On ‘I Am Not Your Negro’

I Am Not Your NegroI Am Not Your Negro by James Baldwin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I saw ‘I Am Not Your Negro’ during its only showing in Helsinki a few months ago at a film festival. I knew it would be a powerful documentary and commentary on race in America, both historically during the civil rights era and given contemporary events. I had no idea I’d still be so affected by some of those words and images today.

Given current happenings in the US, and specifically the events of this past weekend in Charlottesville, I keep returning to various scenes from the film and the eloquent anger and pain carried through Baldwin’s words, whether calmly spoken and delivered by himself decades ago or narrated by Samuel L Jackson. Medgar, Malcom and Martin were silenced, but Baldwin almost seems alive in the theatre or in the words printed in this book. I can only image how incredibly powerful his planned book would have been. In its absence, I’m grateful to at least have ‘I Am Not Your Negro’, along with all of his other works.

In a fevered state this afternoon, I came across this excerpt, and it seems so appropriate in this moment:

‘You never had to look at me.
I had to look at you.
I know more about you than you know about me.
Not everything that is faced can be changed;
but nothing can be changed until it is faced.’

Nothing can be changed until it is faced.

Nearly 50 years since Martin Luther King Jr was shot and killed, we appear to have regressed in our attempts in the US to face the brutal reality in the history of our nation. Until we face that reality—openly and honestly and completely—how many more Charlottesvilles will we witness?

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On Charlottesville…

What is there to say or write, really?

Like much of the country, my country, I’m rather stunned this morning, and yet not. I’m heartbroken, again, to see hatred and bigotry out-screaming and dulling the goodness and diversity I love about my country. I’m rather out of words.

Earlier this year, I was fortunate to catch ‘I Am Not Your Negro‘ in the theatre at its only showing in Finland. James Baldwin’s words are more than moving, and more relevant than anything written today, to my mind. Given the time between when they were spoken or written, their relevancy today seems almost prophetic, yet its indicative of what we haven’t achieved.

Indeed, given yesterday’s events, it seems we’ve regressed.

Those of who have nothing to lose must speak out. We must stand up to bigotry and hatred and injustices that take place every single day. And, we must listen.

It will be scary. It will make us uncomfortable. And, it will exhaust us unimaginably. But, if we are to move beyond this madness and mayhem, we must. 

‘We must take sides’

In the wake of the bombing of a mosque in Minnesota this weekend, a friend posted the following quote from Elie Wiesel:

We must take sides.

Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere.

When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the centre of the universe.’ 

Elie Wiesel, The Night Trilogy: Night, Dawn, the Accident


(I’ll be moving a re-read of The Night Trilogy up the to-read queue.)


Kaep & NFL hypocrisy

Yesterday, I posted an image to my Facebook page which featured NFL players Michael Vick, someone else I don’t know (Rice?) and Colin Kaepernick. Two players were convicted of felonies, served time and then were granted multimillion-dollar contracts to return to the NFL. Colin Kaepernick, in case like me you have been living under a rock and don’t follow American football, kneeled during the national anthem at several NFL games last season to ‘protest police brutality and social injustice’. As a free agent this year, he remains unsigned by any team in the NFL. 

Before yesterday’s post disappeared into the virtual black hole, I didn’t get a chance to respond to a few comments. Several of these touched upon various issues in the blacklisting of Kaep and the utter hypocrisy of turning a blind eye or dismissing bad (and to my mind) worse behaviours vis-à-vis players like Michael Vick since ‘they did their time’. Because this entire story equally fascinates and infuriates me, I thought I’d move the conversation here.

First, yes, indeed, Michael Vick served time. And, he’s spun that tale of redemption. But, honestly, his words and deeds still make me sick. That he’s been rewarded obscenely so makes it all the worse. To me, his post-prison personae shows very little contrition or humility in the sense that he knows he did something bad. Rather, he laments getting caught, rather than committing the crime in the first place. He regrets his prison sentence rather than abusing and killing dogs.

