Category Archives: Race, Class, Gender

What’s the Difference?

I just wanted to write a quick post about the odd discrepancy I see — and I’m not sure why there is a discrepancy at all between these two cases. As I was looking at various web articles last night, I came across this AP story about Pfc Jesse Spielman getting 110 years in prison with an opportunity for parole after 10 years for being involved in a rape and murder case. Three other soldiers were also given sentences — sentences that ranged from 5 to 100 years. The group of soldiers entered a house, took turns raping a 14 year old girl, and murdered the girl, her parents, and her sister.

Does this sound familiar at all? This is almost the same crime against the Petit family. I am mainly anti-death penalty — and it is the kind of viewpoint I want to develop in a non-emotional state of mind, because obviously, emotions will affect my rational decision making ability. And yet, I could be convinced of using the death penalty in a case like the Petit assaults and murders. The Connecticut prosecutors have charged the perpetrators with capital felony — which would either get them life imprisonment without the chance of parole or death by lethal injection. I think in this case, I actually see the merit of that possibility (though I still am very conflicted and need to think further on this).

Why, then, weren’t prosecutors seeking the same for the pfc’s who committed an almost identical crime on an Iraqi family? They raped a child. They killed two children. They murdered an entire family. The sentences range between 5 years and 110? 5 years!?! I’m not necessarily suggesting that the soldiers involved should receive the death penalty, but parole in 10 years? And a 5 year sentence? People make a lot of noise about making sure sex offenders are registered and publicly known. How about the punishment fitting the crime? How about at least some consistency? I realize the two cases are being tried in different realms — one the world of civilians, one the world of the military. I also understand that the stress of war, and the stress of being overseas in a less than successful mission drives people to do some pretty horrible things, like <a href="My Lai, but this was premeditated — they planned it.

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NYT Article on Family Leave

I am so digging Eyal Press! It seems when I begin reading an interesting, well-researched and well-written article, it is often by Eyal Press. I have previously posted about his book Absolute Convictions. Today I was reading his NYT article on family leave discrimination. Check it out.

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Genealogy

Today I received Henry Louis Gates, Jr’s newest book, Finding Oprah’s Roots. While I’ve never been a huge Oprah fan, I have enormous respect for her, because I think she’s a great role model. The fact that she has her extremely successful book club got many people reading again. She’s enormously generous and intelligent. I’m sure you can find her praises much more passionately laid out in many other places, so let it suffice to say that she’s clearly influential, and mainly in a positive way.

That she has let herself be the centerpiece for this work of research is inspiring. I’ve never given a lot of thought to tracking down my genealogy — for a number of reasons, I’m sure — I’ve historically been young and therefore a little less sentimental in the family roots sort of way (though each year, I feel it creeping up on me more and more — as my Polish roots become more and more important to me), and I know a decent amount of my genealogy already, in that I’ve heard lots of stories from grandparents and parents. It’s pretty clear that all of my relative emigrated from Poland, most likely in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This white immigrant privilege is not something I though about much, either, until I began Gates’ book. While I was aware in the abstract that African Americans who are descendants of slaves do not know their ancestry in terms of what country (part of Africa) their ancestors were brought from nor would they necessarily know who their slave ancestors were because of lack of records, I never thought of it in contrast to my own experience. I was just teaching Toni Morrison’s Sula, and there’s a passage where the narrator describes not knowing who one is, not having a language, a history, etc. The narrator speaks of this in reference to a character who is shell-shocked, but there is an obvious connection to African American history. But to think that here is yet again another form of institutionalized (even is historical) racism. If I wanted to research my genealogy, I would doubtless have an easier time than, say, Oprah. Granted, she has a lot more money at her disposal. Gates says as much, so I’m not sharing anything new, just the fact that I hadn’t yet realized it. I agree that it is important for people to know where they came from. I’m not too far into the book yet, but in flipping through, it looks very interesting.

A coincidental intersection — Sujal was just exploring this website, Geni, and he signed up for it and began getting our relatives to fill it out. As I’ve said, I really hadn’t been into genealogy much, but I’m finding it a bit more interesting suddenly. I don’t think I’ll develop a great passion for it, but at least I’ll have a better understanding.

Colonialism Sucks

In order to keep the grim tone to the week, Sujal and I watched Hotel Rwanda. My school’s Amnesty International showed it at a movie night last year, but I was unable to go, so I was glad to finally see it. It was a powerful story powerfully told. As my neighbor said today, “Anything with Don Cheadle is great.”

