I was still working through my morning email when there was a loud “BANG” in the house. Thinking the cats had done something spectacular, I ran upstairs to find Chandra already on the phone to 911, and a flatbed truck smooshed up against the house. The path above is not 100% accurate, but it’s as close as I can gather. In particular, the first couple vehicular hits are probably not in the right place, and Chandra says the dude plowed through our yard twice. There’s more about the incident on the Fall River Reporter.
We’re fine, the cats are fine, as far as I know all the vehicle occupants are fine, and the house should be easily enough repaired. Our Friday was pretty much shot, though.
Because this is about all I have the mental energy for today, for reasons big (that truck) and small (Tr***). Over the summer, I designed and printed a little paper holder for one of those tear-off paper cubes. It has a pen holder, and a slot where I can drop the slips of paper. I keep it on my nightstand, and use it to keep track of the books I’ve read…because why not. I’m sure somewhere out there, Mrs. Millen is thinking, “Great, Jason. Why didn’t you do this forty years ago?”
Anyway, it only covers the latter half of the year, so there’s a bunch of stuff not included in it. The first couple date ranges are estimates. I used orange for purely prose works, and green for graphic novels and comics. The items in red I couldn’t get through. Mr. Moore, if you’re out there, don’t take offense at how I got distracted from your novels. I just found Shakespeare for Squirrels hard to get into, and it was just bad luck that From a Certain Point of View arrived when it did. I’m a sucker for those collections.
Let me start by dispensing with the idea that Donald Trump had anything to do with my awareness of Juneteenth. As always, when that ding-dong says “Nobody knew,” what he means was it was news to him. I will readily admit that I haven’t paid a lot of attention to Juneteenth as a holiday, but I’ve been at least dimly aware of it for a while. However, this is the first year I’m actually doing anything for the holiday.
The reason I’m observing Juneteenth is two-fold. First, with everything that’s going on in this country, it seems important to mark the end of slavery in it…or more precisely, the moment when the last group of Black people were told that slavery had been abolished. Second, like any holiday worth its salt, Juneteenth is providing an excuse to gorge ourselves. In our case, we’re pulling out Weaver D’s cookbook tomorrow and are trying some recipes from it. Automatic.
I should also note that Brown University has recently decided to make Juneteenth a paid holiday, which doesn’t hurt. It’s nice to be part of an organization that whatever its flaws, does seem to be trying to do the right thing. They are encouraging us to take this as a day of reflection, thus my sitting down to try and think some things through.
So. White people are the worst, amirite?
*sigh* Not helpful, I know.
Let me try to structure this a bit. First, how have I personally been affected by, or benefited from racism? Second, what can I do to move the ball forward in ending/correcting it?
There are a few concepts here that I recognize. “Colorblindness” and its variants are one. I couldn’t pinpoint when I wised up to it, but I do remember in college believing in the notion of “I don’t see color.” Another one that pops out is “Fearing people of color.” Yes, I recognize the conflict in that. Had you asked me when I was nineteen if I thought color mattered, I almost certainly would have said no. At the same time, I know damn well I consciously locked the car doors going through certain parts of Kansas City. This is where my time at Northeast Missouri State University (now Truman University) served me well. The combination of having a Black roommate for a year, a couple well-chosen history classes, not to mention being exposed to Spike Lee films all helped to open my eyes, at least some.
There are other items in that pyramid where I honestly don’t know if they’ve affected me. Housing discrimination is at the top of that list. Growing up, did we benefit from discrimination, or did it cause us to live in a segregated neighborhood? Maybe? I don’t remember our place in Independence, but our first house in Liberty was on the edge of a heavily Black neighborhood. We moved a few years later to a different house, where I can’t remember a single Black family living. Was that de facto segregation? Similarly, as an adult, have we been steered away from “bad” neighborhoods that were historically redlined? Again, I don’t know.
I do want to focus on “Police Brutality” for a moment, and tell a small story. This is one I’ve told before, but recent events have put a new spin on it.
Back in June 1998, I was working with NCTM on their Standards 2000 project. At the time I was just finishing up a graduate degree in Instructional Systems Technology, and I was part of the team building the new web site. There were some working meetings in the Bay Area, I think Oakland, and I was flown out there to participate. I forget how long I was there, but it was several days at least.
While I was there, a new Prince CD came out (Newpower Soul, if you’re wondering). There was a CD shop down the road from the hotel we were staying at, so I looked up directions on MapQuest and during a break I walked down there to pick it up.
