Assholes Remain Assholes

“I don’t understand it,” Katie went on. “A few months ago, people were literally dying in the street. Every one of us lost family, friends, neighbors. We’re all we have left, but people like the Mercers, like Kurt Rove, belittle and bad-talk those of us who, well, have something that might help get all of us through. Because they’re different.”

“I have a theory,” Arlys began. “Major, monumental crises bring out the best or the worst in us — sometimes both. And sometimes those major, monumental crises have no effect on certain types. Which means, no matter what the circumstances, assholes remain assholes.”

Year One (Chronicles of The One) by Nora Roberts

Expert Destruction

I’m in disbelief . The tension between Jamal and Dr . Patel is rising . Their cultures are relentlessly clashing right in front of my eyes , like a sword fight between wealthy India and West Philadelphia . My honest impression of Jamal is that he’s bright , sane and doesn’t need medication . If anyone sounds crazy , his mother does . Some part of me will not allow me to remain silent . Jamal’s young and smart , he has a future . He doesn’t need big – gun medications , and I’m overwhelmed with an urge to save him .

“ Dr . Patel , ” I respectfully say . “ When Jamal says he spits in the mirror , it means he’s rapping . He’s a rapper and that’s how he practices . ”

Dr . Patel stares at me blankly . Nothing registers . I’m a stupid , white girl. “But he hears voices . Why else would he talk to himself ? ” Dr . Patel asks.

“No , he spits . He raps . He’s not hearing voices . He’s practicing to be a musician,” I explain. The conversation continues in this relentlessly circular fashion . Nothing is sinking in . I give up and excuse myself to the bathroom. Let the “expert” seal the young man’s fate .

Manic Kingdom: A True Story of Breakdown and Breakthrough by Dr. Erin Stair

Irish Democrat

Uncle Steve was an esteemed member of the Democratic Party and held numerous political offices in Lafayette . His saloon , conveniently located across the street from the Tippecanoe County Courthouse, was his bailiwick for the various offices that he held. Many children of Irish immigrants, like Uncle Steve, climbed the ladder of success within the friendly climes and ward healing of the Democratic Party. The party helped these descendants of Ireland escape the anti – Irish prejudice that had confined the hated “ Micks ” to Irish ghettos like Bloody Plank Road. The Democratic Party granted the perquisites of political power to Irish-Americans because the close-knit Irish families reliably delivered the necessary votes keeping the party in power. As a favored member of the party , Uncle Steve found jobs for his family and their children, giving them a lift up the ladder. In one instance , Uncle Steve arranged for his nephew Harry Hannagan, blind since childhood, to hold the job of supervisor of weights and measures for the city. Sometimes in politics , the holding of the job was more important than doing the job!

Steve Hannagan: Prince of the Press Agents and Titan of Modern Public Relations by Michael K. Townsley

 

True Nature of Evil

It is only as we hold the mirror to our own souls, and consider what we believe to be worthless or vile or unlovable, that we might truly see the nature of evil. Prejudice fruits from the vine of every life. We only need look for it, and oftentimes, find it thrives closest to our door.

The Dragon Librarian (Scrolls of Fire Book 1) by Marc Secchia

You Don’t Count

Three large vans slowly pulled up and they piled us all inside and then drove off in different directions. We rode in silence. The driver appeared more agitated than we were. He was young, probably twenty or twenty-one. I could tell he didn’t want to chauffeur us. His parents were probably forcing him. I unfortunately sat in the front seat next to him.

“Why don’t you just get a job?” He didn’t bother to look up at me. “And stop having other people take care of you. Wasting people’s time. I’m just saying.” I didn’t respond. If I said something he didn’t like, he could lie to his parents and get us kicked out. His voice permanently stained snobbish from a life of pampering. “The government just needs to come and round all of you up, and take y’all away. The cities would be so much safer and cleaner. People would be much happier.”

“We’re people, too.” I stared out of the window.

“You guys? You guys don’t count.”

My Way Home: Growing Up Homeless in America by Michael Gaulden

From the preface:

This memoir covers the latter part of my homeless journey, ranging from age fourteen to seventeen, predominately my high school years. The horror of my homelessness is what I call it. Allow me to take you down my path and to walk in my footsteps along my own hellacious underground railroad. If you are reading this in the midst of your own overwhelmingly challenging journey, it is you for whom I write….It is you whom I urge not to quit. I know your pain and through my pain, I wish to give you strength. For everyone else reading this, please understand my story is only one of millions of other homeless people.

