Fleeing from a Truth Too Deep

My ex-husband and I once had the occasion to rush our then four-year old to the emergency room for treatment of a deep gash in his forehead. Although the wound was cavernous, and watching the technician place the stitches was practically un bearable, an abomination of another kind occurred while at the hospital.

Since the accident happened so quickly, and we were terrified that the injury could have resulted in long-term residuals, we scooped our son up and rushed him to the emergency room. In doing so, obviously neither my ex or I took time to put on ‘the Costume.’

You know…the makeup, suit, heels and hair that supposedly mark our membership in the professional ranks and make us immune from the disses, slights and insults tossed our way like so many chewed bits of gum. All in my mind, you say? Let me recount the story and you be the judge.

As we arrived at the hospital holding bloody towel to the forehead of a limp toddler, an emergency worker yelled at us to enter through another door: “This entrance is for emergency personnel only!!” He bellowed. In my natural plus-size lawyer Barbie mode, I’d have taken him out in one breath, given that I’m not one to back away from anyone’s mistreatment. In my fear, however, I just ran down the walkway and went through the other door.

Once inside, given the circumstances, the usual triage protocol was expedited, and my son was immediately taken to an emergency bed. That should have been the end of the story, but that’s where the real atrocity began.

The emergency room physician introduced himself and the suture technician. I found his relatively matter-of-fact demeanor reassuring.

As he described the procedure to close the wound and the lack of findings on the x-ray, I felt more comfortable that my beautiful baby boy would not be physiologically impaired or horribly scarred by his accident. When he asked if we had questions, I asked: “Will the wound granulate up from the muscle tissue, or will it close from the skin down?”. He looked at me, took a breath, and asked: “How do YOU know that word?”

I explained that I was a medical malpractice attorney at one time, and that I spent many years working as a disability attorney. He then launched into a lecture about how they disliked treating the children of attorneys, and how hard trial attorneys made it for them. I stayed nice and calm, and explained that I was only there in my capacity as a Mom.

I understand that the average urban hospital ER physician meets dozens and dozens of people who may have little or no exposure to medical terms or concepts, and that with curlers, dirty t shirt and shorts, I surely wasn’t wearing the usual symbols of my profession.

That said, what would have happened if I’d taken offense at his question, instead of internalizing the pain that it caused? What was the implication to be taken from his question? That someone who looks like me is so inherently ignorant that I should be patently unable to comprehend anything he had to say? Was I rendered unworthy of a straight answer because I hadn’t had time to put on the ‘face’ that morning? The little indignities that we hurl at one another all add up to a monstrous truth: We make assumptions about each other based on superficial factors, then back up those assumptions with hurtful or harmful actions. Because America’s social hierarchy still clings to the value system that places people of African descent at the bottom, we continually inflict harm or suffer. When will it stop? When can people connect to each other spiritually without regard to race or class? I have no answer, and since this is not a polemic challenge to the system we live in, I’m posing these questions simply because our survival as a species depends on our ability to take stock of our collective pain, get past these issues, and develop more compassionate, loving ways of dealing with each other.

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Book Review: War Anthem by Keith Andrew Perry

War AnthemWar Anthem by Keith Andrew Perry
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

War Anthem, A Review

From the evocative use of language to the stirring plot, this novel provides an insightful analysis of human behavior and politics.

The rich emotional life of the main character, Jason Diggs, is the backdrop for a description of historical events few have known of before now. From the rise of Washington, D.C.’s Black intellectual class to the development and implementation of DC Home Rule, the writer, Washington, DC lawyer Keith Perry, chronicles the dazzling changes which occurred in Washington from the late 1950’s to the present time.

War Anthem takes an unblinking look at the superficial value systems and shortcomings of the Black middle class, much like E. Franklin Frazier’s Black Bourgeoisie. However, Mr. Perry also makes a largely positive and optimistic critical analysis of the way in which unique challenges and opportunities were confronted by Black Washingtonians.

Many DC political figures will recognize themselves on the pages of War Anthem. From the late Dave Clark and Walter Washington to Marion Barry, the personalities and behavior patterns of well-known individuals are clearly described. Without exception the writer treats individuals characters with respect and kind detachment.

Like all good literature, War Anthem tells more than one story. This book is a beautifully-written memoir about coming of age in Washington, D.C. as a fully conscious, self-aware Black male who understands the leadership responsibilities placed on gifted individuals.

“I understood how death changes both the future and our understanding of the past.

Gray images flashed before me of mother’s heroism during her illness and I considered the vacuum she was leaving behind. Had I been a weaker man, I might have passed through this time immune to my suffering, spurred by some grief induced amnesia; but like my mother, it was my privilege to consciously endure.”

Mr. Perry amplifies many archetypal themes in War Anthem, and in so doing provides a great service for us all. His achievement in this book is that he has woven a magnificent human tale regarding rites of passage and manhood with a story of political intrigue and municipal history. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, and I most assuredly recommend it as a piece of literature which I suspect will soon be required reading for young men matriculating through colleges all over the world.

