Firing Bill O’Reilly: a few thoughts from a broken feminist

rts12tlpI felt a sense of righteous vindication upon reading that Fox has let Bill O’Reilly go. I was one of the many women writing letters  by email and on Facebook to companies that advertised on his show. Thanks to the work of women’s rights organizations like ultraviolet and NOWI knew who to write to and what to say. I explained to my children that every small action the resistance takes is making a difference. The pawns are falling: the resignations of Milo Yiannopolous, Roger Ailes, Michael Flynn, the recusements of David Nunes and Jeff Sessions, and Jason Chaffetz deciding not to run in 2018, are all precursors to the eventual, inevitable, downfall of DJT.

We deserve a moment to relish the sense of accomplishment we feel after taking out the trash.

But this morning my daughter and I had a conversation about music. At the moment, she’s into music that denigrates women: “b**tches and h*s” lyrics by men who slap their girlfriends around. I tried to explain to her that she’s internalizing those bad messages, and that it wasn’t healthy.

She wasn’t buying it.

After all, why should she listen to me? I’m a broken feminist. I talk the talk, I even try to walk the walk, but there’s a part of me that’s so deeply damaged, I continue to accept unacceptable behavior from men ALL THE TIME. I still make myself nice, and small, and agreeable, just to fly low under the radar. I have not realized my potential, and it’s likely I never will. I’m like many American women: I’ve been a victim of sexual violence, both attempted and completed. The attempted left a 21-stitch long scar on my right hand; I sliced it open scaling a chainlink fence in a burst of adrenaline to get away from two attackers after my car broke down on the side of the road in Brooklyn. The completed acts left internal scars that despite years of therapy, have not healed. These scars affect my ability to have healthy adult relationships with men, both in work environments and social environments. My workaround is that I limit myself by sticking to female dominant work settings, and I work primarily alone. I don’t ask for promotions or raises because the bosses are male. I’ve tried a few times, but after being shut down I’ve given up.

The resistance is female for a reason. DJT’s voice turns our stomachs. He has the cadence of our predators. He has the same cold, dead eyes. He has their sensibility. That the predator-in-chief is still in his position, despite what he’s admitted to, and what he’s suspected of doing, wounds us and our daughters daily.

I am so proud of our every accomplishment in resisting this juggernaut of sexual predation. And I am so grateful when men, like the Patriots, join us. But I am afraid for my daughter. The end of allowing predatory men in positions of power can’t come soon enough for her or millions of girls like her.

 

 

 

Falafel in the time of Trump

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The other day my co-worker Layla (name changed to protect her privacy), gifted me some homemade falafel mix. If you’ve ever made falafel from scratch, you know this is quite a present. Falafel from dried fava beans is a lot of work. I was definitely touched by this gesture.

Layla is Egyptian, and as the only two MENAs (Middle Eastern North Africans) in an Anglo-Saxon work environment, we’d bonded over food. As we followed the children we were tasked with protecting around the halls and fields of the school, we talked about recipes, ways to preserve the excess mint and cucumbers in our gardens,  and what stores we favored: Super Jordan, Patel Brothers, or Maharaja Farmers Market. When a recently immigrated relative of hers was applying for jobs, I looked over the resume and corrected the English. We complained about our husbands and kids like all moms; she invited me to a festival at her church.

Unfortunately, our relationship became awkward after November 8th. You see, even though Layla is Egyptian, she voted for DJT. The day after the election, she was all smiles and I was shell-shocked. We had a weird exchange. I’d made the assumption that, as a Middle Eastern person, she wouldn’t go for him.

I had this strange experience again with another woman friend. My across-the-street neighbor is a single mom with three daughters. Let’s call her Nataly. She’s an immigrant from Peru, and over the years I’ve given her kids rides to school (she used to leave even earlier than me for work), and we’ve had coffee together. Lately, we’re both so busy we only meet when we are gardening in our front yards, or as it happened after the inauguration, when we are both in the street shoveling snow. I was wearing my pink Women’s March knit hat, and I proudly said, “I went to the Women’s March!” Nataly replied, “Oh, I went to the March for Life.”

Again, cognitive disconnect. I’d made the assumption that as a Latina immigrant, she wouldn’t go for DJT.

I was trying to figure this out with my husband. The two groups DJT demonizes the most are Middle Eastern people and South/Central Americans. And he disrespects women. Yet these women voted for him.

“I guess they’e one-issue voters,” my husband said.  Of course he meant abortion.

