Strength of Purpose: Two black women standing for rights

 

Set the Wayback Machine

to 1994. Just the ordinary sort of 1994, when my children were two and six years old.

We are watching X-Men during Saturday morning cartoons. My son is really into super-heroes, and in case you don’t know, the X-Men are mutant super-heroes.

My daughter asks me, “What’s a mutant?” I take a deep breath, trying to figure out how to explain genetic mutation to a six-year old. Thankfully, with my children this wasn’t too difficult.

“Remember the other week when I told you what DNA is? The instructions that tell the different parts of your body how to grow?” She remembers. “Sometimes the DNA changes, and that’s called a mutation. A Monoceratops changing into a Triceratops s a mutation.”* We watch some more of the cartoon.

She asks me, “Are all mutants weird like the X-Men, and have super powers?”

“No. That’s just the cartoon part. If you always have yellow flowers and suddenly get a red flower, that’s a mutation. In fact, everything in the world started out as a mutation, or else there would be nothing but itty-bitty plants floating in the ocean.”

She decides that would be boring.

“Why do those people hate the X-Men? The X-Men are good guys.”

“They hate them because they’re bigots. ‘Bigots’ means when people hate other people because of something like what church they go to, or where they’re from, or how they look. The people hate the X-Men because they look different, and can do different things, and they’re scared of them.”

“But that’s not fair,” she complains, “The X-Men are nice.”

“That’s right. Bigotry isn’t fair, and it isn’t nice.”

“I like Storm the best.”

Storm is a black woman with long white hair who can control the weather, and fly. “Me, too.” I answer.

“I want to be Storm for Halloween.”

“O.K.”

A few nights later, we are reading The Enormous Egg by Oliver Butterworth. This is one of my favorite stories from when I was growing up, a tall tale about a Triceratops dinosaur that somehow hatches from an egg laid by a chicken, and the consequences for the boy in the story. She has loved dinosaurs since she was a mere tot of two. We read two chapters into the book. She read a few paragraphs, sounding out new words, and then realised, “The chicken laid a mutant egg!”

This is why you should watch television with your children. In one Saturday morning cartoon, we have covered biology and bigotry, and made a tentative Halloween costume decision.

__________

* I know, I know, it’s more complex than that. All you evolutionary biologists out there will have to work with me on that. (-;

Gee, what would YOU call it?

Coffeespew warning:

The owner of an Austrian gasthouse refused a booking by a family because they are Jewish.  

The mayor of Serfaus, Georg Mangott, defended Monz’s right to refuse guests, and said the incident should not be interpreted as antisemitic.

Piques and Valleys

So, I’ve been rather absent from bloggery lately due to spending evenings sorting through vast boxes of paper archives, moving books, applying for jobs to keep a roof over our heads, or attempting to sleep off this virus. I now have removed a cubic meter of paperness from our house, and transferred a few hundred books from one room to another. I still have the virus (or maybe a second one, as our students have not the best hygiene), but not the second job.

(Now, if anyone is looking for an experienced secondary or college tutor or after-school care for special-needs children, let me know via andreasbuzzing care of my gmail account.)

But aside from all that, there have been some thought-provoking ups and downs in the news that I don’t want to let pass before they become “olds”:

In an brief article in the New York Times, researchers from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine studied some 11,000 third-grade students, and found that Read the rest of this entry »

Dark, stormy days

It’s not just the weather.

Christschool’s recent post, “Fleeting Innocence, Captured Before It’s Gone” got me thinking and connecting distant points, much in the manner of the orb-weaver spider that connects a broadening spiral of nodes across our back door each night.

We slide further into a scarier world.  It is not just a world where there is less freedom and diversity plus more violence and hate-crime, but rather a world that not only publicly accepts and condones, but even demands the necessity of violence.

It’s there in the realm of education, where the requirements for instruction and inclusion have created new opportunities for some spiteful people to create long-lasting terror for those forcibly obliged to attend.  When children are harassed and bullied and tormented in school to the point they finally react, their persecutors (and those who allow such events to continue) strike back and complain, “We must be allowed to forcibly control and harm those misbehaving children so we can ‘protect’ everyone.”

It’s there in the realm of employment, where the openness of accommodations and efforts of ordinary people to use them for work, shopping and leisure has provided some people with new bases for the discrimination and harassment of their coworkers, employees, and customers.  “They shouldn’t be there if they don’t want to deal with the problems they’re going to create by existing in the public sphere.  It’s too much money or trouble, or uses up resources that Real People need.  They should just stay at home or be gotten rid of.”

It’s there in the realm of national security, where anyone who is suspected of activity can be detained for years without legal process, and tortured as well.  Even ordinary, law-abiding citizens cannot expect to have the same safeguards for rights and liberties that they used to.  “Freedom isn’t free.”

Whereas violence was previously ignored, or dismissed as unimportant, or officially diminished (downgraded) as being less severe than it was, now we have an increasing number of situations where violence is seen as not only inevitable, but also as excusable, desirable, beneficial and even necessary.

Freedom and safety are obverse and reverse of the same coin; when we seek to increase one, we lose more of the other.

