Sexism, Scandal, and Stolen Moments

Like Many Americans, I watched the US Open Ladies Tennis Finals yesterday afternoon when Serena Williams played Naomi Osaka for the Grand Slam title. Had Williams won, this would have been her 24th Grand Slam Title, and would have tied her for the record with Margaret Court. My hope is that she will win 2 more grand slams and Margaret Court will fade into oblivion for her bigoted views, but that is a story for a different article. At this point, we all know the outcome of what will go down as the most controversial women’s final in US Open history. Williams was denied a 24th title and Osaka came out victorious, but neither lady went home happy as a result of several controversial calls by referee Carlos Ramos. I was content to not write about this. Partially because so many people were talking about it and partially because Sally Jenkins of The Washington Post wrote without a shadow of a doubt the most eloquently written view on the subject – if Jenkins doesn’t win a Pulitzer for that commentary I would be highly surprised. I was content to let Jenkins have the final word, but then I awoke this morning to the news below:

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I am dumbfounded by this move and I cannot fathom what type of malarky the United States Tennis Association is going to come up with to try and defend an indefensible position. Time and Time again the US Open and United States tennis has screwed Serena Williams over and time and time again she has been vilified by the public and most of the press as a hysterical ABW in the throws of major meltdown. Each time, Serena Williams has emerged and changed the sport of Tennis for the better. Each time Serena has showed the governing body of a sport that is almost exclusively played by wealthy whites that there is room for all types of people in tennis – both those with and without melanin in their skin. Whether or not the USTA and the US Open every thank or realize just how important Williams has been to the game of tennis remains to be seen. But if they don’t realize it by now, then they probably aren’t going to and that just makes them as stupid and unappreciative as they currently seem.

serena-williams-us-open-2018I am not going to go through the minor details of what happened on the court during the finals. There are a million different videos from every angle imaginable. I will be the first to admit that I, along with millions of other Americans, wanted Williams to win yesterday. I always prefer an American win and I have loved and respected Serena since the days when you could hear her coming a mile away because of all the beads she had in her hair. Last night Serena abused her racket, but the Mahmoud Ahmadinejad lookalike referee took a note from the Iranian dictator’s playbook when he abused his position of power. and that is far worse.

When trying to think of the reason or reasons I support Serena the most, I ended up coming up with other athletes I like. In tennis along with Serena and his sister Venus I routinely cheer for Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray. In football I like Deshaun Watson, OBJ, Russell Wilson, and DeAndre Hopkins. Baseball turns me into a Nationals fan because I am a big Bryce Harper fan. Basketball has me pulling for Steph Curry and Russell Westbrook. Swimming I rooted for Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte. Soccer I of course like most of them, but I digress because at this point we are getting away from ability and moving into physical appearance.

I thought about Serena and what she has in common with every single one of these people, and if you know any of the above names its not hard to figure out why I cheered for them. Every single one of the people on that list has passion for success in their sport and they are not afraid to show that passion on the court, field, or pool when they compete. The reason I gravitate towards Williams and Nadal in tennis is because I find tennis players like Federer and Djokovic boring to watch because they play so stoically. I like watching Steph Curry show off on the court and I like watching the swag that Russell Westbrook has when he walks into the stadium before a game looking fly as hell. Same thing goes for DeAndre Hopkins, whose instagram makes him seem more like a model for Emporio Armani than a player for the Texans. That is why I never had a problem with all the antics of Baker Mayfield when he played for Oklahoma. Yes, he was a show off, and yes, he could be obnoxious, but at the end of the day he could always back it up with his performance.

Each of the people I mentioned above has won and lost on the international stage. Each of the people above has received calls that both did and did not go their way. Each of the people above has showed their ass and looked like a petulant spoiled child. However, the only person above who has been treated and then reported on in a grossly unfair way has been Serena Williams. When the men on the list above show out and act unprofessionally they are NEVER called out on it the way Serena is. They are called passionate, or people say they are hyper focused, or in the zone. When Serena does it she is called hysterical or people throw out the word Meltdown. Just look at the tone of many of the headlines that were used last night and earlier today.

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Granted, two of the above publications are owned by Rupert Murdoch and that fact alone means they really aren’t worthy of using as toilet paper, let alone reading the fact remains the same: No male professional sports figure in recent history has EVER been called self-obsessed, narcissistic, or having the “mother of all meltdowns,” which is especially disgusting considering the fact that Serena Williams almost died giving birth less than a year ago. The majority of the people who tweeted or commented or spoke negatively about Serena used one word that is so sexist and disrespectful that I can’t even understand why it is still in use in polite conversation: hysterical. Since I do teach history for a living, allow me to give you a history lesson on the sexist word hysterical.

The root word of hysterical is hysteria. Hysteria means ungovernable emotional excess. The origins of the word hysteria comes from the Greek word for uterus and because of this, hysteria was used as a medical diagnosis almost exclusively for women and carried a variety of broad symptoms including faintness, nervousness, sexual desire, insomnia, fluid retention, heaviness in the abdomen, shortness of breath, irritability, loss of appetite for food or sex, and a “tendency to cause trouble”. This was used as a medical diagnosis starting in the Victorian era in England and was not discontinued until 1952. The term hysterical is almost exclusively used when a woman is upset or angry. With many incidents involving professional athletes, that term has been thrown around, but I have yet to find an instance when it was used with negative connotations towards a man.

