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.

Terrorism, Racism, and the Bullshit We Tell Ourselves

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”        -Desmond Tutu

In March of 2003 I remember staring at my television in disbelief. I kept flipping through the major news channels in hopes that something would change. One of the major news stations had a countdown clock ticking off the seconds of George W. Bush’s ultimatum to Saddam Hussein; Saddam and his sons were to leave their country by a certain time or the United States would invade Iraq. 57, 56, 55, 54… The clock counted down.

When the clock got to zero I turned white and collapsed to the floor. I felt frantic. I laid on the wooden floor of my Sacramento apartment and sobbed. I cried like a child who couldn’t find her blanket. I wailed and gulped between gasps for breath. Looking back, it seems a reasonable reaction. We were at war.

The protests lasted for months. The coverage of the protests lasted for a few days. I still have the sign that I carried as a testament to the anti-war effort.

In the months that followed, our country pretended that we weren’t at war. Less than two months after the countdown, on May 1st, 2003, George W. Bush stood on an aircraft carrier, the USS Abraham Lincoln, and declared “Mission Accomplished.” It was an incredible lie and a ridiculous sham. There are still American soldiers in Iraq today, more than a decade later.

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“There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn’t true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true.”      -Soren Kierkegaard

We tell ourselves a lot of stories. We are great at telling stories. America is famous for its stories. We invented the Hollywood picture, the Animated Feature, and the Broadway Musical. Our stories may be what make us quintessentially American.

Many of our stories make us great. In many ways, stories can make us feel human. They bind us with universal narratives and colorful language. Stories can give us give us comfort in our skin and validation to our souls.

But stories can also painfully mislead us.

For too long in this country we have made our stories a reality.  We have pretended so many things in order to get by.

We have pretended that our elected officials have had our best interests in mind. We have pretended that our mainstream media is a reasonable source of unbiased information. We have pretended that processed foods aren’t making us sick. We have pretended that the Star Wars prequels didn’t totally suck.

Some of the lies we have continued to tell ourselves are harmless. Many of the lies we tell ourselves in this country are killing innocent people.

We have to stop lying. We have to stop lying to ourselves and others. We have to stop pretending that the “War on Terrorism” isn’t racist. And we have to stop pretending that the long history of racism in this country is something of the past.

“There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”         –Proverbs 12:18

I watched a lot of Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show during the early years of the Iraq War. It was the only thing that kept me sane. I know that there is a line to be drawn between the unnamed war that we are fighting in this country against people of color and the many wars we think that we understand abroad. I haven’t been able to form a sentence with regard to what happened in South Carolina. So, instead, I’ll share with you some of Jon Stewart’s observations:

“What blows my mind is the disparity of response between when we think that people who are foreign are going to kill us and us killing ourselves. If this had been what we thought was Islamic Terrorism, it would have fit into our… We invaded two countries and spent trillions of dollars and thousands of American lives and now fly unmanned death machines over five or six different countries…all to keep Americans safe. We’ve got to do whatever we can. We’ll torture people. We’ve got to do whatever we can to keep Americans safe. Nine people shot in a church? What about that?

“This is a terrorist attack. This is a violent attack on the Emmanuel Church of South Carolina, which is a symbol for the black community. It has stood in that part of Charleston for 100+ years. It has been attacked viciously many times as many black churches have, and to pretend…I heard someone on the news saying, “Tragedy has visited this church.” This wasn’t a tornado. This was racist. This [incident] was black and white. There is no nuance here…

“Nine people were shot in a black church by a white guy who hated them, who wanted to start some kind of civil war. The Confederate flag flies over South Carolina, and the roads are named for Confederate generals, and the white guy’s the one who feels like his country is being taken away from him. We’re bringing it on ourselves. And that’s the thing. Al-Qaeda, all those guys, ISIS, they’re not shit compared to the damage that we can apparently do to ourselves on a regular basis.”

We have to stop. We have to stop lying. We have to stop lying to ourselves about the reality of this country. We have to be honest with ourselves. We have to be honest with each other. We have to be honest so that we can start doing something. We have to start doing something.

We have to start doing something.

“To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.”  –Howard Zinn

What do you say at a moment like this? There are no words.

So don’t use words. Use actions. Use acts of kindness. Use acts of kindness that are so significant they change the status quo.

The Fight

I love boxing. The sport of boxing is incredibly entertaining. There is nothing like two grown men hitting each other above the belt for no real reason until one of them passes out. It’s the best.

Until you actually think about it. And then it’s really fucking stupid.

I didn’t realize that anyone gave a shit about the Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao fight. I have been calling Comcast for the past six days because my internet has been acting up and I’ve been hearing about the fight every time I call. But it wasn’t until yesterday that anyone actually said something about having a friend or cousin related to Pacquiao. Suddenly that’s every person on Facebook and the fight matters.

