Skip to content

Month: July 2019

it’s just words – or is it?

So much of today’s political climate is just nasty – and that’s talking about nearly everyone. It’s bad enough when walking through such a minefield, but when you have direct experience in some things and not so direct experience (like a hubby, son or close friend), the words one chooses to use mean something. Mine do.

So is it just words? No, says this writer, linguist and former English teacher. Your choice of words comes with connotations – not just what something means to you today – but sometimes words have history and meaning that makes some things a no go area.

This post is much about Charlottesville as anything. I was there. I was home telling my young friends not to go downtown. My tenant explained to me why she was going and I understood but her decision could have been the wrong one – as one young woman found out the hard way.

I knew too much going in – I remembered how the Kent State shootings turned my world upside down. I was not yet 19, in college and a hippie. I had demonstrated in anti-war protests and to have people like me dying in doing just what I had already done was life changing. Complicating the situation further, my first cousin was attending Kent State. I was scared then and was scared before the rally two years ago.

Charlottesville Unite the Right Lessons

I was traumatized after Heather died. Most folks I knew were also traumatized. Charlottesville was traumatized. I went into counseling because that’s my “go to” when the world seems wrong. (I also try to process before speaking out.)

Two years later the trauma has faded, thank heavens. And I now feel able to speak out with some objectivity (notice I did not say completely objectively). Besides Heather’s murder, I also was shocked by what my friends and acquaintances were saying in response. I was shocked by the physical reactions of some who took their anger out on the city council. I was totally dismayed that the town simply quit functioning in many ways. I had loved Charlottesville til then. I am thrilled to not live there now.

The whole stupid thing was about the statues. Now, I am a southerner but I was kinda surprised to see that large (but gorgeous) statue of Robert E. Lee and Traveler when I first saw it. I am a Georgian and not a Virginian so there was history I wasn’t in tune with there, I grant you. I’m not going to go into the details of how this all came about except to say a teenager – who did not live in the city – was the start of it all. The whole thing was not handled properly with respect to her, the city council or some of the idiots who broke out the dang Confederate flag again.

I was against removing the two statues. Estimates ranged from $500,000 to a million and Charlottesville has no affordable housing. I thought it to be a poor use of the money and advocated for the idea of added historical context to both.

I was informed I was racist.

If I did not toe the line and advocate for the removal, I was a racist.

Interestingly enough, no one was interested in my reasoning, my motives – even my “best” friend from NJ who happens to be of African American descent assigned motivations to me, the senior southerner, without asking me a dang thing.

This is part of what is happening today on a larger scale in our society. Folks screaming racism at any deviance from the politically correct terminology. Angry people, who know wrong when they see it, then reach for the most recent popular (and the more acceptable politically correct) way to describe something.

This political correctness happens on all sides, all political parties, everywhere. And I’m tired of it. So let’s talk about words and their meanings.

What is racism?

“prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.”

Okay, what about bigotry?

“intolerance toward those who hold different opinions from oneself.”

Sexism?

“prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination, typically against women, on the basis of sex ” Misogyny is not synonymous but getting there.

And ageism?

“prejudice or discrimination on the grounds of a person’s age.”

So racism? No, I’m not black.

But my son is Hispanic and I was married to a brown man for a decade back when that kind of thing was not tolerated so well. I also was a military wife during those years and I spent plenty of time with other folks of color. I have been glared out and told I “should be ashamed of myself” and worse.

No, I’m not black but my memories of growing up in white Georgia just simply were not good. I knew something was wrong. I was raised by an Irish-Polack Catholic New Jersey father and a forward thinking southern mother. My family did not use the “n” word. In fact I never had someone use it in a conversation with me until after my son was born. But I was scared. I knew that if I followed my natural inclination and made black friends or dated black that my physical safety was at risk. I remember that fear vividly. Fear for me, my friends (black and white) and family. But I buried it. After Charlottesville, the memories hit me full force.