On a purely filmic level, it was very well executed. The actors gave believable and stirring performances, and the ineffective characters were effectively portrayed. Nick Nolte did a great job playing an overloaded and sadly ineffective general. Such is history. I found one specific scene particularly powerful. After witnessing the carnage (BTW, for a movie about genocide, the carnage is kept to a minimum, though the filmmakers clearly get their point across. Sometimes the hint of violence is more potent that watching full-blown terror, as we become desensitized and/or we shut down from the horror.), Cheadle’s character, Paul Rusesabagina, (based on the real Paul Rusesabagina) showers and tries to dress himself. It is in doing the mundane activity of tying his tie — that semblance of normalcy — that he has his emotional breakdown. It is so visceral and real. It reminds me of the character of the wife in the novel The Sheltering Sky who must put her makeup on as her daily ritual, even though she has lost her husband and cannot get home. This is like the film version of the objective correlative.

Aside from being a strong film — holy crap! While I knew there was a genocide, I had no understanding of it. What frustrates the hell out of me, and I am only beginning to learn and understand the never-ending effects of colonialism, is that Hutus and Tutsis fought with each other eventually ending up in the Rwandan genocide of the Tutsis, when really, their aggression would have been better aimed at their oppressor: Belgium. Colonialism was and is such an evil institution.

The film is ultimately very inspiring. I hope you are inspired to learn more and to donate to NGO’s to try to right some wrongs put into motion by colonialism.

Amnesty International is an excellent organization.

Donate here to the Hotel Rwanda Rusesabagina Foundation.

NPR’s info on Paul Rusesabagina.

Little India Letter

I have subscrition to this magazine, Little India, that targets an audience of Indian Americans. I started getting it shortly after Sujal and I got engaged — in pert to have some info on wedding vendors, but also to learn aa bit more about my husband’s heritage. It is a general human interst type magazine — not very literary or hardcore journalistic — but a generally well-written (with a few misused idioms) magazine. My favorite write for the magazine is Lavina Melwani. She does good research and has a readable and intelligent repertoire. I first became interested in her writing with the article, “The Colors of Desi.”

I also love reading the letters to the editor. But this month, there’s one that really bothers me. The text follows and here’s a link

As an American woman involved in a relationship with a married Indian man I suggest you do an article on this issue. He is in an arranged marriage and very unhappy. We have been secretly going out for six years. Why do so many Indian men have affairs with white women? Why are they so unhappy?
Anonymous, Via email

I find it troubling. On one hand, it makes some serious assumptions that a large quantity of men in “arranged” marriages are unhappy. I do not know if this is true. It seems to assume that because one man is (or perhaps anecdotally several), that there must be something inherently wrong. She also assumes that being an American woman makes her white. It seems to imply some fault on the part of indian wives, and it places white women in the position of the floozy homewrecker. And in trying to find something redeeming, I’m wondering if there has been investigation. Is there evidence to back up her claims? It just seems like a senseless thing to do — to send that letter in, and it bugs me. Grrrr.

“Articulate”

Here is a good NYT article that discusses the offensiveness of white people calling black people “articulate” as Sen. Biden recently called Sen. Obama. Frankly, the whole statement was wildly offensive — with Biden saying that Obama is “the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.” Again — there are so many problems with the statement, but what really gets me is: the first. Biden, if you’re reading, please drop out now.

The Fall of Ken Lay in Shades of Grey

As I read about Ken Lay‘s death, I remembered an old cliche — that it is harder for White collar criminals to deal with being caught than it is for — well, what would you call non-white collar crimes? We wouldn’t say Blue-collar and boy is it presumptuous to say violent criminals. One thing is clear, it makes for a different kind of drama.

I tend to view the world in a more, shall we say, ‘equitable’ way — that there should be equal punishment, though I also strongly believe that we as a nation should put our efforts into reform rather than straight-up punishment. What do people think about this one? Is it harder for the Ken Lays to serve 20 years than for John Doe who robbed a bank?

I have always had a problem with hierarchies to begin with, so take away the hierarchy, and the white collar criminals won’t feel that archangel fall. I bring this up because I immediately thought that this process has most certainly taken a toll on Mr. Lay, and I feel some sympathy for the stress he must have undergone. We all screw up. But that’s one hell of a way to screw up — and to add immense stress to others’ lives. I wonder if the stress of losing one’s retirement savings has so adversely affected the health of any victims of the crime?

