Category Archives: Race

Five Shorts long in imagination

Treated to a screening of five short films at the Tribeca Film Festival and knowing nothing in advance about any of them, I marveled yet again at human diversity and creativity.

The first film was “Earthrise,” by Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee. The three astronauts of Apollo 8 tell the story of their otherworldly adventure from launch to splashdown. It was an experience that immeasurably enlarged and changed their perspectives. The first humans to orbit the moon, they were awestruck when they saw the Earth rising above the moon’s horizon. They recall the emotion they felt when they saw their distant home, a blue planet ascending in brilliant color from the moon’s unremitting gray into the blackness of space. Their mission was to photograph the moon’s surface, but the first pictures ever taken of the Earth from space eclipsed the novelty of the far side of the moon. Their iconic photo of earthrise is one of the most famous photos ever taken.

The Blue Line” examines what happens when someone paints a blue line down the main street of a small town in order to honor the police. The line exposes a previously well hidden division between conservative and liberal, white and black. Voices raised in anger on either side of the divide eventually come to a town meeting to hear each other out. When Samantha Knowles heard about the controversy from her dad, she immediately dropped everything and returned to her childhood home to document the affair. One of the tiny percentage of African-Americans in an overwhelmingly white community, she was amazed and gladdened by the willingness of all the townspeople to speak with her.

The third film, “My Dead Dad’s Porno Tapes,” is a son’s attempt to come to terms with destructive family relationships, and especially with his father. Charlie Tyrell pieces together an understanding of his distant, dead father with scraps of memorabilia. He draws on his own little bit of hard knowledge with very few existent photos, including the single one of him and his father together, the memories and impressions of his sister, random artifacts his father left behind and family stories he had heard to trace the origins of his father’s unwillingness to be known.

Sindha Agha tells her story of battling menstrual pain in “Birth Control Your Own Adventure.” She represents her period with raspberries floating in water, catsup among balloons and other unique metaphors. She made the film in two days to distract her when her pangs were particularly intense. Her experience, she discovered, is far from unique. Women called and wrote and shared their stories, stories that no men wanted to hear, stories that they kept undisclosed for most of their lives.


Lance Oppenheim is a junior at Harvard, fascinated by the man who calls himself “The Happiest Guy in the World.” He profiles Mario Salcedo, a man who boarded his first cruise 20 years ago and never returned. Mario lives his fantasy, shucking off the responsibilities of living on land. He doesn’t have to take out the garbage, for example. Someone else makes his bed and cooks and serves his food. Oppenheim gives Mario free rein  to explain why he is the happiest guy in the world, but he seems to be unaware of some glaring contradictions in his narrative. Strange.

All the filmmakers are under 40, three in their 20s and one not twenty yet, and all have made other films. I was struck by the originality of their work and the compelling stories they tell. Agha’s and Tyrell’s shorts are available in the New York Times Op-Docs section, and the others will soon be. Check them out. You won’t be sorry.

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Filed under People, Race, Space exploration, Women

“Shithole countries”

When the U.S. president speaks, the world listens.

And reacts. North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un, whom Trump calls “Little Rocket Man,” in return has denounced Trump as a “mentally deranged U.S. dotard.” But the latest frenzy is another order of magnitude— not a pissing match between puerile grown men, but an odious smear of countries on two continents.

In a meeting yesterday Trump let loose when lawmakers were discussing protecting immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador and African countries as part of a bipartisan immigration deal. “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” he asked. Instead, he said, we should have more people from Norway and countries like it, i.e., whose people are white, not black or brown. In short order, the president’s words were broadcast worldwide.

Angered by the insult and mincing no words, world leaders denounced Trump as a racist. Rupert Colville, UN human rights spokesman, began by saying

There is no other word one can use but racist. You cannot dismiss entire countries and continents as ‘shitholes’, whose entire populations, who are not white, are therefore not welcome.

Vicente Fox, ex-president of Mexico said, Trump’s mouth was “the foulest shithole in the world.”

It’s incredible that Trump has been president for a year and he still hasn’t learned that everything he says is on the record. No remark or tweet goes unnoticed. We know he’s not “stable,” let alone a “genius”— not even “a very smart person,” as he tweeted:

Actually, throughout my life, my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart. Crooked Hillary Clinton also played these cards very hard and, as everyone knows, went down in flames. I went from VERY successful businessman, to top T.V. Star….