Concerns Are a Barrier

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However uncomfortable people were about your existence, their overwhelming concern was that their own children, their spouses, their parents, their friends, did not die from cancer, motor neurone disease, heart disease. So for a long time you were kept in the shadows, and people did their best not to think about you. And if they did, they tried to convince themselves you weren’t really like us. That you were less than human, so it didn’t matter. And that was how things stood until our little movement came along.

Here was the world, requiring students to donate. While that remained the case, there would always be a barrier against seeing you as properly human.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

 

 

 

Being Spiders

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Madame was afraid of us. But she was afraid of us in the same way someone might be afraid of spiders. We hadn’t been ready for that. It had never occurred to us to wonder how we would feel, being seen like that, being the spiders.”

 

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

 

 

Super-Predator Mythology

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The predictions of “super-predators” proved wildly inaccurate. The juvenile population in America increased from 1994 to 2000, but the juvenile crime rate declined, leading academics who had originally supported the “super-predator” theory to disclaim it. In 2001, the surgeon general of the United States released a report labeling the “super-predator” theory a myth and stated that “[t]here is no evidence that young people involved in violence during the peak years of the early 1990s were more frequent or more vicious offenders than youths in earlier years.” This admission came too late for kids like Trina, Ian, and Antonio. Their death-in-prison sentences were insulated from legal challenges or appeals by a maze of procedural rules, statutes of limitations, and legal barricades designed to make successful postconviction challenges almost impossible.

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson

Not Pretty, Not Angry, Just Honest

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Not A Pretty Girl

“I am not a pretty girl
That is not what I do
I ain’t no damsel in distress
And I don’t need to be rescued”

“I am not an angry girl
But it seems like I’ve got everyone fooled
Every time I say something
They find hard to hear
They chalk it up to my anger
And never to their own fear
And imagine you’re a girl
Just trying to finally come clean
Knowing full well they’d prefer
You were dirty and smiling”

Not A Pretty Girl by Ani DiFranco

Avoid the Light

This is a blog post made in response to the Daily Post Daily Prompt: Safety First

Before I explore the scary, I just want to tip my hat to Ngobesing Romanus whose blog post Almost burnt to death inspired me to write this.

I don’t often make biographical posts to this blog. If you were expecting a quote or book review, rest assured, more are scheduled for later today. As for this particular posting – everything you are about to read is true.

Avoid The Light

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I entered an undergraduate program in 1987 and quickly learned that some people held strong opinions about what kind of students belong in college, and people like me (poor, not-properly-connected, non-military and without a scholarship) were not among them. My high school counselor directly expressed this opinion during my senior year in high school and pointedly refused to help me apply to college (any college). There were other teachers (and adults) who made similar opinions clear…but those are stories will have to wait for another day. Suffice it to say that during my first semester at University, a few authority figures made it clear they agreed with the you-don’t-belong-here sentiment. This prejudiced resistance led to my continued reliance on a long-standing habit of ‘passing’ as the ‘middle class white girl.’

Fast forward to late in the spring semester of  freshman year (1988). The weather was warm and the trees had their leaves. A little after 1:00 AM, I went for a run in the neighborhoods adjacent to the University.

It was late.
It was dark.
I was alone.
I was wearing spandex.

In other words, I was doing everything women are told not to do. It was a risk I’d chosen to (repeatedly) take, despite the dangers, for two reasons: 1) college was a stressful never-ending cycle of very late nights, which made it almost-impossible for me to sleep without an end-of-day run and 2) Oshkosh was the safest place I’d lived in for several years.

I was several blocks away when I spotted them and half a block closer when they spotted me. A group of men were sitting in a car parked beside a playground. Their drunken voices were occasionally interrupted by the sound of empty liquor bottles smashing against the ground. The crash of breaking glass was unmistakable, but the voices were what caught my attention. I couldn’t make out the words, only the sound of drunken men getting excited about something. One of them leaned out a car window and glanced in my direction. We made eye contact and I knew exactly what was coming next.

A potentially fatal moment of hesitation occurred as the street-wise poverty-survivor proceeded to push the ‘proper middle class’ persona into the background. This was not a college classroom or an administrative office, this was a nearly deserted city street and I was faced with an extremely dangerous situation. Predators had spotted me. Action had to be taken, but which action?

Proper middle class female college students choosing to take a risky run, alone, after midnight, all follow the same rules – stick to safe, well lit roads in populated areas. Good girls do not run in shadows.