In regards to Serena’s three penalties all I will say is this. The first penalty for coaching is ridiculous. The fact that coaching is not allowed is just plain dumb in the first place. The fact that a player can be penalized for the actions of their coach when a player did not even see the coach is wrong to me. I think the rule should be changed, but if the governing bodies of tennis are going to leave it in place than it needs to be routinely enforced across the board. There needs to be a judge watching each coach at every match and they need to call it each and every time they are playing. In regards to the second penalty, I have no problem with that. It is in the rules you cannot abuse your racket and Serena clearly abused the hell out of the racket. I take umbrage with this penalty more than any other penalty, and here is why.

By giving Serena a penalty for coaching, he is saying that Serena was trying to have an unfair advantage over her opponent during the match. Essentially Carlos Ramos (who has spared with both Venus Williams, Andy Murray, and Rafael Nadal in the past) called Serena Williams a cheater without using the word. The fact that an umpire can assault someone’s character in the middle of a championship match is bad enough; and for those of you wondering or skeptical looking at my assertion of assault of character, that is exactly what Ramos did. To call someone a cheater is to say that don’t have the grace, dignity, and class to win without an advantage. It implies the only way they got there was to lie and manipulate their way there.

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Serena Williams is the antithesis of what he has described when he called her a cheater. She is a woman who came back from the brink of death after giving birth to make it to two Grand Slam finals less than a year later. She is a women who agrees to multiple extra inconvenient drug tests each year so people will know she doesn’t cheat. She has fought racism and sexism in her sport long before standing up for injustice was a popular thing to do. Starting with Indian Wells and continuing with her fight for equal pay, Serena Williams has spent most of her professional life in the public fighting for what is right, even when she knows it will cost her in the court of public opinion. When Ilie Nastase made vile, racist comments about what color Serena’s biracial baby would be before she was born, Serena responded with class and grace by quoting Maya Angelou’s famous poem “Still I Rise.” When John McEnroe has repeatedly made sexist comments about Serena Williams she simply and cooly replied by politely asking McEnroe to respect her and her privacy. Most recently, when the chairman of the French (a country with a huge racism problem) Open banned Serena’s cat suit, which she wore for medical reasons, because he said it did not respect them game, she responded by wearing a tutu to the US Open and posing playfully for photographers before the match.

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I have a news flash for the chairman of the French Open. People respect the game of Tennis BECAUSE of Serena Williams. Both McEnroe and Nastase were reknowned for the on-court behavior in their time. So was Andre Agassi. Currently, so is Nick Krygios. None of them ever received penalties back in their day that were as severe as Serena’s penalties were. None of them were accused of hormonal meltdown in the press. When the press still writes of all of those individuals there is a touch of longing nostalgia for the excitement they brought to the court- even if it was unsportsmanlike and disrespectful. However, because Serena is a strong confident black woman who stands up for herself in a white sport, she is demonized for it. It is high time this changes and changes quickly.

There is not a person alive today who has not at some point thought about how they want to be remembered after they are gone from their career or this world. Most of us hope we will be remembered fondly by our love ones. We hope we will be remembered for the contributions we made in our career fields. I personally hope I  will be remembered as someone who left this world better than he found it. When McEnroe, and Nastase, and Agassi, and countless other men in other sports are long gone they will all be remembered fondly. They will all be remembered as some of the greatest to ever hold a tennis racket, or club, or glove. When Jimbo Fisher is fired from Texas A&M several years from now, people will reminisce and say “remember that time ole Jimbo lost his cool on the officials when he played Clemson?” There will be a hint of positivity to the question. God knows if Serena had said the words that Jimbo Fisher clearly said to not one, but two referees last night, she would have been banned from tennis for life. And nobody referred to it as a meltdown. He simply, lost his cool. Or gave the refs a piece of his mind.

BJKSerena Williams will be remembered differently, but this time she won’t be remembered differently because of her race or because of her sex. She will be remembered differently because she is different. Serena Williams will be remembered differently because the respect she brought to the sport through her struggle to bring equality to the sport while she still kicked ass on the court at the same time. It is not always popular; Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova can attest to that. But King and Navratilova did not fight for gender equality and LGBTQ rights both in tennis and outside tennis. They fought so people like Serena and Venus wouldn’t have to. And when they weren’t completely successful, Venus and Serena continued the fight. Now it is personal for Serena Williams the tennis player – mom. The women who had already been a multi-hyphenate added the most important one to her title.

Serena Williams, in my opinion is the greatest athlete of our generation. Notice I did not say female athlete. I said greatest athlete. She has nothing to be ashamed about from last night. She was robbed and so was Naomi Osaka. Neither will be able to get the moment that Carlos Ramos stole from them back. All because he couldn’t take the tone with which a woman talked to him with. At the end of the day though, Serena Williams displayed grit, determination, strength, beauty, and class. She did us proud, but most importantly, she did her daughter proud. And that is all she should care about. Keep going, Serena! Number 24 is just around the corner. Immortality is yours for the taking!

-WB

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The Chosen Family that Pride Built

This is the First Post in a series of posts that will run throughout the month of June. June has been Pride Month for many years. To honor that history, I will be talking about different aspects of why I am proud during Pride Month.

