We decide to feed the hungry or to build a garden or to donate to National Public Radio.  We decide where to give our time and money.

For white people, and people of privilege, we can separate our issues and decide how to spend our time and our “activist moments.”

People of color do not have the same luxury.

Taking Stock of What Matters

We have a shed in our backyard.  Over the years I have tried really hard to downsize and get rid of the stuff that isn’t useful or helpful.  My partner and I have gotten rid of a lot of unnecessary clutter and we have downsized quite a bit.  My partner is far better at getting rid of things than I am.  I’m very sentimental.

I have boxes and boxes of pictures, letters, scrapbooks, and memorabilia.  My mother kept nearly every drawing I had ever made for her from the time that I could hold a crayon.  When she retired and moved, she dropped off all of her boxes at my house, as if I didn’t have boxes of my own.  Recently, I have tried to narrow down the boxes.

In early 2014, I went through every single box in the shed.  I organized the memorabilia. I put stuff in specific boxes.  I didn’t get rid of much. I have tried to make sense of the boxes.  I have a hard time throwing away anything sentimental. But I moved stuff and organized it.

Our shed is full of stuff. We have canning supplies and tools.  We have large dishes for family gatherings.  We have camping gear and seasonal items like space heaters and sleds for the winter and pool-noodles and house fans for the summer.  We have boxes of seasonal decorations. I like to decorate the house for the holidays.  It’s a lot of stuff.

On New Year’s Day of this year, I threw all of the holiday decorations back into boxes and threw the boxes into the shed.  Since then, I have had a post-it note on the fridge that reads, “Clean out shed!!!”  If I have needed anything from the shed in the past seven months, I have crawled over boxes and miscellany, moving things around and shuffling boxes to the back, only having consideration for things I needed at the time.  It has gotten worse and worse.

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Yesterday afternoon, a fire broke out in Nevada County about ten miles from our house in geodesic distance, or, “as the crow flies.”  We were about thirty minutes from home when we saw the smoke in the distance.  It was big.  I could tell it was bad and I could tell that it was close enough that we should worry, if not for ourselves, then for our friends.

The fire is being called the Lowell Fire and it is serious.  It’s in a canyon and it is hard to contain.  Fire lines are being held for the most part but some fire lines have been broken and firefighters have gotten hurt.  California is dry and there are winds preventing the fire from being contained.  It is serious.

Many of our friends have been evacuated and some are still on alert and ready to evacuate.  According to the CalFire website, the fire is only 5% contained.  We are not in the clear and things are very, very scary for a lot of people right now.

My friend Michelle had to evacuate with her husband and family and is staying with friends.  Her house is very much in harm’s way.  She posted, “Imagine that you have 2 hours to boil down 21 years. What do you value? High school yearbooks? Nope -well not mine, but certainly my kids kindergarten art and pictures pre-dating grey hair. But the lovely leather couch and the cherrywood table and all the other crap I collect did not mean a thing to me. I left it easily. I have what is important. My boys and my hairy annoying dogs!!”

Let me be clear:  I am not saying that losing a home isn’t devastating.  Losing a home and belongings to a fire is a million shades of devastating and something unimaginably horrific.  Many of the people in my community are facing tragedy right now.  It is undeniably scary.

So many people in our community are facing devastation and so many people in our community have stepped up.  There are evacuation efforts.  Local Veterinary Clinics have offered boarding. Local horse clubs and livestock owners have offered to haul and home goats, sheep, horses, and cows in order to get them to safety.  Many people have offered guest bedrooms.  Many local businesses have offered services.  We are all trying to do our part.

 

I cleaned out the shed today.  After worrying about friends and the Lowell Fire, we got more bad news.  Just after 11am today, a grass fire broke out three miles south of us.  Based on the wind direction, we were suddenly in the middle of two fires.  The fire south of us was extinguished and mopped up quickly but it put a lot of things in perspective.

For all the prepping and preparedness that I would like to think that I’m a part of, I wasn’t prepared for a real evacuation. Truthfully, no one is really prepared for an evacuation.

I spent most of my morning going through my shed and prioritizing boxes.

 

Today, my wife and I picked out the things from our house and shed that we would save if we had to save them.  Our list was fairly short. Our list was made in order of importance. I put it under a magnet on the fridge.

It read:

Pets, 3 cats (cat carriers, pack cat food, see about litter and boxes later.)

Important papers (IDs, passports, bank stuff, birth certificates etc.)

Family pictures (9 boxes labeled in the shed)

Computers (for pictures and writing)

Clothes (what we can carry)

Books (Signed copies and what we can’t replace)

Memorabilia (wedding and vintage)

Camping gear (just in case this might be long term)

 

That was it.  Nothing else.  Nothing else mattered.

