My September 11 Memory

AmFlagWaveThere are those moments that everyone remembers where he or she was. My mother vividly remembers the assassinations of Pres. John F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I was in elementary school in 1981 when there was an attempted assassination on Pres. Ronald Reagan. I don’t know if the students were told why, but we were released from school. When I got home, I watched the clip of the assassination attempt over and over on television all day long. I also remember the the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion in 1986. It was difficult to believe it had actually happened.

The collapse of the Word Trade Center on September 11, 2001 was the first national tragedy that I watched as it happened. On September 11, 2001, I was a newlywed. In fact, I had been married exactly two weeks.  I woke up that Tuesday morning and was looking at the Today Show. My husband worked second shift, so he was still asleep.

While listening to the report of the first plane crashing into the World Trade Center, I saw the second airplane fly into the building live. I woke Zachary up so I could tell him about it, but he didn’t seem to fully comprehend because he was so groggy. He went back to sleep. Later, when he woke up, he told me he thought it was all a dream. . . more like a nightmare.

Every year when I celebrate my anniversary, I can’t help thinking about the tragic anniversary that will follow in two weeks. What do you remember about September 11, 2001?

 

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Open Letter to Magic Johnson: You’re Better Than That

Dear Magic Johnson,

I was not surprised last week when Donald Sterling, the embattled Los Angeles Clippers team owner, sat for an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper. I knew that there would eventually be a televised interview with Sterling, during which he would defend his record and deny being a racist. His history indicated that he would not go gently “into that good night.” I was a bit surprised, however, that you decided to give an interview as well. Against my better judgement, I watched the Sterling interview; I had to hear what he said that made you think you needed to respond.

I know your name has been dragged into this sordid mess, and it should not have been. In the leaked tapes as well as in his interview with Anderson Cooper, Donald Sterling seems to be obsessed with you. He charged that you weren’t a good role model “for the children of Los Angeles.” He brought up the fact that you are HIV Positive (incorrectly stating that you have AIDS). He said that you told him not to apologize and that you’d “work it out” with V. Stiviano. Finally, in all of his paternalistic benevolence, he asserted that you and other successful black people did nothing for “minorities,” whereas he had given away millions.

Magic, you said in your interview: “I’m always go’n fight for myself and for my people. I will never change, so when he attacked me personally, I have to speak about it.” Seriously, I know where you’re coming from. But, on the real, Magic, you’re better than that. Your participation in his tit-for-tat game allows him to obfuscate the real issues at hand. He has lost all credibility. He was simply trying to take some of the heat off himself. He got himself into this mess. He can get himself out. He can’t escape from what he said on tape and his own public record by trying to vilify you. You said it right in your interview–he’s delusional. Even though he is persona non grata, he insists that “everybody” still wants to be around him and that the players love him.

In short, we know Donald Sterling “didn’t do his homework.” on you. But I think everything you needed to say to him or about him could have been summed up with two statements:

  1. “Keep my name out your mouth!”
  2. (And regarding your charitable giving) “You better Google me!”

Now that the Los Angeles Clippers are out of the playoffs, I am hoping that we will hear less and less about Sterling. (But if he keeps on talking about you, feel free to use the two statements above.)

Sincerely,

Da Realist 1

Race, Sports & Society: The Sordid Tale of Donald Sterling

Image courtesy of sippakorn/FreeDigital Photos.net.

Image courtesy of sippakorn/FreeDigital Photos.net.

By now, almost everyone in the United States has probably heard about Donald Sterling, the 80-year-old owner of the Los Angeles Clippers basketball franchise, whose recorded, racist diatribe was released by the celebrity gossip website TMZ over the weekend. Sterling was recorded by V. Stiviano, who was apparently his mistress.

On Tuesday, with advertisers lining up to end their relationship with the Clippers and with the threat of a player boycott of playoff games, the NBA handed down its punishment. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver fined Sterling $2.5 Million and issued a lifetime ban. He also called on the Board of Governors, comprised of the 30 NBA franchise owners (29 without Sterling), to meet and decide whether Sterling should be forced to the sell the franchise, which they can do with a 75% vote.

