The following is a paraphrased chat transcript from earlier in the week. I’m not sharing names, but will note that it originated from someone who lives in one of the states currently going through a COVID spike. It starts like this:
Now, it’s important to know that there are four people included in this chat. Persons A, B, and C are all vaccinated. I don’t know about Person D, but they voted for Trump twice, still think that was a good idea, and has a media diet full of…well, you know.
I’m Person C, by the way.
After this initial exchange, I wasn’t entirely sure whether to contribute to the conversation or not. On one hand, I’m tempted to point out that there are multiple reasons people may not have gotten vaccinated, some arguably legitimate. On the other hand, Person D has no excuse, and is in dire need of a wake-up call before they or someone close to them winds up sick or worse. Of course, this person long ago stopped listening to anything I have to say, so… ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ I just let it go.
A couple days pass. I’m eating my Wheat Chex and browsing Twitter, when I see someone has screen-capped a couple anti-vaccine tweets from Candace “Hitler wasn’t so bad” Owens. I’m not going to bother with what she said (which would just repeat the disinformation and bad faith argument), and will instead link to the Mayo Clinic page on COVID-19 vaccines. For now, just know that Person D is a longtime follower of C.O., and has undoubtedly seen the captured tweets, among others.
This brought me back to the earlier conversation, and out of curiosity I looked up the county vaccination numbers for Person D. They’re pretty dismal (look for Platte County)— as of today, 30% completely vaccinated, and slightly more than that who have had one shot.
So I pull up the chat and ask point blank:
That was a couple days ago and there’s been no response, not that I expected one. Maybe if someone else had asked the question? Anyway, I think that confirms the answer is “No,” which is again, not a surprise. Sad, but not a surprise.
I wish I could end this on something like a positive note, but I just find the whole thing frustrating. Nationally, our COVID case rate is back up where it was last November barreling into the holiday season, when it should be much, much lower. I was in an all-staff meeting at Brown last week, and Ashish Jha said that he expects the current surge to peak in late August or early September. I hope he’s right, but that coincides with the start of the school year, and with so many states hell-bent on bringing back in-person education with no vaccine requirement and questionable masking policies, I fear that it’s only going to get worse from here. Hopefully Person D (and their family) will wise up, but I’m not holding my breath.
At last, it can be revealed! My entry in the Ulysses writing contest was a short story titled, “Dad Reflexes.” It, along with several other winners, was published on the Ulysses blog yesterday. They also included a brief summary of their thoughts on each entry. Here’s what they said about mine:
The premise of this story intrigued us immediately: a superhero who has no idea that he has super powers. How cool is that? The tight dialogues bring in a thrilling speed. Although this is only a short story, the hero’s »Dad Reflexes« seem to be just the first episode in a series of heroic events. We are curious what might happen next in the life of our »oblivious« superhero Del.
More to come later, but here’s the short version of last week’s excitement. The fine folks at Ulysses recently sponsored a writing contest to celebrate Disney’s Flora & Ulysses. I entered, and was one of ten finalists in the shh…not telling yet group. The winning entries are available now on their blog, and if you’re the kind who needs proof, you can see my name at that same address. They should be publishing the remainder of the entries in the next month or two, and I’ll provide an update when mine is available.
(No, this is not the thing I hinted at earlier in the week. That’s still coming.)
Got my COVID vaccine shot this morning, thanks to Chandra. Let’s be honest, left to my own devices I probably wouldn’t have gotten the vaccine until it was required for work. Not because I don’t think it’s important, but because adulting…is not my strong suit. Plus the whole needle thing, about which I remain a big baby. True fact: as the nurse was preparing the injection, she remarked on how they kept the room on the cold side, while all I could think was, “Man, is it hot in here?”
Anyway, Chandra got her jab a couple days ago, and we both got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, so we’re done except for the waiting. It’s only been an hour & a half, so I haven’t been hit with any side effects yet. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that whatever I get will be mild…and in a couple weeks, game night!
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.