And it has made me think a lot about my life.

I have taken stock.

Don’t Mess With Nevada County

nevada countyuI moved to Nevada County five years ago after living in Sacramento for a decade and growing up in the Bay Area. One of the things that initially struck me about Nevada County was its perceivable lack of crime. I made jokes to my city friends that people were likely to read stories about lost dogs on the front page of The Union, Nevada County’s newspaper. I heralded the “lack of crime” in Nevada County. I bragged that Nevada County residents could easily pull into a grocery store parking lot and leave their keys in the ignition without fear that their car would be broken into or stolen.

Since living in Nevada County, I know better. Nevada County residents aren’t without crime. Crime happens in Nevada County. But Nevada County residents have something going for them that few communities in America can boast about: if you cross someone from Nevada County, the residents will pull together and find a way to persecute criminals. Nevada County doesn’t back down.

After a recent horrendous beating of a local church-goer, the Nevada County community pulled together in order to find the assailant and bring him to justice. It’s just the kind of thing that people in Nevada County do. It’s not that people in Nevada County don’t commit crimes; It’s that the majority of people in Nevada County don’t tolerate crimes. No crimes in Nevada County are committed without public outrage.

People talk to people. Neighbors talk to neighbors. And while awful things sometimes happen, the community outpour helps to mitigate what’s awful. Nevada County residents are ready to make sure that their communities are safe. They are ready to make sure that injustice is rectified. Nevada County fosters community in a way that few communities are familiar with. Many communities could learn something from Nevada County. In the meantime: don’t mess with us.

The Cosby Issue

Note: If you have found this blog because you have been assaulted, there are people who are ready to help.  Call 911.  You are not alone.  What happened to you is awful.  It’s terrible.  You may call for help.  Allow yourself to call for help.  Call 911.  Tell the operator.  You have been through one of the worst things in the world.  You didn’t deserve it and there are people who can help.  This isn’t your fault.  Consent is a verb and it is an active verb.  You are strong and you are amazing.  What happened to you isn’t your fault.  Please call 911.  The law is on your side and you can get help.  Get help. You didn’t do anything wrong.  You deserve help for what happened.  Call 911.  Tell them what happened.  Call 911 and don’t hang up.  You are worth it. Please, please, don’t give up.

The Cosby Issue:

I wish that the following blog was about ugly knit sweaters. Unfortunately, this blog isn’t about Cosby’s legacy of ugly sweaters. This blog is about sexual assault.

According to Slate.com, a news organization that has been keeping tabs on the developments of accusations of sexual assault against Bill Cosby, 42 women have come forward indicating that they have been assaulted by Bill Cosby. 42 women. According to Fox News, “newly unsealed testimony by the comedian in a 2005 case corroborates their claims.” Based on his own testimony, Bill Cosby drugged women in order to coerce them into having sexual relations with him.

Let me take a moment to inform the public about consent when it comes to having sex. According to Northwestern University, sexual consent is defined as, “voluntary, positive agreement between the participants to engage in specific sexual activity.” A recent law enacted by the California State Legislature goes further saying that, “Lack of protest or resistance does not mean consent.” According to an NPR article, the law states that silence does not mean consent. “Affirmative consent must be ongoing throughout a sexual activity and can be revoked at any time.” Consent to sex is the affirmative and on-going affirmation of both parties engaging in sexual activity. Both parties must be coherent and active in giving consent.

 

Many people don’t understand how prevalent sexual assault is.  Many people don’t understand how many women are sexually assaulted.  According to the Center for Disease Control, 1 in 5 women will be raped.  Almost one third of women will be sexually assaulted.  To put that statistic in perspective, if you a have wife and two daughters, one of those people is very likely to be sexually assaulted in her lifetime.  One out every three women that you know has likely been, or is going to be, a victim of sexual assault.

Even with such glaring factual statistics, there are plenty of naysayers and plenty of people who want to protect rapists and pretend that their crime doesn’t exist. In Bill Cosby’s case, high-profile people like his wife and Whoopi Goldberg, are trying to deny the truth.  They are trying to pretend that sexual assault isn’t something perpetrated by someone that they know.

Let me ask an uncomfortable question:  If one in five women will be raped and one in three women will be sexually assaulted, who is raping and who is assaulting?

 

In 2002, when I was in college at the University of California at Davis, I was a part of the campus chapter of the National Organization for Women. In 2003, I became the president of that college organization. It was over ten years ago and it was before college organizations had personal web forums and it was before Facebook.

When I was asked to list a phone number for the organization, I listed my home phone number.