I have been unbelievably blessed in my life when it comes to the people who make up my family. I really do believe I won the family lottery that the universe put on before I was born. My immediate family includes my two parents and two younger brothers, but when I say “my family” I mean the extended family. The aunts, uncles, cousins, and extended familial relationships as well. For the most part, they all live within a day’s drive from where I live, we all get along really well, and we love each other. But this post is not about that family. My biological or blood family. They know I love them beyond words already anyways. This post is about the pride that I find in my chosen family.

You might be slightly confused by the phrase chosen family (partially because you more than likely do not have one) so allow me to explain. Some people in the LGBTQ community have a biological family and a chosen family. Sadly, there are many people in my community that only have a chosen family. There is not one academically agreed upon definition but in the most basic sense, a chosen family is a group of individuals who deliberately choose one another to play significant roles in each other’s lives. It is a group of people whom you are emotionally attached to that you love and consider ‘family’ even though you are not biologically or legally related to one another.

I am sure many of you have friends that you consider “they might as well be family.” Down here in the south we call them “Back Door Friends.” But Chosen families in the queer community are more than just your best friends or the friends you are closest to. They validate our very existence as a community. As individuals who want to be seen and heard and told they matter. In ancient Greece, there were many types of love; Eros would be love between people who are in a committed relationship and Agape would be an unconditional love from God. The reason chosen families are so important is that they combine two types of this love in philia, a friendship or fondness type of love, with storge, a familial love. Chosen families became a sense of strength within the LGBTQ community and they remain a pillar of pride in this community to this day.

Chosen families arose from the necessity of being part of the LGBTQ community. In our community’s past, many were told by their families, or churches, or schools, that they were no longer welcome. We became outcasts in our own blood families. Many LGBTQ kids were kicked out of their homes. It is why the queer community has a disproportionately large share of homelessness – especially within queer youth. Personally, I will never understand how a parent can cast out their child or a sibling can turn its back on a sibling; To me, that is an unforgivable sin that you will never be able to justify (but that is a story for a different blog). When these outcasts of society had nobody to turn to for love, guidance, and the sheer acknowledgment that they existed, they turned to themselves. They replaced biological mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers with their chosen alternatives. They cared for each other while they were sick. They loved each other when they hurt. They buried each other when they started to die from AIDS. They did everything that their blood family was supposed to do. That is how chosen families were born in a community forced to take care of one another when nobody else would.

The majority of the time the people in the chosen families we created were fellow members of the queer community (although they do not have to be – allies are always welcome). The shared loss of their blood families served as a common thread uniting people. Feelings of sadness and loss give way to strength and love. One of the things I love about the queer community is the resiliency of my brothers and sisters who are also part of it. A self-created family becomes a support system that allows people to continually go out into a world that continually puts them down. In some cases it allows people to do more than just go – it allows them to thrive and prove everyone who doubted them wrong.

Chosen families can be known, but more often than not they are unknown or known simply by the people who make up that family. Some of these chosen families have become famous or well-known throughout the world. In the Voguing and Ball Culture that developed in New York City, these families are known as houses and they were often named after famous fashion brands (House of St. Laurent, House of LeBeija, etc.). They would often have a “mother” and/or “father” who functioned as the parent of their “children.” These chosen families are especially close-knit and exclusive. They consider it an honor and a privilege to be asked to be part of their family. Other chosen families are more inclusive and not quite as bougie.

While pulling up next to a car the other day I had my windows down and sunroof up while B93.7 was playing while a Dua Lipa song was playing on the radio. A few seconds I hear “YES QUEEN!” come from the car next to me. I blushed and looked over embarrassed someone called me out on my dancing, but that feeling immediately disappeared. One shared look between me and the black man driving it I had never met told me he was part of the queer community and that was an exclamation of agreement and not ridicule. He turned up his volume as he pulled away. I smiled as I heard Dua Lipa fade off into the sunset. In a way, he is part of the extended larger chosen family that falls under the LGBTQ umbrella. If you have never seen us communicate with just a facial expression, it is hard to describe. With just a look we almost tell people, “I see you.” We see the authentic you. The fabulous you who loves jamming to bad ass diva songs.

I started building my chosen family in high school and it has never stopped growing. I don’t share blood with these people, but I don’t have to – we share something more powerful than that. Most people don’t understand, but it is easier to tell someone you consider an acquaintance than it is to tell your family. Most of it stems from the fear of rejection. It hurts less to be cast aside by someone you have known for a semester than it does by someone whose blood courses through your veins. The clip below is one of the most famous scenes from an episode of Rupaul’s Drag Race. Every episode ends with the 2 drag queens who did the worst having to lip synch and the bottom queen is eliminated. I left the lip synch in because it is one of the greatest in the herstory of the show, but the important part is what happens at the end. Watch and listen to what Rupaul says to Roxxy Andrews story.

I have been incredibly blessed in this life. I have never experienced the pain that Roxxy Andrews suffered. My family loves me unconditionally. Through the good and the bad. Growing up I always knew that they would never stop loving me, but for those of you who have never had to work through how to accept yourself in a society where you are not looked at as an equal, telling your family is the hardest part. My chosen family helped me work through feelings my blood family could not because my chosen family had already experienced what I was feeling. The very first time I went to the dinky LGBT club in my city I was a hot mess. It was exhilarating and terrifying all at once. I was so nervous I bumped into someone and made them spill their drink. A drag queen named Robin came to my rescue and diffused this situation. The instant addition to my chosen family always greeted me with a shot and a hug once I got there. She is passed on now, but I know we will meet again in the next life. It will be easy to find her there anyways – “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” will be blaring from her cloud up in the great beyond.