It’s a sordid story of race, sex, sports, and money. Perhaps the only thing missing is the violence. From the beginning, I was troubled by the discussions surrounding this issue because they often didn’t acknowledge that it was much deeper than one elderly man’s dislike of black people. However, as the scandal lingered on, writers delved more deeply into the story. Here’s my take on the subject.

  1. Donald Sterling’s racism was perhaps the worst kept secret in basketball. So, it’s interesting that so many were shocked, disappointed or hurt because of the statements he made on tape. Yet, one only has to scratch the surface to find numerous witnesses to Sterling’s bad behavior. He singled-out NBA hall-of-famer Magic Johnson, stating that he didn’t want his girlfriend to bring African Americans to Clippers games or appear in pictures with them on “the Instagram.”  But that is unsurprising since Sterling did not want black people in his rental properties either. He compared black people to dogs and spoke as if he were a 21st century slave master, providing houses and cars to his servants out of his benevolence, rather than employer paying people for their labor. I am thrilled that the players used their power to make a stand, but I wished there had been an outcry for the African-Americans and Latinos who lived in Sterling buildings (or were unable to obtain housing) when the Department of Justice housing discrimination suit was filed against him.
  2. The Los Angeles NAACP needs to check itself. In the interest of full disclosure, the national organization been getting the “side-eye” from me for a few years now–ever since since the Shirley Sherrod debacle in 2010. I respect the “historical’ organization, but something seems off with the organization in it’s current state. The Los Angeles NAACP has accepted donations from Donald Sterling for more than a decade. Although it has now been rescinded, they planned to honor him with his 2nd lifetime achievement award at an event in May. It seems like, with the housing discrimination charges, the organization should have been outside his buildings protesting rather than giving him awards. Or, can he wash his sins away with donations? There must be some other way to stay solvent than to take money from the perpetrators of racism that the organization is supposed to combat.
  3. There is a myth that race does not matter in sports. I contend that common sense, history, and contemporary events indicate the fallacy of this, but it seems to be a prevalent line of thinking expressed by sports media types who want to portray the culture of sport as a beacon of righteousness on a hill rather than a microcosm of our society. When confronted with racists or racist behavior, it may be comforting to think that we are confronting an anomaly instead of an endemic social ill. These relics will soon be like the dinosaurs–extinct. But reality contradicts this wishful thinking. And what will “they” say when the next Riley Cooper, Richie Incognito, Dan Snyder, or Donald Sterling reveals himself/herself?

 

 

Foto Friday: On Frozen Pond

Sun setting over our frozen pond

Sun setting over our frozen pond

I took this picture when I was out for a walk yesterday, the first time it’s been “warm” enough for this Southern girl in months. Our local meteorologists say that spring is just around the corner. I hope so, but I’ll believe it when the ice on this frozen pond in my neighborhood finally melts. Come on, spring! 🙂

No Longer Laughing: Jerry Seinfeld and the End of Fandom

In 2002, TV Guide named Seinfeld the “greatest television show of all time.”** During the show’s nine seasons, I watched it almost religiously; it was literally “must see TV.”
I enjoyed all of the characters–Jerry, Elaine, Kramer, and especially George–as well as Seinfeld’s/Larry David’s irreverent way of looking at the world. I have seen almost every episode of this show and have most of them memorized. From time-to-time, I still watch the old shows if I run into an episode while flipping through the channels. I did, that is, until February when I saw a BuzzFeed Brews interview with Jerry Seinfeld during which he derisively dismissed a question about diversity and his internet show, “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.”

Honestly, I had never seen an episode of Seinfeld’s internet program prior to watching this interview. (Subsequently, I did watch a couple of episodes in preparation to write this post.) But this was not a new criticism for Seinfeld. On the old Seinfeld show, some critics pointed out its lack of racial diversity. The main characters and the majority of the recurring characters and guest stars were white, but I was never concerned about that. I had watched established shows with predominantly white/all white casts attempt to insert people of color, and it just seemed awkward and disingenuous. Besides, I was often uncomfortable with Seinfeld‘s depiction of African Americans in the episodes where they made an appearance.

