Thursday, February 25, 2010

Two Parables - Oppression - I Can't See (Fully) Inside

Yesterday I wrote about - Wrong Place, Wrong Time, John Rich's fascinating book. (Now I'd like to say a little more related to what I read in this book.)

A. Parable One:

Roy Martin, as John Rich described him, is an admirable man who has struggled and moved from the inner city world of his youth to successfully working to help youths growing up as he grew up. He has moved, with serious struggle, to a middle class world, though it hasn't been and isn't easy for him.

At one time Roy Martin was just completing a period as an intern at Senator Kerry's Office when he totally disappeared from Senator Kerry's Staff and John Rich. While Rich could not reach Martin, he heard that he was "ok" but needed to take care of some things before he could be reachable and in contact again.

After being unreachable for close to a year, Rich was able to contact Martin and was together with him briefly. Martin was clearly stressed and scared. He disclosed little as to what was going on but indicated that he was doing what he needed to do and would be in touch when things were worked out.

Close to a year later Martin reappeared and began working for Senator Kerry again. John Rich then learned that Martin had been getting his hair cut when a young man from his past came into the barber shop, clearly being about to physically attack him.

Martin escaped and realized that he'd not gotten free of his past, He felt that he needed to resolve things (privately) before he could move forward in his life. He did not want to face a situation where he might be attacked while working for Senator Kerry or being with John Rich. He did not want to have his violent past thrust into the lives of his new mentors and supporters in his middle class, predominantly White worlds.

Rich evidently never learned details as to how Martin made peace with those who wanted to attack him. He was only clear that he'd not attacked or killed others in achieving what he had sought.

While I can understand the words and appreciate much here this is a totally foreign type of life experience in my White World.

B. Interlude:

I've lived mostly in a "safe White world". As a child I had no fears of "criminals" attacking me, burglars or robbers invading our home or other things that might have been more common in poorer, often minority, often urban communities.

As an adult my life has similarly been mostly "safe" and isolated from the complexities of worlds of murders, serious drug problems, and other such issues. I have had moments of drama such as the two times I was held up at gunpoint in Chicago (1970's) and Oakland (1990's), not living in isolation.

As a child there were, of course, things that happened. My father died of stomach cancer when I was 13 and my brother was 11. A boy I knew (part of the Jewish community of our town) died at a junior high school football practice after choking on his own vomit. Others faced serious obstacles in their lives.

Two stories I've recounted previously stick in my mind relating to oppressions:

1. During my men's anti-rape organizing period in the mid-1980's - I remember the quoted story (in a video I think) of a woman who was the majority leader of one of the legislative branches of the Wisconsin State Government at the time. She indicated that despite the power that she wielded at the state capitol, when she stepped into the nearby parking garage at night, she was just another woman trying to be careful that she not sexually assaulted by a man who might be hidden from her sight.

2. At a men's retreat I attended in California a little later in the 1980's I remember a man I talked with (who was Black). He'd co-hosted a major session on racism with a White ally/friend earlier. In that session he'd encountered much resistance to his statements regarding racism and oppression. Other men had talked of how he shouldn't talk at them in the tone/style he used, because they'd faced oppressions themselves - related to abuse and homophobia. Talking privately he confided to me that he'd chosen Not to respond to their words speaking of how he'd been physically attacked and similarly oppressed as a boy, on top of the racism that he'd faced.

C. Parable Two:

Someone I care about has just learned that she will soon have a new supervisor at work who will be between her and her boss. Previously, she was seemingly "number two" at her agency.

She was and is extremely upset that she's "not good enough" to be the one formally taking over the leadership position that is being created. She had previously suggested that the leadership logically could either involve a single deputy director as is seemingly happening now (hoping that it would be her), or involve two such leaders; herself and a new director.

The only answers which come forth all relate to her being assertive and "making others uncomfortable", including her boss. Being Non-White and assertive and "not like us" is threatening.

It doesn't matter what she says or does. "The Good Ole (White) Boy's Network" has morphed into a "Safe White Women's Network".

Racism - is Racism - is Racism.

Respect and cooperation and support is often in the eyes of the beholder! Competency and performance and other factors don't seemingly matter here.

I'm sad. I'm touched. While I can understand the words and appreciate much here this is a totally foreign type of life experience in my White World.


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Great Book - on Poor Urban Black Men

I just finished reading: "Wrong Place, Wrong Time" - by John A. Rich. It is by far the best book I've ever read at explaining inner city violence (as it relates to poor, Black young men).

p.57 - as per "Jimmy"

* If you want to avoid being a sucker, you have to have a rep.
* If you want to have a rep, you have to earn it.
* You earn a rep by putting in work.
* In Jimmy's world, work means doing violence.
* Have a rep, even if you got it by violence, makes you known.
* When you are known, you are somebody.
* You could get a rep for doing good, but people still come after you for disrespecting them in the past. Therefore violence is more effective.

"Violence worked in his world to accomplish something that all of us wanted- to be somebody- but that Jimmy could not find any other way to do."

John Rich is a Black, middle-class (raised and currently) physician whose worlds had shielded him from much of what he discovered (in 2006 he was awarded a MacArthur "genius" Fellowship).