We love to share our joys and triumphs with our families. I am lucky enough I get to do it twice. I have found many times when we hurt in this life we want to be with our family. I have found a subtle difference in the way the two families deal with hurt. Blood family wants to do something. They want to take the pain away somehow. They want to fix what is broken. This is both admirable and helpful sometimes; My real family has always been there for me when times are good or bad. But sometimes you need the love that your chosen family gives you when you are hurt. Sometimes chosen families try to do something, but more often than not I have found my chosen family won’t do anything but be there. Just simply showing up, acknowledging your hurt, and giving you permission to hurt however you want is the most cathartic and loving thing they do.

My blood family has given me more than I could ever ask or dream for. In a different way, my chosen family has as well. My chosen family has picked me up when I was utterly broken: working through break up with my first real love, losing my grandfather a couple of years ago, and episodes of self-doubt would have been impossible to deal with without them. They have also cheered, and yelled with me at some awesome high points: Witnessing my first pride parade, my first trip to San Francisco, and teaching me to vogue the house down will be experiences and memories that I will cherish for the rest of this life time and all of the next. They have changed my life simply because I have known them. I love them. And I chose them. But more importantly, they chose me. And for that, I am luckier than I ever possibly thought I could be.

Here’s to all the chosen families all across the world. This one is for you. Happy Pride!

-WB

 

 

Happy Birthday, Harvey Milk- The Hero Who Gave Us Hope

Today would have been the 98th birthday of Harvey Milk. For the average American, that might not mean anything to you. You may not even know who Harvey Milk was. But to the LGBTQ+ community, Harvey Milk is a hero, an icon, and a martyr for the cause of LGBTQ rights. Harvey Milk was the first openly gay elected official in the United States. He was elected to the San Francisco Board of City Supervisors in 1977. 11 Months after his election, Milk was assassinated by a fellow member of the Board of Supervisors. The Mayor of San Francisco was also assassinated. In the few years before his election and his short time in public office, Milk became the Hero of Hope to the gay community.

harvey-milk_happybirthdayI am a history teacher. I am the person who was more excited to register to vote than I was to go buy a pack of cigarettes. I follow politics and current events so much that I can see my family tune out as soon as I open my mouth about politics 97% of the time. You would think I would have learned about Harvey Milk at a young age, but this could not be farther from the truth. I did not learn about Harvey Milk until 2008 as a freshman in college. It wasn’t a history book I have to think for teaching me about Harvey Milk either. History books in this nation leave out the stories and struggles of minority groups far too often. The people I have to thank for acquainting me with Harvey Milk are Dustin Lance Black, Gus Van Sant, and Sean Penn. Yes, you heard me correctly. I said the Academy Award winning actor Sean Penn.

In 2008 Sean Penn won an Oscar for playing Harvey Milk in the film titled Milk. The film was written by Dustin Lance Black (who you might have seen in the news for being the boyfriend and now husband of British diver Tom Daley) and directed by Gus Van Sant. Black and Van Sant are openly gay and both were nominated for their work on Milk. Black won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. His acceptance speech is less than 3 minutes in length and it changed my life.

At the 2009 Academy Awards, Milk was one of the few films that I As I watched the Gay Super Bowl Oscars that year, Black’s speech left me in disbelief. Yes this is a ceremony filled with people who are stereotypically liberal leaning in their political beliefs. But seldom are people so blatantly plain in their speeches. Here was a rather handsome man telling me that very soon LGBTQ+ people who have equal federal rights across this nation. And wouldn’t you know it – he was right!

 

Not having seen the movie, I googled the film and was astounded I had never heard of Harvey Milk, his story, or the film before the Oscars that night. A second google let me know I could pay $2 and watch the film at The Astro Theater in Downtown Clemson, SC. The Astro was Clemson’s version of a dollar theater. It typically showed films that had already been out for a month or so. It did not look like much on the inside, but I loved it for the historic charm it had. I skipped a science lab to go the next night. To this day, I don’t regret that decision.

 

 

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There were 4 other people in the theater that night. All 4 of those people were part of “the family.” We did not sit together and we did not know each other, but I had seen some of them in passing on campus before. I could effuse compliments about Milk until I am purple in the face so I will not go on and on about how much I love it. I will simply say that film changed my life and I will be forever grateful for the real Harvey Milk’s message of Hope and advocacy that are shown in the film. As the lights came on I tried to wipe the tears off my face. I started to get embarrassed until I saw the other 4 people were doing the exact same thing. Although I never became more than Facebook friends with any of the other 4 people, each time we saw each other in passing on campus, we would always nod and smile at each other. We shared a form of ourselves that evening that we had not shared with many people up until that point. The older I get the more I think certain things in this universe are connected. Call it God, or Karma, or my personal favorite juju. There was a shared connection between us and Harvey Milk that night. And it was life changing.

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The publicity poster from the film. The entire cast is phenomenal. 