If I remember being afraid, I can make a guess at what it must have been like for blacks back then. I certainly did not know that at the time but had plenty of proof later in life with black friends who refused to get out of a car at a convenience store (he was younger by several decades than I) and older ones who are still scared to stay at a hotel or motel. I do have “white privilege” in that I could and can still today choose what to do without having to worry about my race. I do understand that.

But look at those other terms: bigotry, sexism and ageism.

I am well experienced with bigotry.

I experienced a lot of bigotry growing up in Georgia as I was a progressive, thinking person who did not keep quiet. I was always a minority voice in Georgia, even up til I left in 2008. As a hippie, I experienced this numerous times because I and my husband and friends had long hair and granny glasses. One specific event in 1970 comes to mind. As we were heading out to begin our married life in our ancient car, one tire started going flat. We stopped at a little hole in the road in a small community. The guy started filling up the tire for us – then filled it and filled until it blew. That was not by accident. He and friends obviously thought that was funny.

I also was alerted to the fact that it was not just blacks who were the target. In 1974 I moved to Tacoma, Washington. Along the trip and then while there, I found the treatment of Indians and Asians to be just as bad as what the blacks experienced in the South.

Sexism?

I have quite a few tales about sexism. Let’s see…I’ve been told to my face that I would not even be interviewed for a job because I was a woman. I have experienced a more subtle version of that in technology. It can be really hard to get and keep a decent job in IT — because there are mostly men there. (more about prejudice in hiring processes in a later post).

And ageism?

Starting with the Charlottesville events, I have been told over and over again that my opinions don’t count cause I’m too old. I am seeing more and more folks saying my generation didn’t fix anything – that we failed – that all of us are conservative and just too old.

The icing on the cake: prejudice?

“preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience”
In other words all of the above.

So if you are going to talk about racism, I have a bit of advice.

Take care who you accuse. Take care in choosing your words.

First, obviously people can be perceived as racist based on their remarks or actions. That word is bandied around way too much, however. My first encounter was as the academic manager of a private technical school about 20 years ago. One of the classes I created and taught was about finding a job. I have a lot of experience in this area as a business owner, manager, writer and researcher. I said from my practical stance as a business owner that one should use “standard” English in a job interview. And yes, I was saying that the vernacular used by young people (and yes, black young people) is not appropriate in that situation and could hinder someone getting a job. Employers like well-spoken employees that can be understood by anyone especially in public facing jobs. (they don’t seem to care today when you call customer support.) Perhaps my students would have taken that better if I was not white. It did create quite a stir.

Then they called me racist in Charlottesville. Sorry, but I do not believe my race is superior. I am a practical person. I have a good idea of what it’s like to have darker skin. I have witnessed discrimination based on ethnicity when my own son was denied a job. And yes, that happened when I was in the room.

I have experienced prejudice, bigotry, sexism, and ageism. I’m tired of it. I don’t care who you are or where you are coming from, do not ascribe motives to me when you have never discussed said motives with me. Do not call me names. It does not matter where on the political spectrum you are, but I do see the worse offenders as those on the far ends of the spectrum in both directions.

So how does this apply in today’s political climate?

It’s all about name-calling, it’s all about not talking with the other side, it’s all about him and me and if you aren’t with me, then you are against. I don’t know if Trump is a racist – I’m sure he doesn’t think he is. I don’t know his motives (sure, I can guess). What I do know is that he is xenophobic. Proudly xenophobic.

Xenophobia is ” fear and hatred of strangers or foreigners or of anything that is strange or foreign “

Occasionally you’ll hear that said – not as often as racism – but there is no question Trump is xenophobic. I’ve seen this at work before in Georgia. I see it today here in Maine. It’s the one commonality encapsulated in Trump’s words, ” “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.” You aren’t like us and shouldn’t be here because you are different. For some reason Trump and his followers are just really really really afraid of strangers and foreigners. I’m not going to dig into this any deeper. I don’t need to.