Rich's best informant: Roy Martin tellingly answered him explaining: (p.60)
' "I bet this kid isn't the kind of kid who's gonna be a basketball star. Or a lady's man, a player, right?" Roy said, answering his own question. "He probably ain't no great brainiac who's going to college. If he was any one of those things, he would be doing that. He'd be about that kind of stuff. But he's not." '

p.63 - "If these young men were numb from all the violence that they had seen and if they, like Jimmy, were unable to see a clear future, then the whole concept of violence in the inner city was beginning to make sense."

Dr. Rich provides a brilliant expose of the humanity of poor, "tough" Black young men and their worlds. He talks of the traumas the violence creates (and often is ignored by others). His picture in no way romanticizes this life, but it really helps "outsiders" to understand a lot more.

This book isn't long. It isn't difficult to read, though much of what it talks of is scary. For anyone interested in such a subject, I highly recommend it!


Friday, February 19, 2010

Tales of "new" and "old"

In looking at the failures of the Democrats and Obama to reform health care and to make other significant changes, it seems obvious to me that Money Talks. Until we have Serious Campaign Finance Reform and in general live in a world in the U.S. and the world as a whole where "people matter" we will face serious obstacles to both world peace and justice in general.

The failures of the Democrats and Obama also have helped make the rise of the Tea Partyites and the pushes towards Facism and Fundamentalism and similar much scarier.

Recently I've been doing a lot of genealogical work and related studying of my father's family. My father's family includes a great-uncle who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in the 1960's, a noted psychotherapist who was the first wife of Erich Fromm as well as some serious scholars and many fascinating people in general. My great-grandfather was a successful and wealthy German (Jewish) banker. I was named after him.

Most recently hearing the sad story of my great-aunt Rahel (Rachel, as well as one of her sons and his wife, gives in some ways a "counter story" to some of what I hear and feel today as discussed above. Rahel's husband Sally owned or managed a most successful timber business in Koenigsberg (now Kaliningrad) after World War I. The business had offices in other parts of Europe and his sons managed some of these offices as the business grew.

In 1936 Rahel and Sally moved to Amsterdam and the Nazi's relieved the families' ties to their business because they were Jewish. Sally died of natural causes in 1940 as World War II began.

Soon after Sally's death, a family member living in Zurich unexpectedly received a large trunk from Rahel. Rahel hoped to escape to Switzerland with her family and have her possessions safe from the turmoil in The Netherlands. In 1942, after escaping detection in Holland, Rahel, a son and daughter-in-law fled to Paris. In Paris they moved constantly tried to avoid detection by the Nazis and desperately sought to escape to Switzerland, South America or some other safe haven.

Rahel - unlike many other desperate Jews - was wealthy. Despite having lost some of their wealth, she could afford to pay for whatever was necessary to escape.

Unfortunately - the contact (to escape) that they finally made was with a pathological French physician - who killed them with injections and then hacked their bodies to pieces and burned the remains, while taking their possessions. He was put to death in 1946 after a trial, having killed well over 100 people including some non-Jews as well. (Evidently his actions had nothing directly to do with any support of the Nazis.)

The sad story of Rahel and part of her family is a case where money didn't matter. Being Jewish was "the crime" and "the curse". Jews - had had some economic power, but that power was useless as Nazi ideology blamed Jews for all that had befallen the Germans after World War I.

Today in the U.S. we face the realities of how millions of Blacks were enslaved and exploited after 1865. Racism persists. Many have died because they were the wrong skin color and were seen as "the enemy" by jealous White Men (usually men anyway). The racism in the U.S. used economic exploitation.

Today in the U.S. we face problems as the Glenn Beck's of our country exploit the economic turmoil with its resultant fears and ignorance. Hopefully we will Not go further in the directions that lead to sad stories such as my relatives faced.


Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Howard Zinn, J.D. Salinger, and C.

Last week saw the confluence of three things from my past which have no direct ties to each other:

1. Howard Zinn died,
2. J.D. Salinger died, and
3. My "old" friend C. - was incapacitated with major "replacement" surgery.

Generationally - the two deaths hit me hard - yet they seem not to have really hit some of the generation of bloggers who are younger than me as hard.

I grew up in a world which seemed to me at least much more "conformist" than things are today. There was a definite lack of alternative periodicals (though there were a few)as well as no internet - nor other simple means of being reached by others.

Howard Zinn was a giant in reaching out to those in my generation who were open to looking at the United States in an alternate way that was both critical and loving. He was different from some whose focus seemed to be on Marxism, though Marxism certainly must have influenced him. He was scholarly, but wasn't aloof from those outside of academia. The sources where I've had the most to read of online, since his death have largely been - Peace Seeking Jews opposed to the status quo re: Palestine-Israel - and this certainly wasn't his primary focus in his long and bountiful life.

Howard Zinn was clearly a "mensch" - one who gave and shared and loved.

J.D. Salinger wrote a few Great Novels - which were lovingly read by me as a teen. He chose a life apart from nearly all. I'm glad to have been touched by his writings and they will live on well beyond his death.

Salinger was a great writer who chose to be "apart". While he wasn't a "bad" person, he also wasn't "of this world" in many ways and certainly lacked greatness as a "person".

C. - my old buddy - is working hard at recovering from his surgery. He's my one friend who I could count on to know and appreciate both of them. If he'd not been of necessity focusing upon his surgery and subsequent recovery, I suspect he might have had significant feelings (different from mine no doubt) about both of them.

C. - has had some of the drive of Zinn and some of the creativity of Salinger.

May the memories of the first two live on in us and those who follow us and may C.'s recovery be smooth and as comfortable as is possible.