I even endured Seinfeld’s support of his former cast mate, Michael Richards, after his very public meltdown on stage at The Laugh Factory in 2006. However, his racist diatribe against black audience members, laden with racial epithets and lynching imagery, was the reason that I refused to purchase the Seinfeld show’s DVD set. I was not about to let “Kramer” get one thin dime of my money.

It seemed that my fandom knew no bounds until the BuzzFeed interview. Although the interviewer, business editor Peter Lauria, was quite deferential to Seinfeld, he gingerly brought up the fact that “most of the guests are mostly white males.” Whether he was feigning anger or genuinely annoyed, Seinfeld relayed that this “really pisses me off.” He asserted that he had “no interest in gender or race or anything like that.” Folks who brought up those issues were simply “anti-comedy” with their “PC nonsense.” Well, he didn’t pull a “Kramer,” but Jerry Seinfeld’s comments were defensive and dismissive. He was unwilling to consider, even for a moment, that it was a valid criticism. Perhaps Lauria was just being ironic when he asserted that the interview would be “a very serious and earnest conversation.”

Clearly, Seinfeld doesn’t feel the need to think about or respond to racialized or gendered “others.” According to him, his only concern is comedy. But humor, like beauty, is subjective.  Maybe Jerry Seinfeld said it best when he said if “you’re funny, I’m interested.” Well, I’m no longer laughing, so I’m not interested.

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**A subsequent list in 2013 listed The Sopranos as “the best series of all time.”

5 Things I Hate About Air Travel

Image courtesy of digitalart/FreeDigital Photos.net.

Image courtesy of digitalart/FreeDigital Photos.net.

What  the heck happened to air travel? Do you remember when it was something enjoyable? I do. When I was a little girl, I was required to dress up in my “nice” clothes whenever we took a flight. The flight attendants gave me plastic pins shaped like wings.  The trips seemed. . . well, “special.” Even in the not so distant (prior to 9-11) past, I enjoyed the convenience of quickly getting to where I needed to go. Now the trips are irritating and long.  Although I will probably have to fly again soon, my recent trip to Baton Rouge via Atlanta has me convinced that flying is no way for human beings to travel. I won’t give you the blow-by-blow of my recent trip, but I do have a list of the five things I hate most about flying.

5. The traveler who has it all together. Ok, perhaps “hate” is too strong of a word; maybe it’s envy. But, seriously, as I struggle wearing the most comfortable clothes I can find (that don’t make me look like a vagabond), I marvel at those women who are always so wonderfully put together at the airport. I see them walking through the airports looking beautiful with their perfect coifs—curly, neo-soul afros or silky long locs, stylish outfits, designer rolling suitcases, and three-inch heels. How do they do it? Meanwhile, I look harried wearing jeans and a baseball cap. Whether I check my bags or drag them myself, I never have things quite “together.” (I will concede that part of this is because I am a “bag lady.” I can’t hurry up ‘cause I’ve got too much stuff.)

4. Cramped seats on the plane. Can these seats get any smaller? We’re packed in there like sardines! I have a bit of a phobia about strange people touching me, but there is no way to get around it. And wouldn’t you know it, I wound up with the flu after this trip. I’ve had the flu shot, so I blame it on all those “close encounters” with my fellow travelers. I’m thinking of wearing a surgical mask next time because I don’t have time to be sick. So, if you see me, don’t laugh.

3. The overpriced food in the airport. I hate the expensive food that lacks taste and poor service that goes along with it. ‘Nuff said.

2. TSA Checks. This was almost my number one, but then I had to demote it after my return trip. I suppose everybody hates these checks—putting all your liquid toiletries in a quart-sized Ziploc bag; stripping off your outerwear, hat, shoes, belt, and jewelry; passing through a scanner; and, finally, frantically getting re-dressed on the other side as the next passenger’s belongings come sliding out of the x-ray machine. It feels like going to prison instead of preparing to take a trip, but we have gotten used to these invasions of privacy that are supposed to keep us safe.

Dangerous Hair

Security risk twists

Apparently, my hair, which was twisted in anticipation of a twist-out the next day, was a security risk. The TSA officer told me that my hair had set off the machine and asked if I would allow her to pat my hair down (as if I could say “no” and still get on the airplane). So, she put her hands all up in and through my hair. I wish I had asked her what was it about my hair that was suspicious.