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And, according to every person on Facebook, Floyd Mayweather is an alleged wife beater and a terrible person. (I don’t know him and I can’t speak to this.) He definitely deserved to lose a boxing match against Manny Pacquiao, right?

But Mayweather won.

The guy who supposedly punches his wife on a regular basis unjustly won a punching match against someone who gets punched professionally. Floyd Mayweather is a horrible person because he punches people that aren’t supposed to be punched. Is that what we are supposed to understand? Is that the real outrage? Because it sounds like a bunch of bullshit.

I’m ready to call the sport of boxing what it is: really fucking dumb. There is no reason that two grown men, who don’t really know each other, should beat each other up and, most importantly, get paid to do so. That’s really fucking dumb.

We, as humans, and especially as Americans, have a lot of shit to fight about. We have a lot of reasons to throw punches. Our last year has made that pretty clear: Police brutality. Racial inequality. Labor justice. Campaign finance. Marriage inequality. The gender pay gap. There are lots of reasons to be angry. There are lots of reasons that we should be resorting to violence.

But resorting to violence isn’t the way to go. If we have learned anything in this past week from our news outlets, and from our white friends on social media, it’s that violence is stupid. Am I right? Violence doesn’t solve anything. Especially when it happens in Baltimore. So, with that in mind, the sport of boxing is stupid. Punching each other in the face isn’t the way to go. Trying to make demons or heroes out of paid boxing champions is stupid.

I might get a little push-back here but let me say something first.

You can’t tell me that Manny Pacquiao is a hero out of the Philippines. Do you know how many heroes out of the Philippines there are? Do you know how many parents and grandparents and single mothers have protected their children through wars and earthquakes and typhoons? Do you even know the population of the Philippines or where in the world The Philippines actually exist? Probably not.

So don’t tell me that people who punch each other, even if they came from an impoverished country like the Philippines, deserve to be heroes. People who punch people aren’t heroes.  Boxers aren’t heroes.

A hero is someone you know. A hero is your neighbor or your grandma or a local firefighter. A hero is someone who has a direct impact on your life. Heroes are real people that you can shake hands with or feel a direct impact from. Heroes are real people.

Boxers aren’t heroes. Boxing matches are shitty representations of two people who don’t really care for each other and who don’t really have a fight to pick with each other, fighting for a cause that means nothing. They are the worst of all fighters.

If you want a hero, find someone who stands for something. If you want to know about a real fight, go ask someone you love, ask them what they are fighting for and ask why.  There you will find a hero and you’ll find something to fight for.

Belle Curve

This is a true  story and it seems so stupid now. I’m an adult and I have found a way to stay perpetually jaded. There are so many matters of consequence. And I don’t even remember her name. But I will never forget her.

I will call her Belle. She was kind and soft and beautiful. And she was so much smarter than me.  She was so much smarter than the rest of us. She became our hero because she saved our asses. It was more than ten years ago.

I took a biology class in Junior College. I had slacked off for a few years and it was the equivalent of my third (maybe fourth?) sophomore year of college. I had finally gotten my shit together and had applied to transfer to a few “real” colleges. I had stopped sleeping with my teachers and had started getting good grades. I had been accepted to a few universities on contingency. If all went well, I would be a literature major at a university in the fall. But I had to keep my grades up.

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There were several of us in the same situation and we all had to keep our grades up. We were young and this was what mattered then. For me, it was all that mattered then. It was my way out. I would go to college. It was what my parents wanted for me. It was my way of growing up. It was my ticket.

The biology class was a mandatory prerequisite requirement. I had to pass. It was the second science class of my adult life and the only class that I ever took that was graded on a curve. The teacher set the curve, not by the standard bell structure, but at the highest level achieved for the class. If a test was out of 100 and the highest grade was a 98, then the test was out of 98 and the grades followed accordingly.

The curve would have been a fair and flawless structure if it weren’t for Belle. She always got the top grade and it was always at least ten points more than second place. We knew because the grades were posted on a list outside the classroom, by top grade and last name. Belle got an A every time. The rest of us got Bs or worse.

We studied as a group for more than a week before the final test. It was worth 20 percent of our grade and we were taking it very seriously. Belle showed up after the third or fourth session to a collective sigh. It was an open study group. She meant well and she really wanted to help.

After a few sessions with Belle, we all knew we were fucked. Most of the rest of us were planning to go on with our lives studying art, theater or literature. She was going into forensics. We just didn’t get it. We didn’t speak the language. She spoke the language.

