Happy Bastille Day 🙂 a reminder of the 1789 rebellion staged at the infamous prison, which entered in the French Revolution and ended the French monarchy. France’s path to freedom from tyranny wasn’t easy — the guillotine, the Reign of Terror, Napoleon, financial collapse — but the French eventually got democracy, and now we can celebrate with mussels meuniere and tarte tatin.
In 1993, when I was working at a California state agency on a controversial project, every team meeting featured two agency managers suggesting, often, that we should be “getting off the merry-go-round.” It took me awhile to realize the purpose of the merry-go-round metaphor was to sabotage an open discussion of a proposed analytical approach. Whether or not others figured it out, the metaphor had its intended effect. The deciders decided we should be “moving forward.”
Language is powerful and most people naturally deploy short cuts to describe complicated ideas. We process so much information that we often rely on these short cuts to give our brains a break. There are a lot of language short-cuts out there right now and most of them deserve a little scrutiny…
I understand why so many people are angry. I am angry. Over the years, I have had numerous explicitly racist encounters with police from the Bay Area cities of Oakland, Berkeley and Piedmont. I know my black son has had many more, and his are dangerous. I have worried about him every day of his life since he was old enough to walk down the street by himself. It’s all so painful and personal, it’s hard to even think about it.
And yet, I believe police officers should not be the main target of our anger. That’s because they are not the main cause of America’s police brutality problem. If we were to hold every police officer accountable for every act of racism and unjustified violence — and we should — we would still have racist policing and police brutality. That’s because the problem is not “bad apples.” Circumstances and government policy have converged to create a policing culture that promotes racism and violence.
This period of protest and national dialogue should make me feel hopeful but, so far, it makes me more despairing. It reminds me of the racism my son, Gabe, has endured over the years in our “liberal” Bay Area community. It reminds me of the anger I feel for the times I have tried to talk about racial issues and gotten the message that I should move on. It reminds me of the shame I feel for the times I could have done something and didn’t.
In spite of my best efforts, I still think like an economist. Don’t ask me whether that thing is too expensive. Ask me whether it’s worth the price, or whether spending a dollar on that thing is better than spending it on that other thing. During this *unusual* time, the spenders among us are probably thinking a little more like this. Maybe we don’t need 12 pairs of jeans and 30 pairs of shoes. Maybe we don’t need to spend $160 on hair color every month. Maybe we should use the money to plant a garden or support the local food bank. Maybe we should put it away in case one of us gets laid off….
On this Mother’s Day, I am going to begin with a story that makes me cranky but I will end with one that makes me happy. So, as Rachel would say, stay with us.
A couple of nights ago, a reporter on national news (it was Lawrence O’Donnell) told the story of a young friend who left her job to help care for her disabled father. The reporter suggested the nobility of this young woman’s sacrifice and the tender irony of a 25 year-old sleeping in “her childhood bed.” The story concluded with the young woman’s observation that, during this period of “new worries,” her neighbors “swing well away” to give her father’s wheelchair more room than usual on their daily walks. The reporter suggested the neighbors’ gesture was evidence of American “love” and “solidarity.”
I can be annoying with my opinions, which I have convinced myself are excellent even though I suspect they probably sometimes aren’t. For example, I sometimes get in trouble on the subject of religion. Imagine that. And this is a subject that seems to be coming up a lot in conversation these days.
I am still in Singapore and I still have a little jet lag so last night at 3am, I started reading the news. And I noticed something by accident — the photos on top of the headlines seemed to be all white men. This surprised me partly because the news feed on my phone, Flipboard, only sends me articles from what are generally considered to be left-leaning news organizations, like the NYT, The Nation, CNN, MSNBC, and The Atlantic.
So I did a little survey. I flipped through the first 50 articles and counted how many photos showed only white men. And guess what?