I think he may be right. Both women are some form of Catholic. But I think there’s something else. Lately I have been reading about how people who vote conservative really do think differently than people who vote liberal/progressive. These women both come from traditional patriarchal cultures. (As it has been pointed out over and over, DJT is patriarchy on steroids.) They may be more able to tolerate a blow-hard misogynist like DJT as a result.

I could resent the way DJT has inserted himself into every aspect of my life. Even my friendships are tainted by him. Or I could be the better woman and value these women even as I disagree with them. After all, we are going to have to keep living with each other. It is better to share falafel and coffee, to shovel snow and follow children and share rides, than to argue. I will not be able to change their minds with anything I say. But maybe I can be a powerful example of a life lived as feminist. Maybe they will eventually see the error of their votes through no action of mine. Maybe it is the friendships of women that will heal the country when this nightmare ends–and it will, as all nightmares do.

 

To DJT: On International Women’s Day

red-01Dear Mr. President,

Today is International Women’s Day, and I am staying home from work. Not because I took the day off–I don’t really have that luxury. I just got the day off because my employers gave it to me. But I figured I could take the morning and tell you a little about my work, since you Tweet that you “respect” it so much.

For money, I am a pediatric nurse. The children I care for are called “medically fragile”. These are the kids who can’t move anything except their eyes, and maybe one thumb on a good day. These kids have feeding tubes, and wheelchairs, and machines that breathe for them. Their equipment is insanely expensive. Without adequate government-provided healthcare, no family can afford what these kids need. Without adequately funded scientific research, no one can prevent or cure the diseases these children have. And without access to women’s healthcare programs, genetic counseling, and birth control, parents who carry the genes that cause such genetic disorders run the risk of having more than one child with a debilitating disease.

I go to school with these children. They need a special school filled with adaptive technology. Private schools are not required to offer the sort of interventions these children need. Betsy DeVos clearly has a limited understanding of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and her current “confusion”, unless corrected, will strand the kids I care for.

Just as an aside: most of the nurses who do this difficult job are immigrants from the Philippines, Haiti, Jamaica and China. You see, white American-born nurses are the minority in this line of work. Not because immigrants take the jobs away from American-born—but because the American-born don’t want the job. Excuses I’ve heard: “heartbreaking”, “too hard” (the kids and their equipment is heavy—and we carry it from class to class), and “boring”.

Interestingly, though I earn more than FOUR TIMES THE MINIMUM WAGE, my salary cannot support our family. Not because we spend it on country clubs and golf outings. Nope. Our big expenditure is childcare, especially in the summer, when I work and the kids don’t have school. Thank goodness, during the school year, my kids go to a FREE PUBLIC SCHOOL.

Oh, and BTW, my healthcare job doesn’t come with health insurance.

Nursing’s just what I do full time for money. For no pay I’ve written a successful $60,000 grant to build a playground in my underserved neighborhood. The other mothers and I schooled ourselves in the minutiae of playground design, raised even more money, and got a state of the art playground built in less than a year. The kind of thing you wish your tax dollars took care of, but just don’t for some reason.

And when I get home, I care for my two children, cook, clean, garden, chauffeur….you know, that stuff you and Melania hire people to do for you.

Lately, I’ve had another part time job. I have been spending hours in the evening keeping track of and resisting dangerous legislation that threatens my children. Cuts to education funding, inappropriate cabinet appointees, rollbacks on gun safety, and the gutting of environmental protections. You see, as a mom, I don’t want my kids shot by a mentally ill person, poisoned by lead in their drinking water, or suffering a mega-storm, wildfire, or drought brought on by global climate change. I’d like them to grow up in a world with wilderness, and clean air, animals and polar ice caps. Call me crazy.

Well, that’s just a few reasons why my work is important. Now show me you respect it. Protect my children’s free, quality public education. Protect the environment so my kids and grandkids have a decent world to live in. Protect my children’s health.

I dare you.

 

 

 

 

When is a White Person Not a White Person? When She’s an Arab.

maxresdefaultA couple days ago I heard a story on NPR. Apparently, according to the next census, I’ll no longer be a white person. I’ll be MENA (Middle Eastern North African).

I mentioned this to my daughter. She said, “I thought you never were white.”

I explained that legally, I was. 22 years before I was born, Arabs were legally recognized as “white” by the United States of American.

“Yeah, but no one thinks of Arabs as white,” she said. (She’s Latina).

When you look at me, you would probably say, “Hey, that lady is white.” That’s because my mom’s parents were German. I got her coloring.