For my entire senior year of college, I received after-hours phone calls to my home phone number from young women and their friends reporting that someone had been sexually assaulted or raped. We were a women’s rights organization and the callers didn’t know who else to call.

I spent hours as an unqualified counselor begging women and the friends who supported them to please report the incident to the authorities and to go through the proper legal channels. Most women just needed someone to talk to. Most women were too traumatized to actually report the incident. It happened on more than a weekly basis. I had taken at least 100 phone calls before I graduated.

 

During my senior year of college, in a highly publicized incident, a woman reported that she was raped on campus, just outside of the English advisor’s building. The woman was very clear about what happened. She was attacked and she was assaulted.

As a way of reclaiming the part of the campus where the incident happened, to reclaim it as a safe place, the National Organization at UC Davis decided to have a sleepover. We invited anyone who felt the need to attend.  We invited everyone who felt the need to recover the space in the name of all campus women. It was before reports like the CNN piece about how many University Women are raped.

More than 300 people showed up. Students and community members showed up with sleeping bags, blankets, and tents. Everyone showed up determined to spend the night in the cold in order to show the world that we weren’t afraid and that we could make statement against violence towards women.

The news media showed up in droves.

 

People attending the event gave testimony about sexual assault. We talked about campus safety. We talked about the fallacy of campus safety. We talked about the reality of sexual assault. People stood up and gave testimony about their personal experiences and surviving. Woman after woman stood up and told their stories about being assaulted. There were men in the audience and some of them spoke as well.

While we held the rally and sit-in, we got news that the assailant that we were trying to protect had retracted her story; she told reporters that the assault didn’t happen, she said that she had made the whole thing up.

I was holding the microphone when we got the news about the retraction. I didn’t know what to think and I didn’t know how to react. A friend of mine grabbed the microphone out of my hand.

She stood in front of the 300+ people who had gathered for the rally. All of the people were prepared to stay the night in the grass and the cold.

She said, “Stand up if you or someone you love has been sexually assaulted.” She said it emphatically.

 

And then she repeated herself loudly:   “Stand up if you or someone you love has been sexually assaulted.”

Every single person stood up. Every single person.

Then she said, “Sit down if it wasn’t you.”

I waited.

 

I waited and I looked around.

I kept waiting.

She said again, this time with more gravity: “Sit down if it wasn’t you.”

No one sat down.

 

I didn’t sit down.

My friends didn’t sit down.

No one sat down.

My friends and I never really talked about it. I couldn’t talk about it. I didn’t want to talk about it. My friends didn’t want to talk about it. No one wanted to talk about it. We couldn’t talk about it. None of us sat down.

 

None of us sat down; All of us had been sexually assaulted.

 

It took me years to talk about that night.

About five years later, at a friend’s wedding shower, my friends and I had a conversation about our experience with sexual assault. We talked about the reality in college and we talked about sexual assault.

We all told our stories. Each one of us. It took several hours and lots of champagne.

At one point someone said, “Every woman, whom I have known well enough to know, has been sexually assaulted.”

All of us nodded.

 

Here’s the thing. Women have been assaulted. We’ve been constantly assaulted. We’ve been incredibly assaulted. We’ve been assaulted by our boyfriends. We’ve been assaulted by our husbands. We have been assaulted by our fathers. We’ve been assaulted by our friends. We’ve been assaulted by our heroes. We’ve been assaulted by strangers. We’ve been assaulted by people we have loved and trusted. We’ve been assaulted by people whom we love now and whom we will never name. We’ve been assaulted in ways that we don’t know how to process.

Some of us will never come to terms with being assaulted. Some of us will never point fingers at our assailants. Some of us will never have the courage to point fingers.

I recently asked the following questions:  “I have had a lot of my feminist friends call for the firing of Whoopi Goldberg (on the payroll of ABC/Disney on The View). Whoopi has unequivocally stood by Bill Cosby, even in light of the recent admission that Bill Cosby drugged women for sex. As people of compassion who are trying to live in world where sexual assault is, and has been, a normalized narrative, how do we, as compassionate people, combat the actions of sexual assault while simultaneously taking into account the female deniers and naysayers who have likely been affected by the issue in real and vulgar ways? Do we deny the psychology of Stockholm syndrome in order to condemn the sympathizers? Is there a way to honor both the people who see the situation for what it is and the people who can’t agree to the reality? Is there a way to honor both situations in order to continue to honor all women who are suffering?

For women who speak up, trust them. It takes an incredible amount of courage to stand up and admit to assault. It takes so much.

For women who can’t speak up, for whatever reason, honor them as well.   They might be the most at risk.  They might be those that need the love the most.

As we go forward, trying to combat the horrors that women face, for those of us that have the capacity, let us honor all people who need support.