About MichelleMichelle Brown is an author, activist & public speaker who believes in common ground for all people.
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Category Archives: Pop Culture
Printed 1/21/2016 in issue 2403 of Between The Lines Newspaper
Maybe because his music was part of the soundtrack of my youth, or because his fans and the music world were mourning David Bowie’s passing, but I found myself humming “Changes” as I sat down to watch President Obama’s last State of the Union address. These times, and certainly this presidency, have changed me not only as a woman and an African-American, but as a member of the LGBTQ community as well.
It’s been quite a ride these past seven years with extreme highs and devastating lows. Despite advances for many Americans — including recovering from the worst economic crisis in generations, reforming healthcare so more Americans have medical coverage, and delivering better care and benefits for veterans and recognition/protections for LGBTQ families — our communities continued to be ravaged by economic and social injustices while the political discourse, instead of offering solutions, instead has become more divisive than ever.
It’s a new year and like it or not, there will be change! Instead of optimism, if you listen to the tone of the GOP debates, the change the 2016 elections suggest are changes we are more likely to want to run from than changes we can believe in. Fear, hatred, divisiveness spewed from the podium, the pulpit and the media. We all want to believe that they are just a vocal minority; that our friends/families and allies will stand with us on the side of justice and the progress of the last seven years under the Obama administration will continue. But will they? Will it?
Will Black Lives Matter in federal and state Legislatures designed to reflect the interests of the few by gerrymandering – the practice that establishes a political advantage for a particular party or group by manipulating district boundaries?
Will rights for all Americans be expanded further and protected if judicial appointments, including those for the next member of the Supreme Court, come from elected officials who spew the vitriolic dialogue of the likes of Trump, Carson, etc. supported by voters who share the same mind set of voters like Kentucky County Clerk Kim Davis?
It’s a new year, but listening to President Obama’s final State of the Union address, although inspiring, reminded me of the scary future that lies ahead.
As crazy as the rhetoric from the GOP contenders seems; as divisive and destructive as it would be to continue upon our current political path; as much as we want to believe that the American electorate is smarter than this, many of us are still sitting on the fence waiting – waiting for someone to be the change only we ourselves can be.
Fear and ignorance tends to bring out the worst in people and unfortunately those who can be motivated by fear and ignorance come to the polls voting even when it is against their own best interests and those of their community.
Some folks believe their vote doesn’t matter and opt to stay home on Election Day. We’ve seen what happens when we don’t vote – congressional lines redrawn, voting rights under attack, discriminatory legislation passed and, even when something’s the law of the land, “elected” officials opt to ignore it. President Obama said it best, “It is not easy. Our brand of democracy is hard.”
There are no quick fixes. 2016 is the short game but to continue the momentum of the past seven years and to go even further to insure those unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness promised to all Americans, we have to prepare a long game.
How do we overcome the fear, and not necessarily change hearts and minds, but move them to put those unalienable rights of equality first, even when it’s uncomfortable? President Obama summed it up best, “If we want a better politics, it’s not enough just to change a congressman or change a senator or even change a president. We have to change the system to reflect our better selves.”
I know you’re saying, “I’m only one person, my voice won’t matter, won’t be heard.” Then join it with others. Find your tribe. Pull up your big progressive, LGBTQ, black, white, brown, intersectional pants and don’t just hope that people will do the right thing: Create Change! And if you’re looking for someplace to start, there will be over 4,000 of us doing just that in Chicago Jan. 20-24 at the 28th Annual Creating Change Conference.
Let’s thank President Obama for his leadership, but now it’s up to us. Let’s roll up our sleeves, dig in our heels and lift every voice to build that nation Martin Luther King Jr. dreamed of where everyone will not be judged by the color of their skin, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender identity but by the content of their character. To paraphrase the late David Bowie, “Time has changed us, but we can change time!”
By Michelle E. Brown
I am no papal hater. I recognize that a lot of who I am, both good and bad, comes from my Catholic upbringing.