….to President of the United States (on my first try). I think that would qualify as not smart, but genius….and a very stable genius at that!

— @realDonaldTrump

But how can he think that people will believe his denials of something he said in front of a bunch of witnesses? No one who knows anything about Trump is so credulous as to accept his word over that of Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, who was present. The Republican lawmakers who were there didn’t back Trump, but at least they didn’t support his denial either.

Since “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House” was published last week, it seemed the media had nothing else to write or talk about. The portrait of the president limned by author Michael Wolff is of an incompetent braggart with no knowledge of policy or history or even the Constitution. His over-riding interests are golf and making money. He hardly ever reads but he does watch hours of television every day.

But we knew all this. What is new, at least for me, are the details. I didn’t know, for example, that when he wasn’t having his usual dinner at 6:30 with Steve Bannon, Trump often would get into bed with a cheeseburger, three television screens and his telephone.

What has really caught the most attention is Wolff’s assessment that Trump is not only incompetent and unsuited for the presidency, but that his mental abilities are deteriorating. Trump repeats himself all the time, telling the same story three times in one hour. His attention span, as we already knew, is very short, a question of a few minutes.

This last brouhaha perfectly illustrates Trump’s mental deficiencies. He said something outrageous in front of a group of people. He doesn’t consider or even imagine the implications of his words and their likely effects on both the domestic and international stages. Then, when he sees the adverse reactions at home and across the globe, he attempts to recover by admitting he used “tough” language, but denying that he said what everyone now knows he said. He constantly lies and contradicts himself. Something is missing. There is no way to negotiate or reason with such a person. It’s time for Trump to go.

Republicans, grow a spine. Don’t just withdraw from the arena, resist. Fight for the Constitution and the values you swore to safeguard.

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Filed under Politics, Race, Random, Trump

The New South and the Confederacy

Buried in the turmoil and never-ending work associated with a move from one home to another I’ve kept up with the headlines, but little of real substance. Over a week ago I took a break and came across the transcript of New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s speech on the removal of confederate monuments.Mitch_Landrieu_2007March01 The mayor represents the new South, the Southerners who acknowledge that they live in the 21st century and understand and accept that slavery and the Confederacy died more than 150 years ago. They belong to a progressive America that has been trying to overcome that old legacy since the 1960s, an America that continues to make progress in the civil rights of people of all colors, genders and ethnicities.

Landrieu was responding to his critics who hold that by removing the statues of Confederate leaders he is erasing history:

There is a difference between remembrance of history and reverence of it. For America and New Orleans, it has been a long, winding road, marked by great tragedy and great triumph. But we cannot be afraid of our truth.

The truth is that New Orleans is a great city, a “city of many nations … a bubbling cauldron of many cultures.” It is also true that

New Orleans was America’s largest slave market: a port where hundreds of thousands of souls were brought, sold and shipped up the Mississippi River to lives of forced labor of misery of rape, of torture.

America was the place where nearly 4,000 of our fellow citizens were lynched, 540 alone in Louisiana; where the courts enshrined ‘separate but equal’; where Freedom riders coming to New Orleans were beaten to a bloody pulp.

So when people say to me that the monuments in question are history, well what I just described is real history as well, and it is the searing truth.

And it immediately begs the questions: why there are no slave ship monuments, no prominent markers on public land to remember the lynchings or the slave blocks; nothing to remember this long chapter of our lives; the pain, the sacrifice, the shame … all of it happening on the soil of New Orleans.

Was the Attorney General listening?

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Recognition of African-American Women in 1960s long overdue

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Now, as Black History Month begins, is an ideal time to celebrate the heroism of the largely unsung African-American women who put their lives on the line, fighting next to their men.

Few of the women activists in Martin Luther King’s day—women whose zeal and courage matched his—earned lasting fame. In the 1960s, women’s voices didn’t carry very far, despite the fact that their activism was critical to the movement. The resounding chorus of men, few of whom realized or acknowledged the intelligence and dedication of the black and white women who worked and protested alongside them, all but drowned them out. Of those women, only Daisy Bates, who spearheaded the desegregation of the Little Rock Schools, spoke at the rally that concluded the famous 1963 March on Washington.

A half-century later, black and white women organized massively: On January 21, 2017, hundreds of thousands of women marched not only in Washington, but in cities and towns across the U.S. Their voices reverberated throughout the world.