1. Delays, Delays, Delays. I had four different flight cancellations. My problem with cancellations is that they often seem random. There was no snow in ATL when I arrived. In fact, it was over 40 degrees outside, but my flight to Iowa had been canceled. The weather wasn’t bad, so what gives? There was no explanation, and I just felt helpless and hopeless.

I know that some people were delayed much longer, but it took me an extra day plus 13 hours to get home. I had never been quite so happy to touch down in the Hawkeye State. I also had to fly into a different airport, two hours away from home and the airport where my car was parked. I must have looked quite frazzled because a flight attendant rubbed my arm and said, “Good luck with whatever you’re going through,” as I exited the plane. Strange, I thought, but I had no time for chit-chat. My ride was waiting for me, and I had to get the heck outta there.

Even though this was an unpleasant experience for me, there were some lovely Delta Airlines employees who did their best to get me on alternate flights when mine were canceled. Shout out to telephone representatives Lola and Elaine and the young woman at the service desk in Atlanta, whose name I didn’t get. I’m sure they don’t pay y’all enough.

Gridiron Soap Opera: Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito

Image courtesy of arkorn/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Image courtesy of arkorn/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

With the release of Ted Wells’ report (February 14) on misconduct within the Miami Dolphins’ organization, I decided it was time to revisit my November post on Jonathan Martin-Richie Incognito.

I first heard about the Jonathan Martin-Richie Incognito story a few weeks ago on a local sports radio station. As I recall, it was presented in this way: On October 28, a Miami Dolphins player (Martin) had quit the team because he could no longer take the razzing from his teammates, who referred to him as a “weirdo.” I snickered and shook my head. That seemed innocuous enough. A grown man should be able to take that. In fact, my immediate thought was, He needs to suck it up.

As this story continued to unfold, my thoughts on the matter evolved as well. Now there seems to be much more to it than name calling and locker room hijinks. When Jonathan Martin left the team, he sought treatment at a hospital for emotional distress due to the sustained harassment. Coach Joe Philbin visited Martin during his brief stay in the hospital, but he did not “name names” nor make specific charges. Later, however, Martin’s agent released text and voice mail messages from Richie Incognito that included racial epithets and violent threats toward Martin’s family. After initially brushing off the incidents that led Martin to leave the team, the Dolphins organization responded by suspending Incognito indefinitely.

On October 28, according to Incognito, he and fellow offensive linesmen decided to pull a prank on Martin. When Martin came to join them during lunch, they all got up and left, leaving Martin alone at the table. As a result of this juvenile act, Martin threw his tray to the floor and left. In an interview by Fox’s Jay Glazer that aired on November 10, Incognito insists that his “actions were coming from a place of love.” When asked about the effect the endless ribbing was having on Martin, Incognito–model citizen that he is–feigned ignorance. He insisted that no one knew Martin was having a problem. And if they had known that Martin was being hurt by all of the schoolboy antics, they would have stopped. Despite his use of offensive language toward a black teammate–e.g., calling Jonathan Martin a nigger–he viewed Martin as a “close friend” and a “brother.” And he denied being a racist.

Incognito’s interview echoed the responses given by teammates last week. They described the well-known troublemaker, who was released from his college team (Nebraska) and his first professional team (St. Louis Rams) for issues relating to his documented anger management problems, as a good guy; a leader in the locker room; best of friends and like a big brother to Martin; and, incredulously, an honorary black man.

Jonathan Martin’s attorney released a statement (prior to Incognito’s Fox interview) charging that “Jonathan endured harassment that went far beyond the traditional locker room hazing.” He even “endured a malicious physical attack” from a teammate.

Certainly, those of us who are outside the locker room can never really know what goes on inside the locker room, but I smell a cover-up. People are readily coming to Richie Incognito’s aid and casting him as the “good guy” in this gridiron soap opera. Jonathan Martin may not exactly be the “bad guy,” but he is at least being cast as the “soft” guy or perhaps the mentally unstable guy.