Julianne Robertson King

When Disrespect is the Status Quo

I admit it, I’m fascinated by the national celebrity status recently conferred on DC School Chancellor Michelle Rhee. With the powerful Oprah Winfrey media machine and the blessing of U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, she appears headed for an illustrious career as the national poster girl for educational reform.

There’s only one problem:

The objectively quantifiable data shows that her efforts have hurt student progress in District of Columbia Public Schools.

Math Proficiency Scores:

-14 schools are worse off in 2010 than in 2007 with declines as high as 25% and an average of 8%
-41 schools are worse off in 2010 than in 2008, with declines as high as 35% and an average of 11%
-61 schools (52% of all schools) are worse off in 2010 than in 2009, with declines as high as 30% and an average of 10%

Reading Proficiency Scores:

-40 schools are worse off in 2010 than in 2007, with declines as high as 45% and an average of 6%
-58 schools are worse off in 2010 than in 2008, with declines as high as 36% and an average if 9%
-66 schools (56% of all schools) are worse off in 2010 than in 2009, with declines as high as 41% and an average of 9%

(source withheld)

Other performance facts:

-AYP (Annual Yearly Progress) under Leave no Child Behind, results for DCPS: 10 schools achieved AYP in 2010 a 70% decrease from 2009, when 34 achieved AYP.

-The achievement gap between White and African-American 4th grade students for Math has increased to a 58 point gap in 2009 from a 53 point gap in 2007.

-DCPS tested 14% fewer African-America children in 2009 indicating that many African-American families are leaving DCPS for charter or private schools.

-Since 2007 DC School construction shows favoritism toward Wards 2 and 3, where outlays average between $118 and $152 per sq. ft. compared to Wards 7 and 8 where expenditures drop between $40 and $54 per sq. ft.

(source withheld)

The truth is that systemic educational reform is holistic in nature. The history, economic development, and social structure of the student population has to be accommodated before lasting change occurs.

Positive educational outcomes for all children require analysis of the learning styles, and teaching strategies that work best for each demographic group. I strongly urge that educators study a focus group created by DCPS in the 1970’s called The Innovation Team, which was formed to study the challenges and opportunities specific to Urban education.

Washington, D.C. was decimated by the crack and gun wars of the 1980’s and 90’s, and some of those lost were among our most vibrant, creative and intellectually curious. Domestic and educational policy of the Reagan Bush years has had the effect of stifling the momentum of the 1970’s as related to Black consciousness and upward mobility. The collective psychological development of the Black community is diminished as a result. The children we see in the classroom today are essentially postwar survivors, yet we haven’t developed a plan that faces that excruciating truth. The sick joke is to send Rhee here, to insult and demean and blame our community for failing to effectively protect our young people.

If Oprah cares, and I believe she might, if properly informed, she needs to focus, not on personalities and style and money, but on history. Refugee and post-war children around the world have to be nurtured in a very focused way to be returned to their natural brilliance.

A Sheep in Lion’s Clothing

When news of the Eddie Long scandal broke, people didn’t want to believe that he was guilty. He may not be guilty. The events leading up to this scandal, however, are reminiscent of horrific stories coming forth from Catholic congregations for decades. No one wanted to challenge the power structure or question the behavior of the seemingly Godly men in whom they placed their trust. Now the Catholic Church is paying billions of dollars in damages because the population failed to take precautions and speak out against sexual abuse of children. To be sure, someone within the New Birth congregation had an inkling, a feeling that something was amiss in their pastor’s behavior toward boys and young men.

Now, incredibly, people are postulating that this crisis should spur new dialogue regarding homophobia in the Black community. To be sure, that is a critical piece in the healing and reconciliation that has to occur among segments of the African-American community. Would Eddie Long have been as successful in the ministry as he was if he had been openly gay? Is it unrealistic to place the expectation of genuine moral purity on powerful men? Do their words mean less if we find them to have fallen from Biblical precepts? These are important questions.

However, the conversation regarding sexual orientation should take a back seat to the conversation about protecting our children from sexual predators.

Future generations of African American people will ponder the way we handle this current crisis in the Church. There are other sexual scandals brewing in several Black mega churches in the U.S., and whether they are quietly settled or brought to the public by the media, we all have to confront the inconsistencies between what we say we are and what we really are.

This situation calls for more than prayer. Someone has to speak for our children. Do we cherish our children enough to put their safety above the need to idolize men like Eddie Long?

Condoleezza in E Flat

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Condoleezza Rice is the 66th United States Secretary of State, as well as the first black woman to serve in that capacity. She was a professor of political science at Stanford University where she served as Provost from 1993 to 1999, and during the administration of George H.W. Bush, Rice served as the Soviet and East European Affairs Advisor during the dissolution of the Soviet Union and German reunification. (1)

Condoleezza Rice recently performed a Brahms melody at a private recital for Queen Elizabeth II of England. As an observer of U.S. foreign policy, I have always  wanted so much to respect Condoleeza Rice for the value of her knowledge.  As an African-American woman, I wanted to revel in her professional accomplishments.  As a music lover, I understand her artistic passion. But as a student of history, I am mad as hell at her.

