Make America Great Again? Ain’t Nobody Got Time for That Rhetoric!

Originally printed 8/25/2016 in Between The Lines issue 2434

Waiting in line at a popular restaurant, I overheard another patron (Caucasian male around 70) approach the hostess and say “Where’s the men’s room or should I just use the ladies’ room? That’s what they want, right?”

The hostess blushed, pointed and, with a sheepish smile, said “The men’s room is over there.” Her body language said his comment made her feel uncomfortable but she said nothing. She then turned to us and said “How many” and led us to our table.

As for me well – as my mother would say – if looks could kill, orange would be my new black!! I was beyond pissed and contemplating what action I was going to take when the man rejoined his group which, remarkably, was seated at the next table from us. There are no coincidences in life – IJS!!

My partner had not heard the full comment, so I enlightened her. Trying to talk me down off my “angry activist” ledge, (after moving all the sharp utensils from my reach) she commented that the man was just a dinosaur whose time was running out.

True but those words that tone. Words have power. You say what you mean and, whether intentionally or unintentionally, you mean what you say.

Words, like ashes from a fire, can remain incendiary long after they’ve been uttered with unintended consequences long after the media firestorm has died down.

Those words – that off-handed bathroom remark alluding to transgender bathroom rights – were just a reminder that many have similar feelings about the place of African Americans, Latinos, immigrants, LGBTQ people and others in our society as second class citizens.

I get it, he was/is just a dinosaur, but the rhetoric of the 2016 political season has, for many of these dinosaurs, defined their last stand. Sadly they have found a gladiator willing to wield all the hate-filled rhetoric used historically to divide those of us in the 99% and extend their hold on power just a little longer.

You would think in this age of “Google,” instant fact-checking, and 24/7 media coverage, we would be a smarter electorate.

However, I’ve seen too much injustice, hatred and inequality to find solace in the fact that the days for his ilk are numbered or that change will come merely by our hoping for the best while remaining silent when confronted by bigotry and ignorance.

I’ve also lived enough years to recognize that greatness is a relative term and for the vast majority of Americans the greatness talked about by Trump-ites has never been a reality only, at best, a dream.

It’s not an impossible dream! It is dream held and passed down – regardless of race, class, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation or gender expression – through the generations.

It is the dream best articulated by Martin Luther King Jr. and, despite many advancements, still a dream deferred.

The Langston Hughes’ poem “Montage of a Dream Deferred” begs the question of how a people might react if they have a cherished dream for many generations that has failed to come true. It reads:

“What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? Or fester like a sore — And then run? Does it stink like rotten meat? Or crust and sugar over– like a syrupy sweet? Maybe it just sags like a heavy load. Or does it explode?”

Hughes was writing at a time when African Americans were still suffering the injustice of Jim Crow laws. Fast forward to 2016, and although Jim Crow may be gone, the net of inequality lives on and has been expanded to include not just African Americans but other communities of color, has crossed boundaries of gender, sexual orientation, race and class and includes the many immigrants who answer Lady Liberty’s call to the “tired, poor and huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

So here we stand at this moment in time. On one side there’s a demand for inclusivity, attention to issues of social justice/equity and the beginning of a social revolution. It did not end when Bernie Sanders was not the nominee but was the beginning of conversations, actions and a movement that might ultimately bring about real change.

On the other side, well there’s that call to “make America great again” building upon racist, bigoted, and xenophobic tactics that historically have only diminished the country not made it great – NEVER!

Grace Lee Boggs once said, “We urgently need to bring to our communities the limitless capacity to love, serve, and create for and with each other.” We are stronger not just in our communities, our country and our world when we work to attain not just the American dream but a global dream of equality, social, environmental and economic justice for all instead of kicking the can down the road on the backs of those less fortunate or different from the status quo.

Any crackpot can make statements in the media that fan the flames of hatred, insecurity and fear. Words have power. Even if retracted, walked back or claimed to be sarcasm, once uttered words take on a life of their own and the results can be divisive, tragic and even fatal.

As Sweet Brown (no relation) said in her infamous You Tube Video “Ain’t Nobody Got Time for That!!”

Let’s be stronger together, not just at the polls in November, but each and every day. Stand up for what you believe in; push back against hate speech; fight for all our dreams; love who you love boldly, proudly and unapologetically. Claim your space in this expanding, intersectional world and be OUT!! There’s room on our rainbow wave for every one because we ARE stronger together.

Posted in 2016 Elections, Arts & Entertainment, Creating Change, lgbt, literature, Poetry, Pop Culture, Queer, Social Justice Issues, Transgender, World events | Leave a comment

New Poetry: A Prayer for True Colors

A Prayer for True Colors
By Michelle E. Brown 07/2016
 
I pray.
 
God, Goddess, 
Father, Mother
Universe, 
I pray.
I pray not to be that vortex sucking the air out of the room,
The world and others with my self-importance 
And big ideas.
 