In the US, to be considered a Native American, instead of a generic white American, you have to be 1/16th Native. That’s one great-grandparent.

Historically, to be black you only needed “one drop” of African blood.

I’m half Arabic. A full 50%. My dad was fully Middle Eastern. An immigrant from Lebanon. Speaking Arabic.  Had an Arabic name: Salim. Grew up in Beirut. Was a tank gunner in the Christian Militia. Had Palestinian friends. Summered in Syria.

I inherited my dad’s nose. He said I looked like his mother, the grandmother I never met because she disowned him when he married my Germanic mom.

I said to a friend, “I don’t even know why this is bothering me. Why would I even want to be white? Especially right now, with all the ugly white supremacy stuff going on.”

My friend, a Jewish woman whose ancestors escaped some Nazi-benighted Eastern European country said, “Because white is safe.”

According to the NPR story, it became necessary to designate Middle Eastern North African peoples as MENA because there were just too many “Some Other Race” people in the last census.

But I can’t help wondering why, when the last census was taken in 2010, President Obama’s administration didn’t find it necessary to take care of that “problem” by designating Arabs as MENA then. Maybe he didn’t think an undesignated “Some Other Race” was such a big deal, being mixed race as he was.

I did some reading. The MENA idea has been kicking around for a while, but this is the first administration to seriously consider it. Congress still has to vote on it in 2018 to make it definite. I wonder which way it will go, and what it will mean.

MENA sounds so benign. I can imagine naming a daughter that, maybe with a different spelling—I assume it’s pronounced “Mee-nah”. It even sounds sort of Arabic.

On a related note: I found it a little troubling to hear about my possible MENA designation on the same weekend I heard about the new VOICE initiative.

VOICE (Victims of Immigrant Crime Engagement) is the brainchild of Steve Bannon, voiced by DJT. It’s the latest in his white supremacy government propaganda push, inspired by Hitler’s Jewish Crimes List. Interestingly, the Third Reich started reporting Jewish crime separately from non-Jewish crime after putting in place the Nuremburg Race Laws.

Hmmm…

 

DJT: Revisiting Operation Wetback

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This week the kids and I are up near the Canadian border, and the other night I found myself in conversation with an ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) agent. I mentioned that we lived in a city with lots of mixed status families, and I was concerned about DJT’s crackdown on immigrants. Specifically, what would happen to the children who were citizens if their parents were deported?

Now, I can’t be sure what is policy and what is this particular ICE agent’s opinion, but he said a few things that were troubling.

He said the kids would be deported along with their parents unless they have a close relative with papers who can act as guardian.

He said he could see a situation in which the kids are taken off the school bus and put directly into another bus for deportation.

He said when people are deported, all their property is left behind. They can try to get someone  to claim it for them, but mostly “it just rots”.

He said officials were “emptying beds” in detention centers right now, preparing for the mass deportation order.

He said “The planes are waiting.”

He said, “The model is Operation Wetback.”

But here’s the interesting part: his information on Operation Wetback was based on the myth that particular operation had grown into. Not on its facts.

According to internet myth and this particular ICE agent, “in 1954, President Dwight Eisenhower deported 13 million Mexican Nationals…so WWII and Korean Veterans would have a better chance at jobs. It took 2 Years…” and was a massive success, that Trump will easily repeat.

But, with very little research, I found that Operation Wetback was, in fact, 10 times smaller,  and it was considered a failure by many, and was, without a doubt, a humanitarian crisis. Deportees dropped off in the desert with no water died of heat stroke. “Slave ship” conditions on the boats used to transport deportees resulted in deaths by drowning.

Nevertheless, this agent, a rational, generally nice guy, will carry out whatever repeat of this nightmare DJT orders. As will his fellow agents. Because  it is too much to expect someone who has been groomed to follow orders, who has been chosen because of his ability to do so, would suddenly question authority.

Are we to believe this one agent? (Maybe he’s an outlier–maybe this isn’t going to happen). But if he’s telling the truth, the takeaway is this:

  • If you are in a mixed-status family, make sure you have identified someone in your extended family that your citizen children can go to if you want them to remain in the US.
  • Identify someone who will be able to go into your house and retrieve your belongings and send them to you when you are back in your country of origin.
  • Figure out how you will get your money out of your US bank accounts from a remote location.
  • If you can, get a reputable immigration lawyer now, and get your papers in order now.