My father came from a family with strong Baptist roots but during a tour of duty in the Army in Italy, he apparently drank the Kool-Aid (or communion wine) and came back Catholic. When he married my mother, she abandoned her A.M.E. roots and accepted his faith and together they raised their three children as good little Catholics. We went to Catholic school, confession every Saturday and Mass enough times during the week and on Sunday to give me “frequent prayer” miles in that Big Book in the sky. By high school, I was over it for the most part thanks to the very things I had learned as a Catholic.
I am not a “recovering Catholic” I’m just over Catholicism. You see by the time I hit high school I was aware of a world outside my parish walls. A world where the doctrine and policies of the Church conflicted with the realities of my African American community and the changing landscape of urban America.
So you see it’s kind of hard for me to get excited about Pope Francis and his visit to the United States. He’s a new face but for me it’s the same old Church only worse since I was a child.
The church that closed parishes and schools in the inner city – decisions often made with the same cost-cutting, cold precision of any corporation. While abandoning the inner cities with populations that were predominantly Black and Brown, they proselytized in third world countries where Black and Brown folk continue to suffer from economic disparity and political upheaval.
As a woman, I watched the Church lead the attack against my reproductive rights. Even though Pope Francis recently extended to priests worldwide the authorization to reconcile those “guilty” of abortion The Church still holds abortion and contraception to be sinful, thus affecting the reproductive rights of women. Reproductive rights are not a matter of patriarchal morality, it’s a social and economic justice issue especially for poor women. Although women make up the majority of members of the consecrated life within the Church, its largely male hierarchy and refusal to ordain women implies “inferiority” of women.
And even though Pope Francis has made kinder, gentler remarks regarding the LGBTQ community and even hugged a member of our Transgender community, most notably saying “If they accept the Lord and have goodwill, who am I to judge them? They shouldn’t be marginalized. The tendency [to homosexuality] is not the problem…they’re our brothers.” Being “gay” is still considered wrong and LGBTQ employees at U.S. Christian institutions (schools, etc.) are still being fired when they come out, announce their marriage or want recognition for their families and love. Faith leaders continue to harm LGBTQ youth by teaching that homosexuality is a sin.
Pope Francis has landed for a historic visit in the United States. His is a different papacy. Think about it. Traditionally being Pope has been a lifetime job, but Francis ascended to the thrown after his predecessor Pope Benedict resigned basically telling the “Big Guy in the Sky” to take this job and shove it.
Maybe God took a look at this Church and decided it was time to shake things up a bit, move things in a different direction. So he looked to the “New World/Third World” where so many injustices and inequities have resulted from the Old School Papacy and picked a new leader – this Pope from Argentina.
After a private meeting with President Obama, on official welcoming ceremony on the White House South Lawn and parade, Pope Francis will have the first-ever joint address to Congress by a Pontiff. He then heads to New York where he will host a religious service at the ground zero site of the 9/11 attacks and address the United Nations. Then he heads to Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families is a triennial Vatican-backed event, held seven times previously starting in 1994 with the goal of strengthening marriage and families.
Pope Francis has received “Rock Star” treatment for comments emphasizing the central themes of his papacy — that the unfettered capitalism practiced in the United States and the West is fostering income inequality and creating an economic culture where the poor are simply discarded.
But this former Catholic will be watching to see what he does about cleaning up his own house – the Catholic Church – which has too often been a silent partner, even benefitting from, fostering the income inequality and creating the economic culture where the poor are simply discarded worldwide.
The Catholic Church has a long history, great influence and deep resources. Talk is cheap. Here’s hoping Pope Francis can be the change so many want to see.
A Review: Isabel Miller’s “Patience and Sarah” Audiobook narrated by Janis Ian and Jean Smart
I am a book nerd, a library card carrying, bibliophile. There is nothing more satisfying to me than curling up with a good book. A real book – hard cover, paper back – not an e-book but a book I can hold in my hands, turn a page and place a book mark.
My experience with audio books has been limited to road trips. The story broken up by conversations and sometimes left incomplete when the trip ended before the final CD. I found audio books entertaining, yes, but wondered if they could truly be engaging like a “real” book.