Let me be that welcomed breath of fresh air, 
That cosmic breeze filling space 
With hope, love and ideas.
I pray to recognize the stench is not me, 
It’s only the remnants of some dog shit I’ve stepped in.
I can scrape it off, wash it off, 
Change my course.
I pray not to be a sun blinding others with my light.
Let me be one of many stars shining brightly in the heavens 
Illuminating the dark.
I pray to be more than the sum of boxes,
A color code, an insular group alone in my silo.
 
Help me to be brave, to color outside the lines
To laugh loudly, to sing boldly 
To dance with reckless abandon
To live authentically
Loving wildly, deeply, passionately, 
Unconditionally.
 
More than green, gold, orange or blue
Let my aura be a rainbow of all colors
Embracing every person, every voice, 
Every spirit.
 
God, Goddess, 
Father, Mother
Universe, 
 
I pray.
Posted in Arts & Entertainment, Creative Writing, literature, Love, Poetry, Pop Culture, Queer, Self imaage, Social Justice Issues | Leave a comment

Orlando, Sit-Ins and Our Vanishing Illusion of Safety

I know exactly where I was when I heard about Orlando. I was in the South, the Bible-belt South, the red South where I was seeing more Trump signs and Confederate flags than I ever had planned or wanted to see in my entire life.

It was a place where, as an African American, not overtly religious, queer woman from the North, I was feeling like the proverbial fish out of water. After I’d been there a few hours, one of the first things I asked was “Is there a gay bar around here?” I needed my tribe, my temple not just for a “good time” but to feel safe and secure.

In our post-Obergefel world, images of LGBTQ people are more common, but it’s still only in the sanctity of the club where we can dance, laugh, and even kiss with freedom. Freedom to be brand-new, awkward in our coming out with the knowledge that someone shares an equally awkward coming out story. We can turn off the gay-dar and flirt outrageously. Whether you are newly out or have been living out for years, gay venues provide a space where we can relax, and generally let our hair down without wondering about reactions from onlookers and checking for safety. Gay venues, especially bars and discos, are the places where you stop being the “odd one” out in the group.

Even though as an African American, queer woman I have no illusions about being safe from violence in this world, in moments of insecurity I find joy, happiness and safety in queer spaces. The massacre at PULSE shattered that last illusion of safety

Bad things have been happening in our world violating our safe spaces – Columbine, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, Charleston, San Bernardino. According to the Gun Violence Archive, a “mass shooting” is any incident where four or more people are wounded or killed.  By that definition, there have been 136 mass shootings in the first 164 days of this year. In the first six months of 2016, 273 children under age 11 have been killed/injured. 1,388 teenagers have been killed/injured. In the first six months of 2016, the murders of 14 transgender people have been reported.

People – women, children, young, old, gay, straight and transgender – are dying, being murdered often in spaces once considered safe – schools, churches, neighborhoods, workplaces and now a gay bars. We are not safe!!

But rather than looking at the root cause of violence we have strapped up, citing our 2nd amendment right to bear arms, erroneously believing that if we all had guns we would all be safer.

Now I am not anti-gun, but the proliferation of guns, from hand guns to assault rifles, and the mounting number of deaths from kids getting accidently shot by unsecured guns, to random street violence (gangs, road rage, etc.) to mass shootings have made me feel less secure.

The vigils, the reading of names, the photos in the media every day – I’m cried out, almost numb and more than a little angry. And our legislators (many receiving thousands of dollars from the gun lobby) after taking a moment of silence have gone on to do nothing. All talk and no action. No wonder so many have been turned off by politics.

While still trying to cope with the loss of 49 lives in Orlando, remembering the senseless massacre of the Charleston 9 the previous year, after watching Congress again fail to take action on measures to expand background checks for gun purchases and prevent suspected terrorists from buying the weapons, something amazing happened.

Led by Civil Rights hero, Congressman John Lewis, House democrats began a sit-in on the House floor demanding action on gun control that lasted more than 24-hours.

After Speaker Ryan turned the cameras off, House Democrats turned to social media broadcasting from cell phones, tablets and iPads with feeds picked up for broadcast to the nation by C-SPAN. Democrats did not succeed in securing a vote on the gun-control measures they had hoped for in staging the protest but, amidst the chants of No Bill, No Break, you heard real talk about the consequences of our armed society.

There were stories of loved ones who had committed suicide by gun or survived suicide attempts because they didn’t have a gun and had time to rethink and refocus.  There were stories of neighborhoods ravaged by gun violence; families who lives had been forever changed following Sandy Hook. There was a statement from Gabby Giffords.

And then there was the remarkable words of Illinois Congressman Luis V. Gutierrez. A man of Puerto Rican ancestry, who spoke about grappling with his Catholic upbringing, dealing with his own prejudice and bigotry, to becoming an ally to the LGBTQ community, of the loss he felt as a member of the Puerto Rican community for the lives at PULSE, 23 of whom were Puerto Rican.