Kinda Cool

I was listening to NPR this morning, and it sounded like they were downplaying the Mayday march, like it didn’t have a huge impact. I wondered what kind of an impact it had. I hadn’t seen any of its effects, but then again, I am a teacher, so I don’t work in commerce. Then Sujal and I went to Trader Joe’s tonight. We were shocked when we saw that they had next to no flowers for sale, where they usually have massive amounts for sale. Then we saw that the cheese seemed pretty picked over as did some of the produce. As we turned into an aisle — HOLY CRAP — there was so little produce we wondered if we were in the right place. There was slim pickins’ for bread, meat, etc. We finally asked someone what was going on. They hadn’t received a shipment since Sunday morning, and they get two shipments per day. Wow!

I was worried that i might be getting a bit too privileged here in safe CT. Thank goodness, I felt the effects of the march. Solidarity!

What is it About Abortion and Buffalo?

I just got done reading this article by Eyal Press called My Father’s Abortion War, which was in the New York Times Magazine on 1/22/06. For those of you who do not have a subscription, it is also here. Many of you may already know that this hits close to home for me for many reasons. First of all, I am a fervent pro-choice believer. Secondly, I am from Buffalo, NY, home of these crazy protests, namely Operation Rescue. Thirdly, a close friend of mine in high school used to attend rescues with her parents, and she and I used to debate the issue. Fourthly, Dr. Slepian, the doctor who was murdered in Buffalo for performing abortions, was my friend’s gynocologist. The list goes on.

In part, I was blind to some of these issues, espcially in their inception, partly because I was in elementary school at the time. But as Randell Terry came to Buffalo leading his rescues, I was in high school. I actually lived in the suburb Cheektowaga, so I didn’t see the protests firsthand, but I recall the news articles and I recall talking to my friend about these rescues. It disgusted me then as it disgusts me now.

I’m not sure what to say here other that Eyal Press does a very good job of capturing the mood of the time, and he eloquently explains the issue. For those who believe that pro-choice folks are single issue voters, the article should be able to depict the intricacies of why it is not. Press does not step by step explain those intricacies, but they are bound up in a society that forces individuals to live in fear. Religious fanaticism is not positive, and if we as a nation are willing to condemn it overseas, we should be willing to condemn it on our own shores.

Sometimes I wonder if we have the hard-headed religious zealots that we do because of the need in the seventeenth century for people to have religious freedom, that there were “fringe” groups in England, and so they came to be “free” to practice their religion, thus cultivating a a new continent of fringe religions. I have never lived in Europe, and while Catholicism seems to have a stronghold in Europe in many places, it does not seem that there is the same intensity of religious fanaticism. Perhaps I am wrong.

I’m teaching Julius Caesar to my kids now, and a student asked why the plebeians don’t think for themselves. While I had a teacherly answer that we are all plebeians, and at times we all do not think for ourselves, we get swept up with the group, I don’t have a true answer. Why don’t they (the Julius Caesar characters or simply people) think for themselves? Let me rephrase, why don’t we think for ourselves?

Passing

It seems like many great people are passing in a short span of time — great people of a tough era: Rosa Parks, Coretta Scott King, and Betty Friedan. Thinking about these three great women, they truly are national heroes. (I hesitate to use the term heroines…, partly because it makes me think of the hapless protagonist of a novel and partly because it makes me think of the lesser counterpart of the hero, sort of like poet and poetess.) I think about the immense changes these women have made to our society, and I cannot think what life would have been like without them. Sure, it’s quite likely other people would have pushed for similar changes. Much of society was ready for these changes, but these women did do amazing trailblazing. I was listening to a tribute to Friedan, as she just passed away yesterday, on Weekend Edition Sunday (on NPR), and the report said something about how she effected change on such a large scale, that it was even beyond what she could have imagined. Thinking about it, it’s true in so many ways. The report talked about how the perception in the ’60’s was that women wanted to marry doctors and lawyers, not be them. Even my own to sisters-in law-to-be are each preparing for one of those two professions. My sister has a high ranking position in Human Resources, and my mother is a business owner. Clearly, we all know women who are in powerful positions. I look at myself as a teacher, in the female dominated and historically relegated position, and I am happy I have the freedom to choose to be here. I do it because I feel it is a place where I can share my passion for literature and be an agent of social justice and change. The passing of these three women will hopefully be following by other trailblazers.