I was on the appropriate well-lit path…and the drunks in the car were pulling away from the curb.

Proper middle class girls do not leave the lighted path, they keep their eyes on the sidewalk and ‘ignore’ the men until they ‘go away;’ just keep going, trust in the rule of law and it’s ability to protect.

My real self was neither proper nor middle class. I knew better.

Ducking down the first dark side road I came to, I scanned the area for a place to run and felt the first real shock of fear: the houses were built into low but surprisingly steep hills and divided by fences. Being cornered here meant climbing a hill and a fence to get away. Yet, the streetlights were burned out and every house had turned off both interior and exterior lights, making it comfortingly dark – they couldn’t catch what they couldn’t see.

Picking up speed, I made for the end of the street which was equally dark, turned right and felt a moment of relief as the sidewalk leveled out and opened up. This area presented many options for both running and hiding, all of them lit by a small number of street lights. I could make it back to campus, almost entirely in  shadows, in a reasonably short period of time. If the drunks found me, I had options for escape.

This realization was interrupted by a second stabbing of fear as the car slowly drove by the side street I’d just left. I’d seen them watching me when I took the turn. One of the drunks was leaning out a window, craning his neck and peering into the shadows. He was looking for something.

Looking for me.

They kept driving. I don’t know how far they went before giving up, but it was many long minutes before I saw the car double back towards the park at a much faster pace, with voices and music returned to full party-mode.

Later, safe in my dorm, I stretched, changed and re-lived the entire experience. Only one fear remained: what if someone saw?

I couldn’t risk being exposed as both lower class and street wise. I do not have a criminal history, my pre-college grades were (despite all odds) good-enough to get in and remained good-enough to graduate. There were no legitimate legal, behavioral or academic reasons for making me leave school. Sadly, these kinds of facts have no power over prejudice.

Standing there, alone in the dorm, I did not review the faces of potential rapists. What I saw were those specific individuals who had already tried to either prevent or end my college education.

Anyone dead-set on eliminating me from the student rosters had only one real option – create the illusion of scandal out of a toxic combination of truth, fiction and virulent gossip. If enough people believed I needed to be removed, then I would be removed. It was that simple. Thus far, those who disapproved had neither the reason nor the material to take up that kind of campaign. A story like this could provide enough ammunition to inspire wicked action.

Call it paranoia, but I had already lived through and witnessed this exact scenario, and all of it’s devastating results, multiple times. It was possible, but was it probable?

Finishing college was my one and only goal. Literally. I had no post-college plans. That meant convincing the powers-that-be that I belonged there…or, at least, wasn’t worth close examination.

Reporting the incident, talking about what happened and how I handled it, admitting to having the skills required to survive that kind of situation as a direct result of surviving it prior to entering college…this was what I feared.

The exhausting act of ‘passing’ had significantly affected my youth. Here in the halls of higher education it continued to infuse every breath and color every thought. My faux ‘proper middle class white girl’ persona slowly crept back into place and asked one stupid question: how did I know how to do that? Of course, I knew the answer; but I also knew the game. The stakes were too high. It was time to keep silent and, if necessary, play dumb.

Predatory Excuse Making

Over the past few decades, I’ve made a few attempts to talk about this experience with a variety of different people. What I find most disturbing about these conversations are the most common responses provided by other women:

  • Nothing happened so they probably weren’t really after you.
  • If they’d wanted to do something, they would have caught you.
  • You’re being so negative, what if they were really nice?
  • They were probably just trying to help you.
  • You’re looking at it wrong.
  • You don’t know they were after you. Maybe they were looking for something else.
  • You’re exaggerating.
  • You made it up, that didn’t happen; if it had, you’d be dead.

I’ve had similar conversations with men, some of whom were members of various security and protection services (e.g.: police, martial arts, etc.), and the most common reaction was this: you’re lucky to be alive.

I include this information here because I believe it’s an extremely important aspect to rape culture. Not only do we teach our children do not get raped instead of do not rape; we also train women to discount the experiences of others and view potentially deadly situations through a dangerously distorted lens.

This is an example of something I call predatory excuse making. Sometimes people do it will full knowledge and ill-intent (e.g.: accessory to a crime). Sometimes it’s a response to complimentary manipulation (e.g.: I can’t believe that person would do something like that). Sometimes it’s born out of culturally enforced ignorance, naivete or an inability to face facts (see above).

The only people who benefit from predatory excuse making are the predators.

Think about that.