Here are some of the African-American women of the 60s whose stories must be told again: Continue reading

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Filed under American Society, People, Race, Women

White males only?

ChrisRockSunday night Oscars host Chris Rock brought Black History Month to a rousing close. He engaged us with humor that unmasked the ugly truth of a racism that still pervades a self-deluded and self-defined liberal society. Talented people of color can’t possibly win Hollywood’s highest honors if white people are given the major roles. And the same holds true for women of all hues. They rarely have the opportunity to demonstrate their talents when they are passed over by the white men who dominate all aspects of film-making, to mention only one of the many creative and other fields of human endeavor.

SistersInLawToday the focus shifts from color to gender, as Women’s History Month highlights the achievements of women all over the globe. In honor of the occasion, Women’s Voices For Change is publishing my review of Linda Hirshman’s “Sisters-in-Law: How Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg went to the Supreme Court and Changed the World.” The book’s title is clever, but somewhat misleading, though it does chronicle the vital legal arm of the women’s movement. Had Justices Ginsberg and O’Connor not been appointed to the Supreme Court, American women today would have a very different “herstory.”

How many women born 50 years ago or less understand how inequality made women’s lives and aspirations radically different from those of men? How many know that until the 1970s, when old laws were struck down and new laws began to change the culture, women were rarely if ever seen in corporate boardrooms, as members of houses of Congress and state legislatures, or as judges in the courts? Women were even prohibited from serving on juries (and so they never could be judged by juries of their peers), and often were not hired or promoted in order to protect jobs for men.

Continue reading …

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Fear and Hate in America

26GovsRejectSyrianRefugees

The fallout from the jihadist terrorist attacks in Paris continues to proliferate. Its poison has infected and inflamed the governors of 26 American states. These executives, all Republican, proclaimed they will not allow any refugees from the Syrian battlefields to take refuge in their states lest a terrorist be lurking in their midst. The Deep South, Texas, most of the Midwest, four states on the East Coast and four Western states all barred their doors.* Another five** haven’t denied the refugees safe harbor, but they want increased screening to deny entry to terrorists in disguise.

Although in fact governors do not have the authority to bar groups of people from their states, they are able to impose hardships on them. They can lock them out of state-funded English and job-training classes, for example.

Ted Cruz, Republican presidential aspirant from Texas, would admit only Christians, because “There is no meaningful risk of Christians committing acts of terror.” Really? Who engineered and carried out the Newtown School and Charleston church massacres, the Oklahoma City bombing, Columbine, and the many other shootings, bombings and bloodbaths on American soil? Not to mention the atrocities of the Ku Klux Klan and white supremacists — the list goes on and on.

Americans love freedom and democracy, but American history is rampant with shameful episodes of hatred and violence against the despised Other. (Xenophobia is not limited to America, of course; no nation is exempt.) Given the loathing of the majority of elected officials for President Obama and now the revolt of the governors, will America ever again welcome the wretched refuse of distant shores, the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free?

Has the golden door slammed shut?

 

*Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

**New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oklahoma and North and South Dakota.

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Filed under American Society, ISIS, Islam, Politics, Race

A License To Kill: the “Stand Your Ground” Law

MurderRatesSYGYou know it intuitively. A “Stand Your Ground” law is simply a license to kill. When George Zimmerman fatally shot Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old , the law protected Zimmerman. He claimed he shot in self-defense, and with no evidence to support or refute his contention, the police were prohibited by law to arrest him. Under the “Stand Your Ground” law, someone who reasonably believes (s)he is in imminent danger may protect him- or herself by any means, including deadly force.

Not surprisingly, Florida, the first state to adopt the law, saw its gun homicide rate spike above the national average and stay there. Twenty-one more states adopted the law within a year. A 2012 study showed that far from deterring crime, the laws resulted in an increase of murder and manslaughter (500-700 cases per year) in the states that adopted the laws. Moreover, another study by the Tampa Bay Times shows that defendants who took cover under the “Stand Your Ground” law were “significantly” more likely to avoid criminal liability for a homicide if the victim was black.

As Governor of Florida, Jeb Bush worked with the National Rifle Association to pass the law the NRA had written. In April, 2015, Bush attended the NRA’s annual convention and claimed he was second to none in his support of the Second Amendment. He still supports “Stand Your Ground,” describing it as “a sensible law that other states have adopted.”

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Filed under Gun safety, Politics, Race, Shooting