This article from the NY Times is most relevant. The historical roots of Trump’s comments have a long disgusting history in our country. He never made any attempt to disguise this, he has just shined a light on these feelings – telling folks it’s okay to be xenophobic and yes, there are quite a few of them in our country. I’ve met them. I’ve talked to them and no, they aren’t one kind of person and many don’t even see this as conflicting with how they actually live their lives.

Historically, it comes in waves.

In the 1600s, it was the religious dissidents.
In the late 1700s, it was the non-citizens.
In the 1840s and later, it was the Irish and the Catholics.
In the 1880s, it was the Chinese.
In WWWII, it was both the Germans and the Japanese. (Read George Takei’s words)
In the 1960/70s, it was the anti-war protestors.
In the 1990s , it was the Mexicans (brought into Georgia by the poultry industry to work) in Georgia. I met a guy who bragged about going to Mexico to recruit workers.
And today, read Rep. Ted Lieu’s words about being a naturalized citizen, raised in the US since the age of 3.

Today it seems to be a mishmash of all of the above – anyone not white or who was not born here (or your parents or your grandparents who were not born here).

This is just wrong, un-American, anti-American, nationalistic, xenophobic and does not represent our country. In the end it doesn’t really which words you use to describe it beyond it is just wrong. Choose your words carefully though ’cause this English teacher may quiz you on it!

I’m back…

My last post before today was nearly 2 years ago. In the meantime, I’ve been working on moving to Maine and healing from my last surgery. A year after our move, I’m working on figuring out what I want to do with the rest of my life.

I may be old but since Mom’s still alive at 98, I may get even older still. In the meantime, I still have to worry about working and making enough money to keep the roof over our heads. Full retirement will only come when I can no longer work. I’m not really happy about that but needs must.

So I’ve been trying to figure out what to do with my business and my life. I’m restarting the business though the income is likely to be less due to changes in my technological niche. I’m not starting over. The first decision is now reality.

The most important decision now is what to concentrate on otherwise. I’m not riding off into the sunset or into my tiny garden and ignoring what is happening in the world today. So many things I’ve hesitated writing about because of the possibility of blow back from angry folks. The world is so different than what I faced when I was writing opinion columns back in Oglethorpe County, Georgia, in the early 2000s. At least those whose disagreed with me then weren’t able to attack me online!

There are two issues I want to work on. They are separate but not separate – seniors and disability. Of course, not all seniors are disabled just as all disabled persons are not young and in a wheelchair. So separate issues but for me, they are close to being the same.

My husband developed Rheumatoid Arthritis around 2004 and we got dumped into disability problems before either of us became “senior”. Now I also am disabled due to the effects of a long time genetic issue. So I have even more experience in this arena than I would ever wish on anyone.

Of course, senior issues themselves have been ongoing forever. Nothing new there but nowadays we are also fighting the new okay prejudice – ageism. Since I am still working and in the tech industry, I’ve had to deal with that on some levels before. Today, however, I’m now being bombarded by this messaging of 1) how my generation failed and is at fault for most things, 2) I’m too old to understand, 3) no one is listening to me due to my age.

The first time I ran into this as a major issue was following the Unite the Right rally. I lived in Charlottesville from 2008 to 2018 so I was on the front lines (and Facebook) to witness that disaster. I could see on Facebook how strong the reactions were by my young friends. They were so angry that those folks were coming. Some started saying they would lay down their lives to protect the town and our nation from such abhorrent behavior and prejudice. On the other hand, some locals were also watching what was being said on the alt-right forums and I knew the invaders were talking violence.

I warned folks not to go downtown. Not to give those folks witness. To ignore and to stay safe. You see, I remember being that age. I remember protesting. I remember Kent State where my first cousin was attending at the time. I remember waking up when young people like me started dying.