With no road trip on the horizon I settled down in my comfy chair, put on my head phones and popped in the first cd of Isabel Miller’s “Patience and Sarah” to see if this audio release of the 1971 historical fiction could meet my expectations.
Knowing the tale was narrated by legendary singer, songwriter Janis Ian and Emmy award winning actress/director Jean Smart heightened my expectations. My curiosity was also piqued by the strong lesbian theme of this historical fiction.
The familiarity of Jean Smart’s voice as Patience White immediately drew me into the story, welcoming me like an old friend into her parlor to tell me the story not only of these two incredible women but providing a window into a time when women’s lives were governed by a code defined by class and male privilege.
From the beginning Smart’s voice paints a picture of Patience not just her curiosity and her passion but how her beliefs are strongly influenced by the affluence she is born into. She has education and property which both inspires her possibilities but initially restricts her own belief that she can attain her dreams.
Smart so convincingly portrays Patience’s amusement, flirtation, seduction and manipulation of Sarah Dowling that I was at times infuriated by her games while at the same time titillated by Patience’s expression of love, growing passion and those kisses.
With the slightest inflection of her voice Smart is able to seamlessly portray all the characters in Patience’s world not only as an insider sharing religious beliefs, societal attitudes, and expected behaviors but also as an outsider straining at the bits to escape the boundaries of her lot in life.
As Patience’s world expands with Sarah, she continues to provide insight to that other world where even women of her background are seen but often not heard and those deemed of a lower class, male or female, are at risk and/or in peril simply because of their station in life.
Ian’s Sarah Dowling paints a picture of a different world – A harsher world of hard work, duty and resignation to place. Was Sarah’s love for women nature or nurture? The harshness of her world made her “a boy.” It’s just the way it was there was no son in the family, she was big and strong so she became the son – dressing, working being treated like the male child.
Ian’s raspy reading of Sarah helped you visualize this tall woman/boy walking the fine line between the masculine and the feminine. In the phrasing and use of words as Sarah, her family and the world through Sarah’s eyes, you saw a clearly different world.
Her gender, gender identity and class were like a chain holding Sarah down, denying her the possibility of hope for freedom let alone happiness. The times dictated “it was a man’s world” but even after mastering all manly affectations, Sarah Dowling still found herself the outsider ever fearful of discovery of her womanhood not only by the world but by her own heart as well. The only escape was to escape to a place where she could be free.
As I listened to Ian’s portrayal of Sarah Dowling I thought of her song “Society’s Child.” Sarah was not the person singing the song but the person being sung about. Sarah was called by so many names – an oddity, a runaway servant, an abomination, not welcome inside of respectable homes in 1816 society. She wasn’t Patience’s kind.
Did Ian feel the empathetic resonance between Sarah Dowling and the unnamed “other” in her song and see this as an opportunity to give voice to the person she had written/sang about in her 1965 hit?
Miller’s fiction took place in a world that was not fair to the uneducated, poor, women and those otherwise oppressed who historically searched for that Promised Land where they could begin again and find freedom.
“Patience and Sarah” is historic fiction but so much more. Through Patience and Sarah’s eyes we are able to see a world that once existed and, in some ways, offers insight into some evils we are still wrestling with today.
It is also a story of transformative love. Both women evolve over the course of the novel finding new strength because of their love. As much as they change they gain a greater understanding of and are able to adapt the very things that had, at one time, held them down to help them navigate the road blocks and achieve their goal of living free.
And yes, it is a love story that is tender, sensual and passionate with all the ups and downs of any relationship. It’s a story of women loving women in all its complexity, beauty and sweet kisses.
Kudos to Janis Ian and Jean Smart. They took Ms. Miller’s novel and, with their remarkable voices alone, brought not only the characters but their world to life.
I still love a good book but the audiobook of Isabel Miller’s “Patience and Sarah,” available September 15th, narrated by Janis Ian and Jean Smart gave me a literary eargasm of epic proportion. Don’t wait for a road trip to indulge yourself.