We are not safe not because of guns but because of hatred, inequality, indifference and inaction.

In leading the sit-in Congressman John Lewis said ” Sometimes, you have to do something out of the ordinary; sometimes you have to make a way out of no way.”

We may not see the vote on gun control but with this sit-in perhaps, just maybe, a change is going to come. As Rep. John Lewis said “Don’t give up, don’t give in!”

Michelle E. Brown is a public speaker, activist and author. You can follow her writing and activities at http://www.mychangeiam.com and onhttp://www.twitter.com/mychangeiam

Posted in 2016 Elections, Abortion, Creating Change, Gun Control, hate crime, lgbt, Queer, Social Justice Issues, State of the Union 2016, Voting Rights, Women | Leave a comment

It’s a Stacked Deck, but We’ve Got That Woman Card Up Our Sleeve

Printed 5/5/2016 in Between the Lines issue 2418

Life started out simple, or so it seemed. There were two boxes — female/girl and male/boy.

It was all supposed to be simple from there. We would walk down that female/girl path from that first breath to our last without variation. There were supposed to be few curves in this female/girl path, but that path was never a viable way for any woman.

You see, this female/girl path has always been filled with inequities and inequalities. Even if we stayed on the “path,” the sign posts of “you can’t,” “you won’t” and “you aren’t” thwarted our efforts at every turn. They told me I couldn’t, I wouldn’t and I wasn’t and like so many of my sisters I planted my hands firmly on my little female/girl hips and said, “I know I can, so I think I will.”

I am African-American, female, queer, an artist, activist, and so much more. I choose to live all of these aspects of my life out and authentically. You get the picture — I do a lot of things.

The lines of my life are more than criss-crossing. Some days the lines are so blurred, it’s like I’m standing on the central island of a crazy intersectional roundabout pulling me in so many directions it’s at best challenging, if not totally overwhelming.

I’ve got a full house in the game of “diversity and inclusion” but despite my education, accolades and perceived opportunities, the deck has still been stacked against me, because when too many look at that central island of my roundabout, they still see that female/girl box.

We can go to space, lead companies, head foundations, serve in the military and, yes, raise families — but we are still women.

They see that female/girl box and deal their “woman card.” Their woman card says, “Women can’t be effective leaders.” Their woman card says we can’t make decisions about our own bodies. Their woman card says our work isn’t worth the same amount as our male counterparts. In their deck, the “woman” card is the joker and this joker must be tamed, never wild.

The “pink brick road” may be wider and go further than it did in the past, but the glass ceiling and the limited view of the abilities and value of a woman’s worth remains intact. If you had any doubt, just listen to the rhetoric of the current campaign.

At a forum at George Mason University earlier this year, Ohio Gov. John Kasich told a crowd that he won his 1978 election because women “left their kitchens” to support his campaign. When Fox News’s Megyn Kelly attempted to hold Trump accountable for his misogyny in a presidential debate, he dismissed the question as stupid and impertinent. Trump has referred to women he doesn’t like as ‘fat pigs,’ ‘dogs,’ ‘slobs,’ and ‘disgusting animals.’ Sen. Ted Cruz envisions a federal government under his administration that “works to defend the sanctity of human life and uphold the sacrament of marriage.”

When they look at our gender identity, their woman card says lesbian love/relationships are “experimental” or for their prurient interest. When forced to face the legitimacy of our LGBTQ relationships, they insert the hate card to attack our families and insert their woman card, supposedly to protect women and girls, to attack our transgender brothers and sisters. With their “woman” card comes oppression, misogyny, disempowerment, repression and would turn back the hands of time not just for women but also for the country.

But we have our own “woman” card. We’ve been keeping it up our sleeve as we’ve played each hand. We have overcome our fear of stepping into the intersections of our realities and our coming together to flex our collective muscle.

We are throwing down our “woman” card and leading the movements — like “Black Lives Matter.”

We are throwing down our “woman” card and fighting for women’s healthcare.

We are throwing down our “woman” card demanding safety for all women and girls, both cisgender and transgender, not only in bathrooms but in schools, neighborhoods and everywhere.

We are throwing down our “woman” card for environmental and economic justice and for families — all families.

We are throwing down our “woman” card because empowering women is a powerful strategy for reducing poverty and achieving other development goals globally.

GOP frontrunner Donald Trump accused Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary R. Clinton of trying to play the “woman” card to which she responded, “If fighting for women’s healthcare and paid family leave and equal pay is playing the woman card, then deal me in.”

Come November, we all need to be marching to the voting booth humming that Sister Sledge anthem – “We Are Family!” Yes, we are family, and I need every sister with me. It’s time for all of us to play that “woman” card up our sleeve, and not just win this election but also change the whole game.

Posted in Black women, breast cancer, Health and Happiness, lgbt, marriage equality, Pop Culture, Queer, Transgender, Women, World events | Leave a comment

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