Friday, July 22, 2016

I really should have expected this

At age 43, I have still not learned to anticipate the worst. I am a gullible person, and I expect the best out of people. I always assume that people mean well, unless they're in a book or scripted television.  My English major trained me well to read nuance in texts. In life, my go-to position is that people want to be good and do good above all else.

But if the RNC convention has taught us one thing this week, it's that I may be wrong about people and their good intentions.  

The rise of Donald Trump and the support of his absolutist, fascist responses should not come as a surprise, but it has.

We are less than 100 years past women's suffrage; we are barely fifty years past the Civil Rights Act. So it shouldn't be surprising that a good number of Americans have responded to our first African-American president and our first female Democratic nominee with a yearning for the past. By the past, I mean that some folks are longing for a world where only white guys are visible. When one group of people have been in charge for centuries, it makes sense that there would be an ugly and extreme backlash when it turns out that having women and people of color at the table makes for a different kind of dinner party.  When women and people of color attend the dinner party, it turns out that we start talking about racism, sexism, homophobia, and state structures of oppression.  It turns out that women and people of color are not just grateful to have a few token seats in Congress or state legislatures, we actually want to do something with those seats. We change the party, and suddenly there's marriage equality and a refusal to shut up about the fact that African Americans are disproportionately likely to be killed by police than white Americans. 

So it makes sense that now we get to have the conversation about "taking back our country" and "making America great again." Lots of good reporters and writers have written about how these phrases are code for the good old days when most of our population didn't get to come to the party and the guys in power didn't even have to see or pretend to see the folks who were excluded. 

I don't need to restate those arguments.  I just want to offer some reassurance to those Americans who are thinking that Mussolini made the trains run on time or that Donald Trump doesn't really mean what he says when he uses words like "we don't want those people in our country" or "America First."

If you are feeling freaked out by a world in which we've had a black president and a world where it's at least possible that we will have a female president, I just want you to take a look at the ways that your lives have not changed in the last eight years.  Remember that women started off our American journey in 1776 with limited property rights and no employment protections.  Birth control wasn't even legal until the 1960s.  Slavery was legal until the end of the Civil War, and it took another century to get to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. We are still living with daily racism all around.  The town where I live is still fighting over the Confederate Flag.

So bearing all that history in mind, I'm asking Republicans how much your lives have actually changed for the worse in the last eight years.  I admire President Obama enormously, but he's been a pretty usual American president in a lot of ways.  He's still bombed a lot of countries; American banks and Wall Street are still pretty powerful.  White men are still pretty much in power in the Congress.  What I'm saying here is that white people have not been enslaved or disenfranchised in the last eight years as a revenge move.  Speaking on behalf of the ladies, I feel like I can also guarantee that a Hillary Clinton presidency is not going to result in a Lysistratatype situation.  White men, you're still going get to go to work and buy condoms.
  
Bringing women and people of color into the power structure of our nation is not a big revenge scheme.  It's not a long game.  It's not, "Now's our chance to take revenge on being kept down for CENTURIES." It might be human if that were the plan, but I promise you that it is not. Women and people of color have just wanted opportunity for the last centuries.  We have not wanted to play the same game with the same rules that's been played throughout history.  I don't know how to reassure that we just want a level playing field, but I feel like the "Barack Obama has been president for 8 years and nothing even remotely as terrible as slavery or oppression has happened to you" argument is a strong reassurance. 

Please, please, my fellow Americans, please do not vote for fascism out of your fear.  We know what happens when fascism roosts in a country: slavery, murder, and war.  We shouldn't need a reminder of those consequencesevery century.  But if we can't even figure out that having a woman in the White House is not going to destroy our nation, maybe we will have to learn it again. And the whole world will be worse, noticeably and markedly worse in ways that will make us yearn for whatever oppression people imagine they've endured under the Obama administration.

I really should have expected this

At age 43, I have still not learned to anticipate the worst. I am a gullible person, and I expect the best out of people. I always assume that people mean well, unless they're in a book or scripted television.  My English major trained me well to read nuance in texts. In life, my go-to position is that people want to be good and do good above all else.

But if the RNC convention has taught us one thing this week, it's that I may be wrong about people and their good intentions.  

The rise of Donald Trump and the support of his absolutist, fascist responses should not come as a surprise, but it has.