Sadly, as economic and political times get more anxious, groups of people withdraw back to their tribal units in paranoia.  The backward, rigid end of conservatism or tribalism reacts to uncertainty and fear by enforcing greater controls.  To some, eliminating tolerance for the Other and superstitiously making sacrifices to appease divine forces seems to be the only way to ward off Bad Things from happening.  Somebody has to pay.  It must be Somebody’s fault.  If Somebody who isn’t behaving exactly as the codes specify is punished, then divine pleasure might be gained.  If Somebody can be blamed for causing our problems, then swift and great revenge is appropriate and balance will be restored.

But scapegoating and harming the few of the outgroup does nothing to ensure that all are safe.  Hardly anyone in the larger public will even listen, and most don’t even want to hear what’s really happening.  We are sinking in insidious evil that is frosted-over in colourful “truthiness” sugar-coating, and is obscured by galas of newslessness about celebrity foibles and the nonsense over manufactroversies.  The bits that do get reported are so shouted-over with “spin” that great chunks of the public can’t even hear them, much less realise the cognitive dissonance.  Such platitudes are just the 21st-century version of Orwellian Newspeak, where we are being sold the terrifying message that

“PAIN IS SAFETY”

Don’t you believe it.  Be careful when there seems to be a break in the clouds; sometimes it’s just the eye of the hurricane.

Hate crime spinning out of control

I spent many happy hours spinning around in circles as a child: on the front lawn with arms flung out, on the back yard swing, wheeling in circles on my bike at the end of the cul-de-sac, circling with one hand clinging to the post that held up the floor joist I-beam in the basement, and of course, on the small merry-go-round of the gradeschool playground. Spinning is fun!  (Especially so if you can do so for long periods without even getting vertigo.)

But none of our neighbors ever threatened to burn down our house because I was twirling around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around.  Not like this horrific man in Seattle, Mark Joe Levison, who apparently found the sight of a 13-year old boy, Anthony Engen, playing outside or (oh-my-gosh!) looking at his yard to be too antagonising.

The only redeeming features in such a news item is that the police took his threats seriously, as apparently the man has quite the record of charges for assault and felonies in two states.  Moreover, he has been charged with “malicious harassment”, which is Washington’s hate-crime law.

Yes, a news source is actually referring to such threats made against someone just because they are obviously autistic as a hate crime.  Sadly, I am noting this because it is not common.

(Where are we going, and what are we doing in this handbasket?!)

Hate Speech: Not Just For Strangers Any More

(Apologies for unsettling anyone’s recent meal.)

My news aggregator came up with this doozy of a quote the other day. It was an editorial reply to an article about Kathleen Seidel, and I’m not going to quote the entire letter. (Follow the link to read it yourself — if you want to reply to the author, do so on that newspaper’s reply page.)

I am one of those parents who has watched my autistic son go from being a vegetable to becoming human, thanks to chelation.

Okay folks, let’s get this straight.

These are vegetables:

These are children:

It is quite insulting at the personal level, and damaging at the social level to describe people with autism or another other condition as being “vegetables”. Doubtless the author believes that their child has improved due to the effects of an unproven “treatment” for an unsubstantiated diagnoses (e.g. autism as mercury poisoning from vaccines). But even if the diagnosis and the treatment actually had any factual basis, that would still not make such comments appropriate.

How would YOU feel if your parents described you as a “vegetable”?

Or as “having rotting brains”?

Or as a “train wreck”?

Or that your condition “relentlessly sucks life’s marrow out of the family members”?

Or as “an empty shell”?

Or as “soulless”?

Or that “Autism is worse than cancer in many ways, because the person with autism has a normal lifespan”?

Or as having “mad child disease”

Or that you “would have been better off aborted” because regardless of your aptitudes or potential skills, your existance is automatically assumed to be a “burden on society”.

I’m not making these terms up; you can google them. People with disabilities face enough stereotyping, discrimination, abuse, bullying, and are murdered more often than those without. (I’m not using hyperbole; click here or here.) Describing disabilities in such sensationalistic terms and derogatory ways does nothing to help people become better educated, better integrated into society and employed, or become better accepted in their schools, workplaces, social organisations and families.

More than that, one really has to wonder, What kind of parent describes their child in such insulting ways? And does so to the entire world? Such treatment to children over their lives does not bode well for their psychosocial development, that’s for sure.

When you hear people describing their family members, their students, peers, coworkers, or anyone else they know in such terms, take a moment to ask them,

  • Why they use such descriptions?
  • Do they really believe it, or are they just repeating something they’ve heard?
  • Would they want to be described that way?
  • How else can they describe their frustration or disappointmnet with events in life without insulting people like this?

But most of all, we need to be mindful when we speak up about such hate talk, and not use similarly disparaging terms. We don’t want to become that which we despise.

(A request to people commenting: please use appropriate language — follow the guidelines described in this post.)

The 3-pound Exemption (disembodied woo)

You gotta feel sorry for Topeka, Kansas. The state’s capital city is not only home to the infamous Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church, and has recently been the battleground for Intelligent Design vs Evolution counter-counter-legislation by the school board (currently with the majority ruling pro-science), but now the capitol is host to the paranoid propaganda by the CCHR. CCHR is the Citizens Commision on Human Rights, which despite the generic name is really just a front for Scientology. Their exhibit is titled, “Psychiatry: An Industry of Death” (well, no hidden biases there). Correspondent for the Kansas City Star newspaper, David Klepper, writes that the “the Capitol sees its share of traveling displays and wandering weirdness”. He notes that any group that can pay the fee is allowed to put up a display as long as it is not obscene, and describes the content thusly: Read the rest of this entry »