This was the first film I had ever seen that depicted multiple main characters who were LGBTQ in a positive light. It is the first film I had seen that showed the power of my community when we stood up and advocated for ourselves – when we fought back against the people and politicians who sought to silence us and belittle us. The film goes through much of Milk’s adult life. It shows a closeted Milk living in New York City and keeping his sexuality a secret and follows parts of his life up until his assassination. Milk later moves to San Francisco in the 1970s. San Francisco became a haven for gay men in the 60s and 70s and Milk opened Castro Camera on Castro Street in the city. He lost his first election for the Board of Supervisors, but he quickly became a uniting force in “The Castro” – the area of the city made famous by the Castro Theater and the district with the largest concentration of gay people.

Once San Francisco moved away from at-large districts to area based districts Milk easily won in the heavy LGBT Castro District. Harvey Milk was a bridge builder. He united minority communities of all types and advocated for those groups regularly as part of the Board. He was instrumental in helping the city pass a gay rights ordinance at a time when many other cities were passing ordinances and ballot indicatives which were extremely anti-LGBTQ in nature. Milk was passionate in his belief that only by people in the LGBTQ community coming out and acknowleding their sexuality to their friends and family would opinions on LGBTQ people change for the better. Milk said :

Gay people, we will not win our rights by staying quietly in our closets. … We are coming out to fight the lies, the myths, the distortions. We are coming out to tell the truths about gays, for I am tired of the conspiracy of silence, so I’m going to talk about it. And I want you to talk about it. You must come out.

Sadly Harvey Milk would not live to see his beliefs become reality. He was taken by the bullets of an assassin in his office in city hall. In the video below, you will see US Senator Dianne Feinstein announce the deaths of both Moscone and Milk. If it looks like Feinstein is confused she has good reason to be. She just identified the bodies of both Milk and Moscone to police. As she tried to feel a pulse on Harvey Milk’s neck, she stuck her fingers into the hole left by the bullet that hit Milk in the neck.

White was a disgruntled former member of the board who had resigned, but wanted his seat back. both Moscone and Milk opposed putting White back on the board. White snuck into city hall, shot the mayor in his office before walking to Milk’s office and shooting him 4 times. White was arrested later that day. In response to the shooting, thousands of people from across San Francisco rushed and descended upon the Castro that evening. They marched silently with candles in a spontaneous memorial vigil in honor of Milk. To this day, it remains one of the most beautifully eloquent responses to an act of violence that this world has ever seen.

White was convicted months later of voluntary manslaughter for both killings and was sentenced to just 7 years in prison of which he only served 5. After the lenient sentencing was announced, the outrage in the LGBTQ community led to several nights of rioting throughout San Francisco in what have since become known as The White Night Riots. Harvey Milk’s friend and another icon in the gay community, Cleve Jones, led the way from the Castro towards city hall shouting “Out of the bars and into the streets!” By the time they reached city hall a thousand people were ready to riot. This is the impact that Harvey Milk had on the gay community. For a community that so often felt lost, alone, and vilified by the rest of the world, Harvey Milk was and still is a beacon of hope. The harbinger of hope was and still is a martyr for the movement. That movement is ongoing and we won’t stop until we accomplish what Milk set out to accomplish.

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Milk was featured on a US Postal Stamp in 2014. You can still order it on the Post Office Website.

I have always felt a connection to Harvey Milk – but in more ways than just the obvious one. Harvey milk taught at one point and while in California he was one of the driving forces behind the defeat of Proposition 6, which was an initiative on the California ballot that would have banned gays and lesbians from teaching in public schools. I have always believed that the LGBTQ community if far too concerned with their “own” letter in the acronym. As long as the L or the G part got their rights then who cares about the T or the Q? Harvey Milk knew that the only way for us to succeed was to help each other – and that included other oppressed minority groups as well. Lastly, and perhaps the most tragically of the connections, I was born on the tenth anniversary of Milk’s assassination. I find it somehow comforting in a weird way that a day that brings pain and anguish for many, brought happiness and joy to my family (or at least I think it brought them happiness and joy).

Hope will never be silent. As long as people have hope, they will always be capable of rising above the circumstances that life throws at them. Where there is hope, there is the undeniable chance that the human spirit will win out over despair. Over fear. Over anger. Over hate. The story of Harvey Milk was a pivotal turning point in my life. It changed a fundamental part of the person that I am today. The story of Harvey Milk saved Dustin Lance Black’s life, and it will continue to save the lives of countless people – but only if it is told. At the conclusion of his Oscar acceptance speech Black ends by thanking God for giving us Harvey Milk. I thank God for giving us people like Black, and Van Sant, and Penn who were brave enough to fight to have the story of Harvey Milk told. And yes after thanking God for them, I too thank God for Harvey Milk. Happy Birthday, Harvey Milk. Thank you for your sacrifice. And Thank you for the gift of hope.

-WB

imageTo learn more about Harvey Milk, go to The Harvey Milk Foundation website. The Milk foundation was founded by Milk’s nephew, Stuart Milk, and his former campaign manager, Anne Kronenberg, and it seeks to continue to strive for Milk’s dream of a better tomorrow – a tomorrow in which there is equality for all and a world without hate.

Dear Fellow White People: An Open Letter

By now most people have heard about Lolade Siyonbola and what happened to her earlier this week, although you may know her more as the Yale grad student who committed the crime of “sleeping while Black.” If you are confused here are the basic details of the story as reported by CNN. Siyonbola was working on a paper as part of her Master in African Studies. She was working on the paper in the common room of the Yale Hall of Graduate Studies, where her dorm room was located. As she was working, Siyonbola fell asleep and awoke to Sarah Braasch, a philosophy grad student, who came into the room calling the police on Siyonbola saying she cannot sleep or be in that common room.

