A plea from a fifteen year old girl

In my newspaper today was the following letter to the editor. I felt it had pertinence and poignancy, so I repeat it here in its entirety:

“As a 15-year-old upper middle class white girl, I am undeniably privileged. I’ve been given the opportunity to choose the side of history I wish to stand on. In the midst of this crisis, the two sides stand firm, yet logic and empathy seemed to have chosen my side for me. I cannot choose a side of ignorance, no matter how blissful. I must refuse the side that cannot understand the suffering of those unlike themselves. I will not ordain a cause that is more concerned about inanimate objects and a disrupted status quo than about unjust loss of life. I implore everyone to make the same decision. Think about what is replaceable, and what can never be returned.”

These words are more profound than the US president could ever possibly say, but they are precisely the kinds of words we need to hear from someone who occupies the White House. For someone who craves notoriety, this president will not be remembered for being on the right side of history, in my view.

Different, not less

I spoke recently of a movie that caught my eye the other day which is well worth the watch – “Temple Grandin” starring Claire Danes as the title character with Julia Ormand, David Strathairn and Catherine O’Hara in key roles. It is a true story of Grandin who overcame her autism to get a Ph.D and become one of the foremost designers of cattle management systems. It is well worth the watch, but please pull out the Kleenex, especially when she first speaks up for autistic kids with her mother beside her.

A key moment in the movie is when her mother, played by Ormond is trying to find a high school that will help her daughter navigate a world with autism. To her credit, her mother defied those who said she needed to institutionalize her daughter back in the 1960s. A science teacher at the prospective school, played by Strathairn, hurried out to convince Ormond to stay as she was leaving with her daughter. He said, Temple is “different, not less.” Grandin had a brilliant mind, but understood better through visualization. She could see things we could not.

“Different, not less.” The line is so powerful, Grandin uses it later as she speaks to searching-for-answers parents of autistic kids. It reminds me of a similar line in a movie about a fictitious band from the 1960s, “Eddie and the Cruisers.” Michael Pare plays Eddie, the lead singer and driving force behind the band. He looks like a “cruiser,” but is well-read and intelligent. He drafts into the band an English major played by Tom Berenger, whom they call “Wordman” because of his profound lyrics.

During the movie as they are playing a college campus, Eddie tells Wordman these people are not like them. They are different. Wordman innocently replies, “they are no better than we are.” Eddie corrected him saying “I said different, not better.” Given the reference, this comment is the same as the above title and equally powerful.

We are different. It would be rather boring if we all thought, learned and said the same things. While we may be different, we are no better or worse than the next person. Grandin designed a system that is now used in over 50% of the cattle business, but she was laughed at because she was a woman and autistic. Her simple questions were pertinent, yet ignored. Her autism allowed her to see what the cattle sees and she factored that in her designs.

As for Eddie, we should always be careful with our first impressions. People dress differently, look differently, and act differently. Yet, Eddie was a deep thinker and knew literature. We are all different, but we have the same rights, responsibilities and need to be heard. My rights are no more important than yours and vice versa.

Both of these movies are worth the watch. They each will help us appreciate what others go through. Different, not less. And, not better either.

That confederate thing was about slavery

Being raised in the South, I was taught the Civil War was more about states’ rights and northern aggression rather than slavery. I saw a recent poll that showed 48% people believed that states’ rights was the principal reason for the war and only 38% said it was about slavery. This recasting of history by groups promoting white supremacy or merely teaching a white-washed message is influencing too many people. To be frank, of course, it was about slavery.

Why do I say that? One needs only to look at the formal declarations of the states who seceded from the United States of America (see the third paragraph from Texas’ declaration below*). In those documents, the words to preserve the right to own slaves (or something similar) can be consistently found. The states’ rights argument was used in support of the need to perpetuate slave ownership. If people think otherwise, let me speak purely in terms of economics, setting aside the important human argument.

In economic terms, the South quite simply treated slaves as assets to be used. Once the asset was purchased and maintained, the fruits of the labor went to the owner. Since slave owners were the wealthiest people in the South, as a result, they had the most to lose if slave ownership was done away with. Slave ownership was an economic boon for the South. It is that simple.

But, to get the white non-slave owners to fight, a good story had to be crafted. Politicians have done this for ages and still do. So, they told a good story that “we don’t want those folks in Washington telling us how to do things. We want to govern ourselves.” If they told these poorer whites what they were really fighting for, they may have been less enthusiastic participants. The pitch would have been, “come fight so I can still own slaves. And, maybe you can someday.”

I mention all of this as this fight over monuments is secondary to the renewed fight on civil rights. Many of these symbols were erected at the height of the Jim Crow era or the KKK’s fifty to ninety years after the Civil War ended. In fact, Stone Mountain, outside of Atlanta, was finished in 1972, just 45 years ago. Very few of these monuments were erected just after the Civil War. The same goes for the Confederate flag, which became more prominent after the Civil War when carried by white men wearing white sheets and hoods. These monuments are more about honoring Jim Crow than they are the Civil War. As a result, they are an insult to our African-American citizens.

Slavery is evil. God had Moses lead the Jews out of slavery in Egypt. Yet, too many ministers seemed to overlook that part to reinforce why it was OK to own slaves. Then, it was continued to why the races should be segregated during Jim Crow and the 1960s Civil Rights movement. One only needs to listen to the haunting words of Billie Holiday as she sings “Strange Fruit,” to get first hand what the Jim Crow era did. Humans should not own other humans – it is wrong and sinful. And, per our Constitution, which has been improved several times since it was first written, every American has equal rights, not more, not less.

Scrolling forward to today, we seem to have groups that want to refight the Civil War and Jim Crow disparaging non-whites and non-Christians. White supremacists, the KKK and neo-Nazis are hate groups stirring up racial tension. Do they have a right to speak in America? Yes, that is how it works. Do we have the right to say in rebuttal your words and actions are evil? You are damn right we do. Civil protest is the answer. Uncivil protest cannot be tolerated. If you bring a weapon to a protest, then you should be sent away or get a ticket voucher for the weapon as it is detained. But, it is more than OK to civilly protest evil words and actions.

America is about freedom and rights. There is a huge difference in those who say we are not being treated fairly from those who say to treat us better than they you treat others. Those missions are not the same. We all have equal rights, not more, not less.

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* Texas abandoned her separate national existence and consented to become one of the Confederated Union to promote her welfare, insure domestic tranquility and secure more substantially the blessings of peace and liberty to her people. She was received into the confederacy with her own constitution, under the guarantee of the federal constitution and the compact of annexation, that she should enjoy these blessings. She was received as a commonwealth holding, maintaining and protecting the institution known as negro slavery – the servitude of the African to the white race within her limits – a relation that had existed from the first settlement of her wilderness by the white race, and which her people intended should exist in all future time. Her institutions and geographical position established the strongest ties between her and other slaveholding States of the confederacy. Those ties have been strengthened by association. But what has been the course of the government of the United States, and of the people and authorities of the non-slave-holding States, since our connection with them?