Elisabeth Windsor, or more accurately, Elizabeth Alexandra Mary (Saxe-Coburg-Gotha) Windsor,  known to the world as Queen Elizabeth II, reigning monarch of England, is the pinnacle of global social stature.  Anyone could recognize the allure of meeting and socializing with her.  In British peerage, her title is unparalleled and her royal bloodline, German though it may be, (as opposed to British) is incontrovertible.

In my opinion, when Secretary Rice performed for the Queen, she relegated herself to a second-class status un-befitting a woman of her position. When the American Colonies declared their independence from Britain in 1776, colonists ceased to be subjects of the British crown, therefore it was unseemly for Secretary Rice to serve in such a capacity.

The reigning monarch has nothing more than ceremonial command over what’s left of the British Empire, and Condoleezza Rice has more power than the entire royal family put together. So why, then would the Secretary of State deign to perform for the Queen? The royals, while colorful and interesting, are an anachronistic relic of the past. When Princess Diana began dating Dodi Al Fayed, Elizabeth is reported to have said: “She’s dating an Egyptian? We used to own them.” (2)

Was it some Eurocentric fantasy gone horribly wrong? Did Condoleezza believe that the performance would somehow persuade the Queen as to her ‘equality’? Was the performance aimed at garnering some additional status or prestige that her own position and talent hasn’t yet wrought?

I don’t want to sound harsh or mean-spirited. I have my own fascination with the British monarchy, and it’s human nature to want the acceptance and prestige of affiliation with the elite, whomever they may be. In America, however, true status should be conferred by hard work, character, merit, achievement, and education. By putting on a show for her majesty, Secretary Rice made a minor mockery of the dignity our freedom demands.

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1. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
2. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia Continue reading

Faith of Our Fathers

I feel afraid.

I want to write about the fact that Barack Obama’s candidacy for President is an opportunity to honor the very last message uttered publicly by Dr. Martin Luther King:

“Let us stand with a greater determination. And let us move on in these powerful days, these days of challenge to make America what it ought to be. We have an opportunity to make America a better nation. And I want to thank God, once more, for allowing me to be here with you.”

Martin Luther King, Jr., Mason Temple Memphis, Tennessee, April 3, 1968

Dr. King was assassinated approximately 24 hours after he uttered these words.

I want to write about Americas’ promise and the ripeness of this moment to fullfill part of our human destiny and ascend beyond divisions and group differences. I want to write about each person’s love for their fellow man and the inherent goodness that God has bestowed on each of us. I want to expound on the creative solutions to the economic crisis that America will devise in the future. Unfortunately, creeping nihilism, mixed with my usual angst have conspired to force me to confront a monstrous truth. There is still a deep, long vein of racial hatred in this country.

America sells itself as a meritocracy. The idea of pulling oneself up from the bootstraps and being rewarded for talent and hard work are central themes in our belief system. No problem. If the current Presidential race were based on pure merit, however, the right would not resort to conjecture about Obama’s religion, or his parentage or any other issue than his ability. Hatred is the origin of that line of inquiry.

WOL Radio has the sad duty to announce that at 6:01 p.m., Dr. Martin Luther King was shot and killed in Memphis, Tennessee. We repeat, today at approximately 6:00 p.m., Dr. Martin Luther King was fatally shout outside his hotel room in Memphis, Tennessee.”

In my 7 year old world, at 7:00 p.m. April 4, 1968, I felt that hate. Hatred reached into my living room, stopped me from doing homework, and hit me in the face. Hard. It was personal, and I could envision the shooter gloating and bragging to his friends about what he had just done. I felt as if He’d shot me and every other person in my community. In the aftermath of the Kennedy assassination, the graphic coverage of the Vietnam War, and visions of the Civil Rights struggle, grief, loss, anger, and confusion all worked in unison to derail my belief in the opportunities of tomorrow…at least for a while. For years, I was wracked by fear that the country would change and that the government would cease to exist. When I discussed these fears with my Dad, he looked at me and said: “Don’t be afraid, everything will be allright.”

I don’t believe that America will have another day like April 4, 1968, but I do see the storm clouds of division tearing at the fringes of the country. The difference between 1968 and today, among other things, is that Barack Obama is not a black candidate for President, he is the duly selected nominee of a major party who is black. His candidacy alone perhaps fullfills part of King’s dream.

The Presidential race is becoming more hotly contested as we speak, and candidates and pundits alike have made some startling statements. America has or should have moved beyond hateful rhetoric. None of us should be exposed to ‘leaders’ talking about who is “un-American” or who is “patriotic”. It is irresponsible and insulting. The economic crisis of this time requires Americans to unite behind the best candidate and forge ahead with unity, regardless of race, or class or gender.