The police arrived and detained Siyonbola for over 17 minutes as they questioned why she was in the building. They still requested to see her student ID card ever after she unlocked the door to her dorm room to prove she lived in the building. Part of the hang up that required the police question Siyonbola for so long was the preferred name on her ID card did not match her official name in the School’s records. Eventually Siyonbola was allowed to go and the officers told Sarah Braasch that she should not have called the police because Siyonbola had every right to use that room. The Facebook live video that Siyonbola recorded on her phone is below.

This should incense you for several reasons; the most astounding of the reasons why being the fact that this is the 4th time in a matter of two months that a white person has called the police on a person or a group of  people of color (non-white) for simply doing something as innocent as waiting on a friend in Starbucks. Or taking a tour of a college campus. Or loading their luggage into their car after staying at an AirBnb on a trip to visit a friend. Or even having a family barbecue in a public park.

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Was calling the police really that necessary? The only answer  is no and if you don’t think so you have a problem.

Every single one of these people must have grown up in Mayberry living right next door to Opie Taylor, because that is the only thing that I can think of as to why these people might have called the police. They must have grown up in a city devoid of people of color and it must have alarmed them so much that they did not know what else to do other than call the police. All sarcasm aside, you and I both know that is not why these people called the police. These people called the police because of the extra melanin that the so-called “criminals” possessed. For the people who called the police as well as the people who are defending the actions of those who called the police, I have news for you: if you don’t try to live in a world where people of all races and ethnicities are seen as equals in the eyes of their fellow man, you won’t enjoy living at all after we get to 2040, and here is why.

As a teacher of Human Geography, one of the units I cover is Demographic Geography. Demographic geography is the study of the ways in which spatial variations in the distribution, composition, migration, and growth of populations are related to the nature of places. To take it out of the index card definition I would have my students write it is basically the study of how groups of people are shaped by the land and their other surroundings. This is the section of geography that deals with things like birth rate, death rate, rate of natural increase, and other geographic numbers. These numbers have turned population geography into a science. By studying these numbers throughout human existence and their current numbers we have transformed population geography into a science that is surprisingly accurate when it comes to predictions that are made by population geographers. The prediction that most geographers have made involving race is that by the year 2040, white people will no longer be the majority in America.

The Horror! The Danger! Call Uncle Bubba! It is time to start prepping the bunker now!

All jokes aside, the statistic is true – Based on population projections that have been surprisingly accurate up to this point, the racial make up in America is changing. America is becoming less white christian and more of everything else. And despite what you may think, this is a good thing. For far too long in this nation we have not had much needed conversations on race. Avoiding the topic of race is comfortable now, but in the last several years it has hurt too many people when the issues came boiling to the surface. If we had these conversations years ago when we needed to then maybe Mike Brown would still be here and I wouldn’t have students wondering if their parents or older siblings are going to be deported. We still have people carrying around the Confederate flag, for God’s sake!

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Charlottesville. Virginia. July 8. 2017. What is going on, America?

Think about that! There are still people in this nation who support the Confederacy and its ideals. They do not see the confederacy as the morally crippled from the start failure that it always was. They see it under the guise of “The Lost Cause.” This is as laughable as it is stupid. The Civil War was a cultural group of rich white Americans that decided its choice to abuse and trade humans endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights was more important than upholding and defending the United States Constitution many of them swore to protect. Any attempt to explain it as otherwise directly undermines the future stability of this nation.

Clearly by avoiding the conversation things are not working. Continued avoidance and silence is going to lead to more problems for our nation down the road, and that is what brings us back to 2040. As a result of several demographic statistics, the white majority will be gone, and it would be generations before they could ever regain a majority, if they even could. First, when you break down the average age of each racial group in the United States, whites are significantly older than minority groups. This means there are less child-rearing women who are white actively having children. In addition the average number of children born to white women is significantly lower than the average number born to black and Latina women.

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The millennial generation is already the most diverse generation in the history of this nation. 46% of millennials are non-white. Perhaps that is also why it gets the distinction of being the most accepting generation when it comes to relationships outside our own racial group. Next year, in 2019, millennial will officially be the largest generation in America. This is a good thing – and as a millennial myself I am excited and proud to be the generation that leads the way in fixing our race relations problems. If your generation won’t lead the way it is high time millennial step up to the plate and show you how it is done.

The only possible reason that I can think of that would explain the behavior of all these white people calling the police on people of color for no reason is their fear. White people must be afraid of retribution. White people must be so scared that as a result of their horrible treatment of many groups of people over color at the hand of white people that they are terrified of being on the receiving end of the very same treatment that they perpetuated on groups of colors for decades. That is the only thing I can think of that would explain these actions. And you know what? The continued fear of people of color is making things worse. It is doing nothing but alienating white people from everybody else as seemingly out of touch bigots who are clinging to power because we feel we are superior.

image-26Thankfully, the views are slowly changing.  The majority of Americans (although still far to low of a majority) see immigrants in this country as something that makes America stronger and not as a burden. This bodes well for our future since the two fastest growing populations in the United States are immigrants from Latin America and from Asia. However, the second part of this chart is the sad part. If you look at the breakdown of the strength/burden question by race, white Americans are the only demographic group to be below the 50% mark. Once again, it makes White people in this nation seem narrow-minded and racist. The majority of white people are neither narrow-minded nor racist, but until they start speaking up and standing up for their non-white brothers and sisters this problem is only going to get worse.