We are less than 100 years past women's suffrage; we are barely fifty years past the Civil Rights Act. So it shouldn't be surprising that a good number of Americans have responded to our first African-American president and our first female Democratic nominee with a yearning for the past. By the past, I mean that some folks are longing for a world where only white guys are visible. When one group of people have been in charge for centuries, it makes sense that there would be an ugly and extreme backlash when it turns out that having women and people of color at the table makes for a different kind of dinner party.  When women and people of color attend the dinner party, it turns out that we start talking about racism, sexism, homophobia, and state structures of oppression.  It turns out that women and people of color are not just grateful to have a few token seats in Congress or state legislatures, we actually want to do something with those seats. We change the party, and suddenly there's marriage equality and a refusal to shut up about the fact that African Americans are disproportionately likely to be killed by police than white Americans. 

So it makes sense that now we get to have the conversation about "taking back our country" and "making America great again." Lots of good reporters and writers have written about how these phrases are code for the good old days when most of our population didn't get to come to the party and the guys in power didn't even have to see or pretend to see the folks who were excluded. 

I don't need to restate those arguments.  I just want to offer some reassurance to those Americans who are thinking that Mussolini made the trains run on time or that Donald Trump doesn't really mean what he says when he uses words like "we don't want those people in our country" or "America First."

If you are feeling freaked out by a world in which we've had a black president and a world where it's at least possible that we will have a female president, I just want you to take a look at the ways that your lives have not changed in the last eight years.  Remember that women started off our American journey in 1776 with limited property rights and no employment protections.  Birth control wasn't even legal until the 1960s.  Slavery was legal until the end of the Civil War, and it took another century to get to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. We are still living with daily racism all around.  The town where I live is still fighting over the Confederate Flag.

So bearing all that history in mind, I'm asking Republicans how much your lives have actually changed for the worse in the last eight years.  I admire President Obama enormously, but he's been a pretty usual American president in a lot of ways.  He's still bombed a lot of countries; American banks and Wall Street are still pretty powerful.  White men are still pretty much in power in the Congress.  What I'm saying here is that white people have not been enslaved or disenfranchised in the last eight years as a revenge move.  Speaking on behalf of the ladies, I feel like I can also guarantee that a Hillary Clinton presidency is not going to result in a Lysistratatype situation.  White men, you're still going get to go to work and buy condoms.
  
Bringing women and people of color into the power structure of our nation is not a big revenge scheme.  It's not a long game.  It's not, "Now's our chance to take revenge on being kept down for CENTURIES." It might be human if that were the plan, but I promise you that it is not. Women and people of color have just wanted opportunity for the last centuries.  We have not wanted to play the same game with the same rules that's been played throughout history.  I don't know how to reassure that we just want a level playing field, but I feel like the "Barack Obama has been president for 8 years and nothing even remotely as terrible as slavery or oppression has happened to you" argument is a strong reassurance. 

Please, please, my fellow Americans, please do not vote for fascism out of your fear.  We know what happens when fascism roosts in a country: slavery, murder, and war.  We shouldn't need a reminder of those consequencesevery century.  But if we can't even figure out that having a woman in the White House is not going to destroy our nation, maybe we will have to learn it again. And the whole world will be worse, noticeably and markedly worse in ways that will make us yearn for whatever oppression people imagine they've endured under the Obama administration.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Orange is not an ethnicity

Life with an eight year old allows a person to explore all those ideas and baggage that rest beneath our conversations.  Eight year olds don't let you continue to rest on common knowledge, common sense, and what we all know to be true.

Take this morning's conversation on the way to STEM camp.  It started, as do all conversations this summer, with Hamilton. Paul wanted to talk about John Laurens and how he died more than 75 years before slavery would be abolished. And that led to talk about the ways that slavery still holds onto us all more than 150 years later.  I told him about voter id laws and how African Americans are significantly more likely to be victims of state-sanctioned violence than white Americans.

And somehow that's when we ended up at this point of the conversation...

Paul: I think Donald Trump wants to kill all black people.
Jenny: Well, he's not saying that. He has not said that at all. He does want to build a wall to keep more black and brown people from getting into the United States.
Paul:  Oh, he can't do that.  Even if he gets President, he can't make that happen.  It would take, like, a thousand years to build a wall like that..... Wait... he doesn't like black OR brown people... but... but... he has orange skin, so...
Jenny: Yes, I think though that his skin is artificially orange.
Paul:  Oh.... so he was originally white...
Jenny:  Yes, originally white.
Paul:  Oh.