Instead of questioning the culture of the NFL, many people are questioning Martin’s football and mental “toughness,” using his background as evidence of his unsuitability for professional football. Three generations of his family had attended Harvard. He attended an elite prep school. He attended Stanford University, which is not a typical football factory, on a football scholarship and studied the classics. He has discussed his desire to attend Harvard Law School. So, maybe he was not meant for the hard knocks life of the NFL.  But Martin’s lawyer contends that “toughness is not an issue.”

The NFL is currently investigating the circumstances that led Martin to leave his team which will, perhaps, bring clarity to this situation. To me it doesn’t matter whether Martin left because of sustained childish pranks or more sinister harassment. He has that right to say enough is enough. To paraphrase the late Pro Bowl safety Sean Taylor: These are men being paid a king’s ransom to play a kid’s game. So far, Martin seems to be one of the few adults in this matter.

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Do the Right Thing: The Central Park Five

balanceOn January 1, 2014, Bill de Blasio was sworn in as  the 109th mayor of New York City, the first liberal to hold that office in twenty years. The selection of the leader of the nation’s largest city always garners national attention, and November’s election was no different. Aside from the focus on his proposed policies, de Blasio’s multiracial family (his African-American wife, Chirlane McCray, and their children Chiara and Dante) was fodder for pop culture.

However, it was not de Blasio’s personal life that interested me, but his ideas of reform and righting wrongs. He has pledged to end the stop-and-frisk policy and to “settle the Central Park Five case because a huge injustice has been done.” Although in this case, justice delayed is justice denied, I am hopeful that de Blasio will “do the right thing” and end the city’s legal battle over this case.

In 1989, New York mayor Ed Koch called the sensational, racially charged Central Park Jogger case “the crime of the century.” On the night of  April 19, a 28-year-old, white investment banker–later identified as Trish Meili– was brutally beaten and raped while jogging through Central Park. The police quickly set their sights on a large group of African-American and Latino teens who were in Central Park, some of them harassing and even beating others in the park.

From the larger group of young men in the park that night, the police focused on Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana, and Kharey Wise. The young men, who were between 14 and 16 years old, became known as “The Central Park Five.” Although they all denied their participation in a rape at first, after being interrogated by police for hours on end (between 14 and 30 without attorneys or parents present) and being deprived of sleep, food, and drink, the frightened young men began to turn on each other.

The 2012 Ken Burns documentary, “The Central Park Five,” tells the story of these young men. They contend that their confessions were obtained under duress, that they only parroted stories fed to them by the police, falsely believing that their “confessions” would allow them to return home to their families. However, the confessions–although recanted–sealed their fates. The Five were charged with a number of felonies including rape, attempted murder, sodomy, sexual abuse, and robbery.

Kevin Richardson was convinced that “the truth is gonna come out.” There was no DNA evidence that linked the five teenagers to the crime. In addition, their confessions told conflicting stories about where the crime took place and even the manner in which it was committed. Nevertheless, in two separate trials in 1990, the young men were convicted and sentenced to serve between 5 and 15 years in prison.

McCray, Richardson, Salaam and Santana were all released having served nearly

The Central Park Five (2012), a film by Ken and Sarah Burns.

The Central Park Five (2012), a film by Ken and Sarah Burns.

seven years in prison, leaving only Kharey Wise in prison. In 2001, Wise crossed paths with Matias Reyes. Years earlier the two had an altercation at Rikers Island Correctional Institution while they were being held there. Matias, a serial rapist, had confessed to a series of rapes and a murder when he was apprehended in August 1989. After talking to Wise, Matias, who had “found religion” during his incarceration, realized that Wise had been convicted of a crime he committed. He decided to “do the right thing” and confess to his involvement in the Central Park Rape. In addition, the DNA evidence matched Reyes to the rape.

In 2001, the defense requested that the guilty verdicts of the Central Park Five be overturned. Their convictions were vacated in 2002, and in 2003, the “Central Park Five” filed suit against the prosecutors and the police department for $250 million. At this point, the case remains unresolved, with the next hearing scheduled for January 21. No amount of money can give these men back the youth they missed in prison. So, it’s not exactly justice, but it’s a start. Let’s hope that Mayor de Blasio will “do the right thing.”