 

For those of us that are citizens, we have to consider what we can do to protect our neighbors. I’m afraid the “Muslim Ban” was a dress rehearsal. We responded admirably and put a stop to that nonsense. Nevertheless, Bannon/DJT may push on. Right now, deportations of non-criminal immigrants are ramping up. So we must remain vigilant. And we can not let horror and exhaustion get the best of us. Stay involved. Don’t give up. We are on the right side of history.

 

 

Writing the Resistance

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This weekend I had a chance to take a break from politics and attend the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators 18th Annual International Conference in New York. It was my first time, and everyone was so warm and welcoming.

On the first day,  Fish in a Tree author Linda Mullaly Hunt spoke with me at the Friday Professional Author’s forum, and  Jodi Kendall (whose book The Unlikely Story of a Pig in the City is out October 2017) and Marcie Colleen  (who writes the Super Happy Party Bears chapter books, among others) took me to Grand Central Station’s food court for lunch.

Mathew Winner (of All the Wonders podcast and blog), was so knowledgeable about social media, and so open to meeting new, awkward people like me.  Erica S. Perl (Ferocious Fluffety and many more), said hello on that first day and kept letting me hang around whenever I felt awkward. Ellen Hopkins, of Crank and Traffick fame, chatted with me at the Saturday night get together when it was clear I had no idea who she was, and when I finally realized it and fell all over myself apologizing (I knew her books, but not her face, and she had no name tag), she  graciously let it slide.

But it was’t just about schmoozing and self-promotion. And it wasn’t just about writing craft. As the weekend went on, it was clear that the unstated themes of the conference were Bravery, Diversity, and Empathy. Over and over, the keynote illustrators and writers  were moved to talk about their response to the current political and emotional climate in this country. Bryan Colliers moved us to tears as he talked about the illustrations in Knock Knock, a picture book about a boy separated from his father. He spoke of how each of us saw that child every day, separated from a parent by death, deportation, incarceration, or simply “gone”, and how our empathy for that child’s story changes lives. Cynthia Leitich Smith had us examine how we depicted diversity in our books, and she gave me a lot to think about with regards to identity and the Own Voices movement.

The editors and agents and authors repeatedly revisited the idea that when we bravely and empathetically tell stories about diverse children, we make space for them in a troubling and sometimes hostile world, and that in times like these, that is more important than ever. Diversity means all kinds of things–nearly every one in this country has some hyphen, whether it’s based on religion, ethnicity, gender identity, sexuality, regional or socio-economic factors. Sara Pennypacker summed it up in the closing keynote, when she spoke of each of our efforts as “positive acts of creation” that remove one drop of evil from the world.

In times of crisis, writing and reading children’s books can seem frivolous,  chatting about our art can seem self-indulgent. But we need to dream better versions of the world before we can realize better versions of the world,  and art for children is the first step. Children grown on diverse voices get used to diversity, and are far less likely to vote for hate in the future. By bravely writing about diverse people with empathy, we write the resistance.

 

 

 

 

DJT Day 20: Nevertheless, She Persisted

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Have you noticed how DJT and his allies keep trying to shut us up?

President Bannon told the media to “keep its mouth shut”.

When Alec Baldwin hurt his feelings, DJT said SNL should be canceled.

Conway wanted to know when reporters who called her on her lies (she calls this talking “smack” as opposed to telling the truth) will be fired.

And Sean Spicer complained that Melissa McCarthy’s portrayal of him “crossed over into mean”. (I couldn’t help but wonder if her funny skit was meaner than keeping a 4-year-old in need of emergency heart surgery out of the US because he’s Iranian.  )

Today DJT decided Nordstrom was treating his daughter “unfairly” for dropping her fashion line.  Well, if our actual votes don’t count, shouldn’t we be allowed to vote with our wallets? Last I heard, the Supreme Court decided that corporate spending is a form of free speech. Doesn’t that count for individual citizens too?

And now, Coretta Scott Kings words aren’t allowed on the Senate floor. How is it possible that the Republican Party has so forgotten itself, that it actually wants to muzzle free speech ?

But we won’t shut up.

In the wake of this “appalling” election, Paul Auster finally decided to become president of  PEN America (an organization dedicated to freedom of expression). He said in an interview, ‘I’m going to speak out as often as I can, otherwise I can’t live with myself’.

Well, I think many of us feel the same way.

Last night our little Indivisible Group met for a second time. We’ve grown from 10 to over 50. We’re going to keep growing. Today many of us faxed Coretta Scott King’s words to all the Republican Senators.

Even though I know they’ll vote Sessions in on party lines, I hope they get the message.

They may warn us. They may give us an explanation. Nevertheless, we will persist.