A good mom maybe would have directed the conversation toward cultural constructs of race and how no matter orange Donald Trump becomes, he will still be white.  Or maybe a good mom would have used the talk as a jumping point to talk about the bizarre history of white people, tanning, and bronzing.

But this mom was just a little flabbergasted that in one minute of walking, we had gone from talking about how cool John Laurens was to finding out that one of us did not know that Donald Trump is a white dude and that young people are perceptive in thinking about how much work might be involved in walling off the United States.  So I stuck with "Yes, originally white."

As we walked onto the college campus, I did steer us away from Donald Trump and toward John G. Fee and the founding of Berea College.  I told him how Fee, before the Civil War, founded a college in the South where white and black people got their education together.  I told him that was why we were here now, 150+ years later, and that we would continue to work for the same vision.  And then we tried to figure out how old the buildings around us were and whether they could be built before the Civil War (they weren't).  And then he walked into a college building, to learn to make a computerized ball complete a maze.  And I went home to mow the lawn and think.

Get Off My Lawn (Unless you want to hear about politics for the next 4 months)

This is the post where I warn you that it's about to get political.

Those people who know me in my role as kindly parent-advocate around town may not know how closely I follow national, state, and local politics.  So if you don't want to know that I'm a yeller dog democrat and a bleeding heart liberal and former socialist, this may be the time to kiss my blog goodbye for a few months.

A while back, I had thought that I would keep quiet about the presidential election and get to work on building a secret room in our house.  I thought that the Trump Train was steaming so far ahead that it might be best to keep my head low and secretly begin preparing for resistance work against fascism. You think I'm joking. I'm not. Donald Trump is deliberate pouring gasoline on the fires of white supremacy in this nation, and it behooves us to prepare for a worst case scenario.

But now I'm thinking that Mrs. Clinton has a good chance of being elected if people stand up relentlessly against racism and misogyny from now until November.   I don't know what I can do from Kentucky to do my part.  My state is not going to go for Clinton.

All I know to do is to keep writing and putting words into the air.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Don't plagiarize, kids!

The nation's English teachers are sad today about the Melania Trump Speech-Gate. I used to be an English teacher; I'm married to an English professor.  We're wringing our hands because plagiarism is a crime that wounds us. Words are lovely.  It makes us mad when people steal words. But also, it seems like a lot of people just don't understand what plagiarism is. Candidates, speech writers, pundits, Chris Christie? How did you all get this far without being able to recognize a textbook case of English 101 plagiarism? How did we fail in our teaching?

Shall we wail? Shall we rend our garments? Yes, of course. But let's also remember that it's almost time for the academic year to start. Let's make lemonade  Let's take this opportunity to remind ourselves what plagiarism is. Stay safe this academic year, kids. Don't plagiarize.

So some in the punditocracy seem to be claiming that, since Melania's speech is not word-for-word the same as Michelle's, it's not plagiarism.  But plagiarism is not just a synonym for theft, copying, or cheating. It means these specific things:

(1) Okay, word-for-word copying is one kind of plagiarism.  It's middle school plagiarism; it's not the big leagues of cheating.  This is where you select text with the handy computer mouse and directly copy and paste it into your document.  And yes, that's cheating.

(2) But copying and pasting and then changing just a few words is also cheating.  This is what the offending paragraph from last night's speech looks like.  The text is virtually identical, but the cheater changes a few words so that they can claim they didn't directly copy it.  Students do it because they think they can get away it, and this is the one that makes teachers' heads explode, like the Anger Guy from "Inside Out." Teachers feel like the cheater is saying that the professor is too stupid to notice.

(3) Copying ideas is plagiarizing.   This is when a student rephrases someone's original idea in their own words, but doesn't give credit.   If I write a paper about this funny little concept called gravity and act like I thought of it from my brain and I don't reference Sir Isaac Newton, it's plagiarism. This is the sort of cheating that's often accidental and easy to fix.  Teachers love to help students figure out how to properly give credit in their writing.