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What I Hope For. . .

Trayvon Martin

Trayvon Martin

Today, February 5, 2014, would have been Trayvon Martin’s 19th birthday. To honor his life, which was so brutally and tragically cut short, I am reposting my blog from July 11, 2014, written after listening to testimony during the George Zimmerman trial.

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On Wednesday the defense rested in the State of Florida v. George Zimmerman. Zimmerman is charged with second-degree murder in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed teenager who was walking home from a convenience store, in 2012. Some time in the near future, we will find out whether the jury was convinced by Zimmerman’s claim of self-defense.

As this trial comes to a close, I am still thinking about the testimony of Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon Martin’s mother, last week on July 5. I admired her courage on the stand, and I felt agony when I heard the 911-recording, in which there is a scream and then a gunshot. When she identified that scream as being her son’s voice, I’m sure she was “dying inside but outside [she was] looking fearless.”

When it was the defense attorney’s turn to question Fulton, he had an odd line of questioning about “hope.” The defense tried to shake her resolve by asking, “You certainly had to hope that was your son screaming even before you heard it. Correct?” She replied, “I didn’t hope anything. I just listened to the tape.” Then later in re-cross, the defense asked, “You certainly would hope that your son Trayvon Martin did nothing that led to his own death. Correct?” After some wrangling she said, “What I hope for is that this wouldn’t have never happened, and he would still be here. That’s my hope.”

She handled herself beautifully against the defense’s implication that her “hope” might have influenced her response to the 911-recording, that she was more interested in getting a conviction than hearing the “truth” about her son. The defense’s “truth” is that the unarmed teenager was the aggressor, and Zimmerman shot him in self-defense.

Unfortunately and tragically, there are many other cases in which young black men have been targeted because they fit the profile of a “suspect,” because they were in a places they didn’t “belong,” because they were playing loud music, or some other equally inane justification. I have been to the building where Amadou Diallo, a 23-year-old West African immigrant, was killed by New York City police officers (wearing plain clothes) in 1999. Diallo fit the profile of a rape suspect. When reaching for his wallet, the officers assumed he was reaching for a gun and fired 19 bullets into his body.

Amadou Diallo Place, The Bronx, New York

Amadou Diallo Place, The Bronx, New York

I have stood under the street sign (Wheeler Avenue in the Bronx) named in honor of Amadou Diallo. Will there be a street sign with Trayvon Martin’s name on it one day?  “What I hope for” is that there won’t be any more street signs like “Amadou Diallo Place.” I don’t want to see memorials to young black men whose lives were cut down before they really began, signs in memoriam of short lives with tragic ends instead of long lives and great accomplishments.

Missing Mississippi

Winter in the Heartland

Winter in the Heartland

As I write this post, the current temperature here in Iowa is 12 degrees. TWELVE DEGREES!!! (And let’s not even talk about the wind chill.) With a forecasted high of 23 degrees, today will actually be the warmest day of the week. It’s safe to say that the weather outside is frightful. It’s also safe to say that I’m tired of this. I’m not cut out for this. After all, I am a Southerner. These are the times when I find myself really missing my home state of Mississippi with its mild winters.

Mississippi has had its share of colder-than-normal weather this year, even some snow last week, which is rare. Two inches was enough to shut just about everything down. My mother had a hilarious narrative about our hometown folks slipping and sliding their way around town to the grocery store and to department stores to buy real coats. Because there were no snow plows, city workers with shovels were throwing sand and salt on the streets from the back of a truck. That must have been a sight!

The snow and cold temperatures were inconvenient for them, but I knew that after a day or two, the snow would be gone. Meanwhile, I don’t think I’ve seen the ground since some time in December.

Maybe I’ve got the Winter Blues along with a touch of nostalgia. I want to see green grass on the ground instead of snow. I want to see full trees instead of gray stick figures. But Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow, so I guess spring is still six weeks away for us.

So, I can’t help but envy my family in Mississippi. The high temperature in my hometown will be 64 degrees today. While I long to go outside without a coat, hat, scarf, gloves, and boots, some of my cousins will be wearing shorts.