Another comment suggested that the NLF lost money this past year due to the actions of Kaep. I don’t buy it (no pun intended). Evidently, even as an unsigned player, Kaep falls 39th on the list of 50 top-selling official player merchandise. Do a search on Kaep and a slew of articles pop up blaming him for the NFL’s falling attendance and popularity, but they all appear to be from similar sources and those who disagree ideologically with his message rather offering any real figures or data. Thus, despite his popularity with audiences, Kaep is a convenient scapegoat. It’s convenient as a headline and that’s about it.

Another point was made that Kaep and others who do peacefully voice an opinion / raise awareness as only they can given the platform and audiences at their disposal should just accept the consequences when they voice unpopular views and are ridiculed or ostracised. I don’t think anyone who has voiced an opinion, popular or not, ever assumed that they shouldn’t face ridicule or disagreement. But, this same rationale only goes so far. More often than not, it crosses a line between respectful disagreement and outright hatred and threats of violence. Rather ironic in this particular case given why Kaep kneeled in the first place.

What really bothers is that this rationale harkens back to the justifications for the absurd public shaming and death threats lobbed at the Dixie Chicks when they were told to just ‘shut up and sing’.

Death threats for voicing an opinion. Peaceably exercising their freedom of expression. 

Does Kaep or did the Dixie Chicks deserve that? Rather than hear them out, we appear awfully quick to dismiss their concerns and demonise them. Pointing out the hypocrisy, particularly in the case of Kaep, seemingly falls on deaf ears and a return to the logical of ‘shut up and play’. 

Yes, athletes are performing a job. Yes, they are ‘entertaining’ us (or fans of sport X). But, why oh why do we think they have no right to have a voice? Why are we so quick to shame and punish Kaep for exercising his right, but we allow others to commit insanely violent and disgusting acts and to continue playing whilst reaping unbelievable financial rewards as well?

It both surprises me and doesn’t that a tracking tool was developed to log crimes committed by various NFL players. In addition to drunk driving and drugs possessions charges, one incidence lists ‘head butting his wife’ and ‘throwing a shoe at an 18-month-old infant’.

That’s lovely role-modelling there.

In my post yesterday, someone else commented that they were in favour of not allowing anyone convicted of a crime from playing in the NFL again. I’m not sure how I feel about that, but I certainly would balk at supporting a team that allows rapists and those perpetrating domestic violence on their playing field or in their uniforms. I certainly wouldn’t honour a player convicted of using dogs as bait (e.g., Vick’s induction into Virginia Tech’s Sports Hall of Fame). 

Kaep wasn’t violent (unlike a heap of other players, convicted or otherwise), he didn’t commit a crime (freedom of speech was and still is legal, thankfully) and he serves as a positive role model in his community off the football field as well (rather quietly I would say).

Admittedly, I’m not a fan of American football. At all. It’s just never really been that interesting to me. If I were a fan, though, I’d be more supportive of a team that stood behind Kaep than I would be of teams who continue standing behind the likes of Vick and others in that tracking tool.

Shaun King wrote an incredible piece on his obsessive love of football and why he was now boycotting the NFL. For him, as a lifelong football fan, he won’t watch or follow the sport any longer as well given the inherent hypocrisy of Kaep.

For a sport which to me is so over-the-top patriotic, why oh why are we punishing individuals for trying to make our country and ourselves better?


Lady Liberty

I’m all out of words. So, I’ll borrow a few from the base of Lady Liberty.

The New Colossus

By Emma Lazarus, 1883

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”


Let’s not talk about politics

A friend of mine just shared this particular comic with me, and it could not have been more appropriate.


©Emily McGovern. Brilliant image capturing how I suspect many are feeling at this particular moment. For more, visit http://emilymcgovern.com/category/comics/.

Feel familiar?

So far today, I’ve read more about the President’s damn tweets, more on potential collusion between Russian hackers and various Trump campaign officials, the assault on access to healthcare that is the GOP/Trump plan to reverse Obamacare, the completely unstaffed Science Division of the White House as of yesterday,  and the rather bizarre request for voter registration information from each state based on misinformation non-existent evidence of ‘widespread’ voter fraud within the US voting system.

I’m exhausted and it’s not even 9.00 on Saturday. And, we’re not even six months into this administration’s first term?