(4) Not citing your sources is plagiarism.  This kind of plagiarism is not really applicable to last night.  No one expects a convention speaker to present a properly spaced and indented Chicago Style bibliography.  But this is the kind of cheating that I end up talking a lot about with the herds of kids that are doing homework around my kitchen table.  If you got the information from a wikipedia article and you don't say where you found that information, you're plagiarizing.

But remember context counts:  Not everything that's similar is plagiarism. The Trump speechwriters could try to argue that, because a lot of what was copied was conventional wisdom about presidential candidates, it was just a coincidence.  The problem is that the source material is so close and so lengthy that it's hard to argue that some direct copying wasn't involved. In the classroom, there are times when people say similar things and aren't copying each other.  I'm betting my explanation of plagiarism is not the first to appear today, and it's going to have some similarities to other explanations because plagiarism is a specific thing.  Also, looking above, I used phrases like "rend our garments" and "make lemonade" in my writing.  I didn't create those phrases and I didn't want you think I did.  Those phrases are specific to our culture, evoking the Bible in the first case and Wise Adages in the second.  I wanted you to think about those specific cultural elements when I jotted them down, and I expected you to know them as a reader.  I think it's hard for the Trump writers to argue that Mrs. Obama's speech has so entered our common vocabulary that Mrs. Trump was merely using common aphorisms in her speech.

Finally, teachers want to help you.  English teachers do not want you to plagiarize.  They do not want to catch you plagiarizing. More importantly, they don't want you to cheat in your other classes as you go forward. They want you to learn something that you'll use:  how to give credit to thinkers and writers for their words. If you're not sure what you're doing, if you think that you may be having trouble with the way you're acknowledging your sources, there is an easy fix.  Ask your teacher.  Ask for help. Your teachers are experts.You'll never get in trouble for wanting to do right and for taking the time to learn how to do right.

All right, are we all ready for the fall semester?  Let's do some learning, some writing, and some giving credit!  Go English teacher team!

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Hamilton Summer

This summer, this glorious summer, has been the season of Hamilton.  

It's the summer when we've fallen asleep with the words in our heads, dreamed them, and then woke up again with new songs.  

It's the summer where it seems that our oldest has begun the launch countdown.  With another four years of counting down to adulthood, it's  a long launch sequence.  But with her taking on more work and taking more care of her own self, with the steady flow of teenagers in and out of the house, adulthood seems much closer than babyhood.  And it is.  

It's the summer where the youngest has become a writer.  He spends hours in his room, cranking out small books about Pokemon and Angry Birds.  He's gotten a sore neck from too many hours spent bent over his writing.  His books are largely unreadable to outside eyes, unacquainted with the tortured handwriting and spelling that our family seems to need to pass through on the way out of elementary school.  But with a thick stack of finished books and hundreds of hours since May, there's no doubt that he is now a writer.  

For me, it's been a summer of noticing.  Last summer, the summer of miscarriage and cancer scares and of months of regaining my strength, looms.  I remember how fraught last summer was, and so I'm cherishing this undramatic June.  I'm tending my garden, really.  I'm weeding, watering, and watching the tomatoes ripen and the okra blossom.  I'm watching the children in what I think may be the last Little Kid Summer.  The great thing about this decade in life, when a person is lucky enough to make it here, is that it becomes easier to notice in the moment how lucky I am to be here and to have my family around me.  

While the three of us who are Daytime Residents of the home have pursued our private thoughts and interests, our Hamilton obsession has brought us together.  I caught the bug first, followed by Elly and then Paul.  Chris, who does not love musical theatre, generously tolerated us as we drove all the way to South Carolina and back with the cast recording blasting through those fancy Honda Accord speakers.  Even more generously, he has read a kids' picture encyclopedia of the Founding Fathers to Paul.  He has listened to Elly's random facts about the play and the history at dinner.  He has listened to a podcast about the Schuyler sisters to better his supper conversation game.  

As for the rest of us, we're seeking out facts and books.  Elly brings us memes from the land of tumblr and pinterest.  We're singing all the time, all day and into the night.  At any point, a passerby will hear "Work! Work!"  At any other point, "No, Paul, NO Hercules Mulligan for you!"  At any point, "And Peggy!"

So thank you, Lin Manuel Miranda and everyone associated with Hamilton, for making our sleepy Kentucky home part of the greatest city in the world for Summer 2016.