The closer we get to the year 2040, the more visible the demographic shift will be. As people start to realize the impending change, they will rant and rave and rail on about America and how she is losing her ideals and the other traits that make up America. Instead of fighting a losing battle on race (which if your advocating for a White Nationalist America you deserve to lose anyways) 25 years down the road lets solve the problem now by openly having a dialogue with our brothers and sisters of different ethnicities to make sure the America we live our children is the best version of America there is. Will it be painful? Yes. Will it be uncomfortable, and hard, and sometimes frustratingly slow? Yes, but it is what we need. It is what America Needs. The first step to solving a problem is admitting there is one. We have a problem with race in America. Now let’s start fixing it – and let’s do it together.

-WB

Opened Eyes: Checking My Privilege to Experience Poverty

Before I begin I want to acknowledge the privilege that I was blessed/lucky enough to have been born into. If we are talking about winning the family lottery I came pretty close to winning the PowerBall. Being born male in an upper middle class stable family where I was raised by both my parents in an ultra-loving home has afforded me many experiences that were not afford to other people. When you add in the extra privilege that comes with being born white, I truly have lived a life that has given me significantly more than I deserve and significantly more than it has given to most people. I feel no need to apologize for this and I feel no shame at this either – I cannot help the family that I was born into. I feel no guilt in this either. I am active in my community and I have made it a point in my life to strive to always fight for social justice in my community when I see and read about things that aren’t socially just. So I am fully aware at how lucky and privileged I am; it is because of that privilege I want to write this – everyone should be able to be as lucky as I have been.

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If you do not understand the concept of privilege, the above quote should help. If you still do not understand privilege, please click here or here for further explanation.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) has made it a cornerstone of its church message to be a message of Radical Inclusion and Radical Hospitality. As a lifelong member of Trinity Lutheran Church here in Greenville, I am filled with pride that my church has boldly taken on this message of inclusion and hospitality as something we stand behind and embrace wholeheartedly. As part of that radical inclusion, my church makes it clear that we are a church for all peoples. At the beginning of our church bulletin it states the following:

“We celebrate people of all races, cultures, genders, ages, sexual orientations, gender identities, physical or mental abilities, socioeconomic statuses, appearances, family status, and citizenship as equally loved and valued in the eyes of God and in this place. All are invited to join this community as we worship God, grow in faith, and strive to love and serve one another.”

The amount of pride I feel romans-8-39in my church family for including these words in the welcome we extend to others cannot be stated enough. As a member of a community that is routinely cast out from churches, told they are not welcome, and that they are less than worthy of God’s love it has done so much for my relationship with God, but it has done a lot for other’s relationships as well. I have told many of my LGBTQ brothers and sisters that they should join me at church because the God I love created us all and that my church is great enough to recognize that by welcoming all into the fold. God is a shepherd of all sheep, even the rainbow sheep I joke! Because nothing, especially the way we are born can separate us from the unconditional love that is our God’s love.

As part of the radical hospitality aspect of the ELCA teaching and practices, this evening my church participated in a poverty and homelessness simulation that was facilitated by Beth Templeton with the organization Our Eyes Were Opened. I can tell you as one of the about 100 members of my church who participated that the organization truly lives up to its name. My eyes were opened. I know there is poverty all around me in this great city I call home. I know about the unseen Greenville. I teach at a school were 85% of my students would be considered as living below the poverty line. With that said I have never experienced it firsthand for myself. I have never felt the fear and helplessness that come with poverty. This simulation is as close as I have come to feeling those feelings first hand; and if the feelings I experienced this evening are anything close to the real feelings that my students or neighbors experience on a regular basis I will pray to God this evening and all my future evenings on this Earth I never have to experience that in real life. I will pray to God that my students and neighbors are lifted up and out of poverty. And I will pray to God that he show me a way to be more hospitable, less quick to rush to judgement, and help me find a way to help my students and neighbors in Christ out of poverty as well.

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One out of every 4 children in the United States lives in a food insecure household. Food insecurity is the state of being without a reliable source of affordable food on a regular basis.

In the scenario we were divided up into different “families” or “households” as we worked our way through a month of time in the scenario. Each week during the month last about 15-20 minutes. During the scenario I was with two fellow church members. Our back story was I was a 21-year-old community college student. My other group members were 13-year-old twin sisters. We had a teddy bear who played our 3-year-old younger brother. Our father was incarcerated so I was the technical head of the household. We were given some money (not nearly enough) and a list of expenses for each week before the scenario started. In order to not give away too much of the scenario – because I cannot stress enough how much you should all look into taking it – I will leave a lot of the details of the scenario under wraps. I am going to tell you how it felt.

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18.4% of Greenville residents with income live below the poverty level. 64.8% of those same households have children under the age of 18.