It was the night before the test and it was past midnight. I don’t remember who spoke first. We had all had too much coffee. Some of us had had too much to drink. Someone finally said what we had all been thinking. “Look Belle, if you just got five or six questions wrong, all of us would get better grades.” A discussion followed. Belle looked like she had been shot. We called it a night and went home.

A week later I got an email that I had gotten an A on the test. I immediately felt sick; I knew that I had gotten several questions wrong. It was my last test of the semester but I went back to the campus because I had to know.

The list was on the door. Belle got a 90 out of 100. She was the top score. I got an 88 and so did most of the study group. As I stared at the numbers, as a took in the list, I knew that Belle threw it. There was not a question on the test that she would have struggled with. She tried to help us with every possible question. She knew the material. She knew all of it.

As I stood gaping at the numbers, staring into absolute abyss, the class assistant came up behind me. He said, “She left the last ten questions blank. She didn’t even answer them.”

Belle didn’t do it to make friends. We were all going to different colleges in the fall. She knew we wouldn’t see each other again.

It was the spring of 2002, the first spring after the towers fell, and, as far as we knew, the world was on its knees. The spring sun, and the smell of flowers, had barely started to permeate after a cold, dark winter. We were young people in a world that had gone off the rails. Young men from my fall’s philosophy class, only the semester before, had already been sent to basic. We just didn’t have the stomach for failed systems any longer. We were growing up.

I was reminded of Belle as I was reading about the protests in Istanbul. There is an uprising in the country of Turkey. Parents and their children showed up at Gezi Park, a city park in Istanbul, like Julia Butterfly Hill’s apostles, they ate  sandwiches and held their ground as developers tried to destroy the trees in favor of a strip mall. They stayed there. They stayed and waited until the police came.

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And the police came.

I read a blog written by a Turkish yoga teacher who was in the park when the Turkish police got there. As some of the police were launching tear gas and brutalizing mothers, fathers and small children, a few of the uniformed men quit their jobs on the spot, handed in their badges, and joined the protesters.

As I read the article, I was reminded of Occupy Oakland; I was reminded of UC Davis, my alma mater, the university that I eventually graduated from. I was reminded of heroes.  I was reminded of Belle.

Belle could have finished her test. She could have answered every question and she would have gotten every answer right. She was better than us. She had the upper hand. She had the power. And she owed us nothing.

But sometimes, even though we aren’t obligated, or won’t benefit, or don’t have any responsibility to make a sacrifice, sometimes, even then, we decide that the “we” is bigger than the “me”.

Belle sacrificed her upper-hand because she knew that it was the right thing to do. She knew that the system was rigged. She knew that her forfeiture would mean nothing to her, she knew that there would be no consequence for her, but, she knew that it would mean a lot to those around her.  Belle gave us the gift of mercy.

That’s what it was: mercy.

A decade ago, throwing a test was valor. For me, at the time, it was heroism. Today is different. What people are facing today was not what my parents prepared me for. They didn’t expect this. I didn’t expect this.

We all expected mercy.

I’m struggling with the words to end this blog. We live in a different world. Sometimes there are no words.  Sometimes there is no mercy.

But sometimes there is.

I am a UC Davis alum. I am an Aggie. I am the 99%.

With regard to what happened on the UC Davis campus on Friday: I am a UC Davis alum. I stood on the very site that students were pepper sprayed. I stood there, in 2003, and fought for women’s rights. I stood on that spot and spoke out for social justice. I stood there and rattled against the Iraq war. To watch what happened there and see students sitting peacefully on the same spot, a place where I was allowed to experience free speech, and bare witness to my fellow Aggies battled against, pepper sprayed, by the UC Police, an agency paid for with student money, is not just an insult to my education and college experience, it is an unequivocal trespass on civil rights.

 

There are beautiful, intelligent students that attend school at UC Davis. The university has an incredible history. But instead that very wonderful fact making international news, what my alma mater is now known for is the war that the administration and UC Police waged on student protesters. All those responsible for the school’s new reputation need to resign or be removed. It is only fair to all of us who have worked so hard to make UC Davis a place of truthful and beautiful education.

 

I have supported the Occupy Wall Street Movement without a moment of hesitation. I have done so with my principles, my words and my actions. I understand the need for protest at this juncture in history. Regardless of the fact that we have, for too long, relied on infinite growth to prop up our lives, now that the last crumbs of civilization are being scooped up, the have-nots are seeing even more clearly the need for community, equality and sharing. When the poor and disenfranchised advocate for such things, and are met with violent opposition to maintain the status quo, all people, even those not sure about the future, need to be vigilant about the present.

 

People in this country who don’t feel like an involvement in the current protests could be helpful, I offer you this poem by Martin Neimoller, holocaust survivor:

 

“First they came for the communists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.”

 

Do not, for a moment, stand by. Do not acquiesce. Do not hesitate. We are the 99%.