Halfway there, a cop jumps in front of me, points a gun at my face and does the whole “freeze, hands in the air!” bit. Except he actually said something more like “hands behind your head.” I have a distinct memory of being aware I was doing the wrong thing even as I did it, then having to correct myself. Anyway, he made me lie face-down on the sidewalk while he checked my wallet. Then he took me to a police car parked at a gas station nearby and made me sit in the back while some woman around the corner they didn’t let me see had a chance to tell them whether I was the guy who had assaulted her. The whole time as my heart is racing, I’m either explaining that I’m an IU graduate student or trying to figure out whether I should call the hotel or Chandra, who was back in Bloomington. At any rate, the woman must have said I wasn’t the guy, because they let me go and I got my Prince CD.
Now at first, this seems like just a random police encounter, and a case of mistaken identity. But let’s unpack some of it. To begin with, while I found the whole thing alarming, I never felt like my life was in jeopardy. As a White child, my parents never had to give me “the talk” that so many Black parents have with their sons. Second, think back on all the stories of Black men (and women!) who have been shot dead by police for such things as reaching for their wallet, holding a cell phone, or performing some other innocent action. Remember when I said the cop wanted me to do one thing and in my confusion I did something else? What are the odds that had I been Black I would have shot dead on the spot?
Okay, so I can come up with some examples of white privilege, racism, whatever you want to call it. I don’t feel like this affects my daily existence, but maybe it does, and either way it’s certainly there. The next question is, what can I do to combat it, to be anti-racist? Sadly, I don’t have a good answer to that. I can work to better educate myself, and I’m doing that (book club, anyone?). I can give financially, and both Chandra & I do that, hopefully where the funds can do some good. Hopefully these things help, though it doesn’t feel like much.
What I suspect could be the most impactful is also the most difficult, and that’s talking to White people about racism. The problem is the same one that we’ve all been dealing with since at least 2016 if not before, and that’s White People Don’t Listen (#notallwhitepeople). If you know a Trump voter, you know a racist. Hell, if you know a Republican, you know a racist. I can (and do) talk about this stuff with people, but they’re not the ones who need their minds opened up. Sure, there are always things we don’t know and can share, but ultimately most conversations I have around this are preaching to the choir. The White people I know in that racist camp? They don’t/can’t/won’t hear it. That’s the nut I haven’t been able to crack, and I expect will spend the rest of my life trying to figure out.
So…I got ticked off last night and fired off an email to Dad and Kirsten that read as follows:
A haiku for you dumb assholes:
I tried to warn you But you refused to hear it You helped this happen
I also attached the image below.
Not my finest work, but after months of enforced isolation and days of police brutality ending in yesterday’s stunt, I kind of snapped. I do sometimes fire off these kinds of notes to Kirsten with varying levels of venom and/or pointed facts, but I know that she routes everything from me to the trash, so she never sees them. It’s like scream therapy. Anyway, for whatever reason, I included Dad in last night’s note, though.
Lo and behold, I got a response from him! It read, in its entirety:
That’s 32 lower case Zs, if you’re curious. Apparently that’s the Old Man version of Melania’s “I don’t care, do you?” outfit. Because he doesn’t care that innocent people, including clergy, were attacked just so that Trump could stand in front of a church have his picture taken with a Bible, or that he called for armed forces to kill American protesters exercising their right to free speech. I would say that he doesn’t care about black people, but that’s not news. I’ve known that ever since the “Sun City” album came out back in the eighties.
There’s not really a good part to this story, but there is something that I do find amusing. Remember how Kirsten routes anything I send to the trash? When he responded with his flourish of zeds, he copied her, which means she has almost certainly now seen it. *chef’s kiss*
Oh, almost forgot– no more pseudonyms. Vlad and whatever it was I was using…Burstyn, I think? I’m not using those anymore. Anyone okay with the current president, 100,000+ dead people and a burgeoning dictatorship don’t get the luxury of anonymity. Tell them I said, “Hi.” Not that they care.
Taking the day off today, and I had hoped to spend it goofing off. Instead, thanks to yesterday’s ramblings of a lunatic, I felt compelled to make a PSA. Feel free to download, print, share, etc. Save a life. It’ll be more than the president has done. If you aren’t familiar with this format, here’s a video on how to fold and cut it.
This is one of those things I remember hearing about but could never remember where. It randomly popped across my radar, so I’m posting it here for when I want it later. The study is from 2012, but if you think the results would be any different today…well, you’re probably a Fox viewer (hey, sis!). Key takeaway: people who get their news from Fox know less than people who don’t watch the news at all.
If you’re curious, the article in question here is With impeachment, America’s epistemic crisis has arrived . It’s well worth a read, and it’s a pity that like a lot of things, the people who really need to read it and take it to heart will do absolutely no such thing, because it’s not blessed by the Grand Poobahs of their tribe.