Once we read through our scenario, I felt relieved, but still slightly nervous. Because all three of my siblings were in child care, I knew they would have a safe spot (school) to go during the week. I was also thankful that our rent had already been paid for the month. If we had to pay our rent I know we would have ended up homeless because it would not have been possible. I had a spirit of determination to make it through this simulation. That spirit of determination all but dissipated by the end of week 1. In the first week in order for us to eat I pawned both our television and stereo system. I had some money left over, but it was not enough to pay any of the variety of monthly bills we had to pay. I did not attend community college at all during the first week because I thought it was more important to please my inner fat girl than my inner college professor.

Week 2 I found some religious organizations that were able to help out my family some and I was able to pay a few bills. I was starting to think we might make it to the end of the month. When I arrived home at the end of the week, one of my siblings was arrested and sent to juvenile hall and I had an unexpected bill waiting on us. At this point I cried for the first time during the simulation. I thought I was doing pretty good because I had managed to buy food once again. There was so much happening and I had no clue where to turn for help or what I should do first. I like being in control of my own choices and at this point I was not in control of just about anything. Just like week 1,I did not attend community college in week 2.

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48% of Greenville County School District Students are eligible for free or reduced lunches.

Week 3 of the simulation was interesting because it was a school holiday all week. I had to figure out what to do with my teenaged twin sisters and 3-year-old brother. I chose to take my brother with me and leave my sisters alone at home. This was the first week I figured out the nightmare of going through the process of applying for government assistance. It took forever to go through the line, fill out the paperwork, and wait my turn. Luckily I was approved for an EBT card (food stamps). I stopped sweating for a minute to buy food for the week and pay one more bill. At the end of the week I returned home and sat down to rest for a few brief moments before horror set in. I had left my younger brother at the Social Services office. I cannot tell you how many times I have seen news stories like these on the news and I have been quick to rush and pass judgement on these people. I was filled with a sense of shame. I was capable of forgetting something so important that I would never do in real life – I was no different from those parents on the news. And since I am sure you were wondering: I didn’t go to community college this week either.

As week 4 got under way I was determined to get everything done. I paid one bill and I used our EBT card to by more food. Since this was the last week of the month and I saw we had money left on our EBT card I started to think: I should trade what is left on our card for money so I can use that to pay bills. Something that is technically against the law because it is fraud came to mind as the perfect solution. I did not even think twice about whether or not to do it. I just tried to find someone to buy my card. If it came between me and my family losing our electricity and potentially our home then dammit I am selling that piece of plastic. I couldn’t find anyone to buy the card so the last week of the month I guess we would have lost our electricity. I guess at the end of the day we didn’t really need the electricity because I don’t need to see my community college textbooks since I did not go to class this week either.

As I look back over this activity and reflect on my own thoughts and feelings a few things stick out to me  For the sake of brevity I am simply going to list them below:

  1. If you leave near, at, or below the poverty line you need to be real good at planning. If you are not one of those people who has the skills it takes to sit down and plan out what you are going to pay each week of the month at the beginning of the month you are going to find living super difficult.
  2. Don’t rush to pass judgement on government workers. During the simulation the people in the roles of government workers did not look me in the eye once. Their tone was harsh and cold. Their answers were not helpful in directing me where to go next. However, during the discussion the facilitator raised an excellent point. These workers see the same heartbreaking stories over and over and over again. Day in and day out. At some point you have to close off that piece of caring you have for the survival of your soul. If I worked in a job were I had to look teenaged mothers in the face and tell them there was nothing I can do to help them every day I would have to do the same thing those government workers do.
  3. Acknowledge your privilege. Most of “us” do not see poverty because most of you reading this will be living lives well above the poverty line. I had no idea the poverty line among our students and children was so high until I started working at Southside and did my own research. Most of also don’t see poverty because people surround themselves with people who look, act, think, work, and live like themselves. 90% of the people reading this will be white (my estimation – not scientific), but the people living below the poverty are disproportionately people of minority communities, people who are disabled, and people who are victims of violence, abuse, or sexual assault. People who are different from you. Open yourselves to these people and help them – because you will also help yourself.
  4. We need usury laws in South Carolina. In the State of South Carolina, when you go to get a cash advance or cash a check any of those lending places you go to can charge whatever percent they want. There is no limit. The fact that some of these shady cash advances places take advantage of those among us who need the most help is both disgusting and needs to change. Now.
  5. Stop the “They need to get jobs!” Narrative. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard people exclaim that those on government assistance need to get off their asses and find work. Politicians in this very state have likened people receiving welfare to feeding stray animals.
  6. We can make our society better by loving our neighbors – all of them.  During the simulation small little things stuck out to me. Even as my family was struggling to make ends meet I still found myself listening in to other people’s conversations with workers and organizations who were supposed to help lift people out of poverty and offering them my own advice when they got no answers to their questions. Twice during the simulation different people gave me money for bus transportation. And during the last week of the simulation I made eye contact with the pawn shop lady. I am pretty sure she offered my a second amount that was higher than what she originally offered me because she knew I was about to burst into tears.

If we loved our neighbors like we loved ourselves, our city would be a much better place.

Our state would be a much better place.

Our Nation would be a much better place.

Our world would be a much better place.

Love YourNeighbor

It would be a place where there would be no judgement of our neighbors perceived laziness and inability to work.

A place where there would be no hatred of social workers who have one of the toughest jobs around.

It would be a place where children wouldn’t have to skip school or community college to put food on the table for their siblings.

It would be a place full of love and devoid of poverty – and that is the kind of place I want to live. Hopefully, you do as well.

-WB