There’s too much. Too much noise and nonsense news and misdirection. As disgusting and demeaning as our current President’s tweets are, the agendas being pushed through as we’re all distracted by his unbecoming behaviour are even more infuriating. For instance, one little tidbit buried in news headlines is a lovely provision in a spending bill currently in the House. This provision would eliminate funding to the IRS to enforce a law prohibiting churches and other non-profits which are tax exempt from endorsing specific candidates for public office. (The law is known as the Johnson Amendment and was signed into law by President Eisenhower.) I don’t mind if churches and other non-profits want to enter the political fray; many already have. I do mind if they want to continue to claim their tax-exempt status.

And, down the political news rabbit hole I go…

My husband and I try to step away from our computers and work and other nonsense each day. On our peripatetic bonding time-out each evening, we typically experience a moment eerily akin to that captured in the image above. Particularly that last panel.

We support evidence-based policies.

We support policies which uphold and respect the human rights and dignity of all rather than a select few.

We support funding for the arts and sciences because they typically assist, benefit and enlighten more than a few, if not today then in future.

And, more than that, we support respectful, open and fact-based discussions on how to move forward on any particular issue.

I don’t for a moment believe that all those with opposing views to my own are idiots. I just wish the discussions about various policies wouldn’t assume that all of us are idiots.

Forget the bloody tweets. Let’s get back to what’s happening with and on specific policies. Precisely because it is so damn infuriating and exhausting.


Flashback to June 2005.

Little did I know that a meet-up with a rather crazy lovely Cuban from an online forum of Moscow expats would become so meaningful and life-changing. Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew prompted a private message, and an invitation to chat about and swap music. (This was the third bit of music he and I virtually bonded over, the other two discussions consisted of gushing over Alison Kraus and Union Station and all things bluegrass, and, naturally, waxing silly and paying tribute to the Grateful Dead.) We didn’t keep track of the specific date when we met for the first time (at which point neither one of us was thinking anything other than ‘new friend with whom to geek out over music’). Nor did we really make note of our first ‘date’, which wasn’t intended as a date, but ended up sparking ‘something’.

But, thanks to Google, we can trace it back. How fitting that our first date / non-date fell on 12 June, a rather significant date for far more important reasons.

The decision in the landmark civil rights case Loving v. Virginia, the case that invalidated laws criminalising mixed-race marriages, fell on 12 June 1967. Prior to that case, mixed race couples in the US were rare. More significantly and perhaps why they were so rare, prior to Loving, mixed-race couples who defied laws (and cultural norms) and wed faced jail time and prison sentences along with being ostracised from their community and outrage from their families and friends.  The laws changed, but attitudes persisted. Mixed-race couples continued to face rather unwelcome words and glances, if not outright discrimination and recrimination, some of which persist today. Today’s reality is certainly better than the era of the 1950s and 1960s, but that uneasiness continues today, at a time when 17% of newly married couples in the US involve individuals from various ethnic backgrounds.

The New York Times paid tribute to the Lovings along with other mixed-race couples on the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision. It serves as a stark reminder that even today it isn’t easy for couples claiming various backgrounds who fall in love with someone ‘different’ from them. Different from their community. Different in terms of how they look and what they ‘know’.

The Cuban and I are lucky, I suppose. We don’t look that different from one another despite coming from completely opposing worlds. Middle America / Texas hill country versus Havana, Cuba. At times, we both marvel that we have anything in common at all let alone that we even met. But, given how similar we look given our fair complexions and lighter coloured eyes, we are still not free from those long-held notions of who should marry whom. It’s exceedingly rare amongst our circles, thankfully. But, given our respective backgrounds, we have felt the assumptions others make about us. We have experienced stereotypes and some rather odd statements regarding our relationship and marriage, and its validity in the eyes of some. I can’t help but wonder what we’d experience if we weren’t living in Europe.

We may be living out our relationship 50 years from that landmark case. In some respects, we in the US are nowhere on truly becoming tolerant and, well, loving. For everyone. Even if we have come far from jailing mixed-race couples, there is still further to go.

Love is love. And it is a beautiful thing in whatever form it takes. Maybe we should spend a little more time loving and little less time deciding who may love whom.


Just the two of us being us on holiday. The Malecón, La Habana, Cuba. January 2017