I’m also hyper-vigilant. There’s no point in rehashing old personal history now but let’s just say I understand who I am and why I am me. My being hyper-vigilant is occasionally a problem but it can make me more aware of the ramifications of events and people’s behavior. My inability to prevent the death of a vibrant young woman in Charlottesville haunts me still but counseling has put that into perspective – counseling that folks need after traumatic events and many really still need today in Charlottesville.

Charlottesville was my introduction to several types of PC. I’ve never been a fan of political correctness. I certainly don’t want to offend but after all these decades of change and all my research, I do also know that there really isn’t a “right” way or “wrong” way to speak sometimes. Most recently, this was highlighted for me in the disability arena.

A column I read spoke of this problem for the disabled population. In the end I agreed with her: I am disabled and I have multiple disabilities. There just is no politically correct way to speak about this – don’t try to tell me there is. It is not all who I am though. It’s just a label that enables me to justify speaking to these issues whether it’s in a blog post or real life. Call me what you want; just don’t try to hide me or ignore me.

For example, due to my multiple disabilities, vocational rehabilitation paid for my hearing aids. If you don’t realize it, Medicare does not pay for hearing aids. I’m still working and to say the least I’m not making enough money to enable me to spend that nearly $5000. I was very pleased when I found out I could get them from voc rehab and I’m very pleased to tell you it has made a major difference in my life, my attitude and my ability to continue working as a self-employed business person.

But getting those hearing aids took 7 months. Why, you might ask? Because several folks just simply didn’t do their jobs. What should have been only a couple of months at most turned out to be a nightmare of constantly calling to get action on procedures that simply were not followed. Obviously, the employees just didn’t care.

They didn’t care enough about their clients to do their jobs. My local legislative representative also does not seem to care about seniors or the disabled. That’s another story; however, it looks like that maybe where I can make a difference. So tune in later for that!

Other disability issues include the ideas that most folks are in wheelchairs, that young people can’t be disabled, that it’s okay for a non-disabled person to vocally attack people who have invisible disabilities, that’s it’s okay not to hire employees with disabilities, that it’s okay to ignore even obvious signs of disability.

So I’m back. And I’m writing about the issues that matter the most to me. If you don’t like what I have to say, just move along. Nothing to see here. If you like what I say – share the links.

Are Millenials Listening?

I am an angry white old person. Yep.

I’m angry at many things right now as many people are also, but one of the nastiest quiet bits of today’s political situation hasn’t been highlighted like the rest. So what am I angry about?

The administration. Need I say more? Totally disgusted at policies and behaviors. Tried to emphasize the dangers of Trump’s presidency before the election. My first presidential election? I voted for McGovern. I remember.

The rise of the right – I just moved to Maine from 10 years in Charlottesville, VA. I was there during the Unite the Right rally. I tried to warn folks not to go downtown. I remember Kent State and felt the situation in C’ville was similarly dangerous. I remembered.

The lack of progress for women. 50 years since high school. I was so angry the ERA did not get ratified yet had some young women tell me a few years ago that feminism was a dirty word. I remember how bad it was back in the 60’s and 70’s. I know how far we have left to go, better than many young women.

The understandable anger of people of color. I remember growing up in Georgia. I remember my fear – as a white person, I could feel it. I could see what was happening around me. I know what has happened since. I remember.

The attitude towards those who are different. My son’s father was hispanic. My son is third generation American on that side and doesn’t speak Spanish. I remember the prejudice I saw first hand only a few years ago when he was looking for work.

I remember.

So when millenials like Victoria Hugo-Vidal in the Kennebec Journal talks about angry old white people, I get even more angry.

Ageism is the new okay pc. It’s okay for young people to tell old people to shut up. It’s okay to brand a very large population as biased and out of date due to their age.

I remember at age 21 also thinking that 30 was dead. I get it. But it is not okay. It is wrong on just as many levels as anything else happening today.

What I have found over the past couple of years is that no one wants to hear what I have to say.

C’mon, Victoria and all you millenials. I’ll be glad to talk to you. Will you listen?