INT. ORRILL HOUSEHOLD
JASON and STUART are sitting in the piano room. JASON is reading on his laptop, and STUART is next to him, chilling as only a cat can.
Hey, Stuart. Can I get you to email something for me?
It’s just a link to an article I found. I want to send it to Burstyn.
I would, but if I send it, they won’t see it.
They’ve thoroughly blocked me from email. I’m hoping if you send it, maybe it will get through.
Dude, you have plenty of water in your bowl. I just filled it this morning. Can you just send the link for me?
Mrow, mr-mrowr, rr?
It’s about tribal epistemology, and how people on the Right have so walled themselves off from anything that conflicts with what they’ve been told, there is no longer any sense of a shared reality.
Mr-mrowr mrr meow?
Yes, the fact that they would ignore this if it comes from me is ironic.
Thanks, dude. And yes, I promise I’ll check your water.
So…we had to say goodbye to Opie yesterday. I want to say something like “0/5 stars, would not recommend,” but…it was time. The last couple of weeks have been rough on him, and well…like I said, it was time.
Let’s back up. We first met Opie back in 2002 when a local pet store had a bunch of shelter cats for adoption. Chandra first saw Stuart, who was screaming for freedom. She immediately wanted to take hime home. At the same time, she also spotted a little orange kitten, and he joined the family, too. What we didn’t know at the time, was that Opie was harboring some tiny bacteria that would soon wreak havoc on his digestive system. This led to him losing a dangerous amount of weight, and multiple trips to the vet. I don’t remember the entire timeline, but it took a good while for someone to figure out what was going on with him. Even when he was sick though, he still wanted to tussle with Stuart, and would paw at the paintings of kittens on the wall of the vet’s examination room. As scary as this time was, this kind of behavior gave us confidence he would pull through.
At the time, I was working from home, so I kept him company and nursed him back to health. He had a tiny plastic container we converted to a litter box, which we kept just behind my office chair in the basement. I fed him Pedialyte, encouraged him to eat as much as possible, and held him on my lap while I worked. I also cleaned that litterbox immediately after he used it, because Oh My Dear God.
Eventually, he got better and I swear overnight went from being a scrawny little kitten to *bloomp* Opie of the gooshy belly. He never got heavy exactly, but after that he always had kind of the physique of an adorable orange couch potato.
Through this, Opie and I bonded pretty closely. He preferred my lap above all others, and at night slept snuggled up against me. He slept hard, too— especially for a cat. More than once I woke up in the middle of the night convinced I had squished him, and it took a thorough toe-tickling or full body jiggling to get him to respond. As a kitten, he also had a tendency to suckle my armpit, which is where I had to draw the line. As I told him repeatedly, “Opie, that’s weird.”
Not that I was the only one Opie was close to. He and Stuart got along famously, playing and snoozing together, though Opie was never quite as into rough-housing as his brother. Back in Georgia, at dinner time the two would tear through the house, and when Opie was done with the game he would barrel under a small cabinet that was barely big enough for him. This was his timeout spot, which Stuart amazingly respected. Even later in life, the two still got into wrestling matches, though nearly always at Stuart’s instigation. Opie still put up with it, but with more of an air of resignation than full participation. They slept together less as well, but under the right circumstances could still be found sharing my lap, or at least lying in close proximity to each other, and not always just to share body warmth.
And yes, Opie liked Chandra, too, aka “Food Lady.” Frankly, he liked pretty much everyone, although it took him a long time to warm up to strangers. Until recent years, it wasn’t uncommon when we had company for him to bury himself under the covers in the middle of the bed to make an Opie lump, and he wouldn’t come out until they were gone. Once he realized that everyone had scratchies for him, he became much more open to meeting people.
He was also king of the nicknames, going variously by Opie, Opus, Opus Maximus, Professor, Sunshine Boy, Bumper Boy, Freckle Nose, Opie Kenopie, etc.
A note on one of those– when Opie was in a good mood, or just making the rounds, he would bump up against everything in sight– walls, door frames, table legs, people legs, chair legs, people legs again. Sometimes he did this hard enough there would be an audible “thunk.” It was his way of telling you he was happy. One one occasion, he was sitting in a doorway, and for whatever reason, I threw up my hands in glee and shouted, “Opie!” He responded by thunking his shoulder into the doorframe.
Yeah, I’m gonna miss that cat.
I don’t have a lot of good photos, but here are a few of him lounging, snoozing, or asking politely if it is time for one or the other. The top photo is from a few years ago, but the rest are all from this summer.