Nurturing creativity with art, animals, and science fiction

Category: Equity and Equality Issues Page 1 of 13

This square image has a variegated background with a tan-edged, variegated rectangle on a layer floating above the background layer. Three square images from the blog post are arranged on the diagonal across the middle. They overlap each other – but not enough that we can’t see what they are. Design by Jan S. Gephardt.

A Mixed Bag in April

I had a mixed bag in April, when it comes to posts on The Weird Blog . . . and also when it comes to just about everything else, too. My ongoing book review work continues. However, I prefer to blog about books and share their reviews in themed groups of three to five. I didn’t have neatly themed groups of much of anything in April.

Book review topics were only one category of “hodgepodge” in April. I’m also transitioning out of the intense burst of art direction projects (see more below, for those). And because beta reader comments have now come in for Bone of Contention I made another kind of transition, back into working on the polishing round of revisions.

Transitions of that sort are a recipe for “mixed bag.” So are random variables, and we had one enormous new “random variable” in our household this month. In my last novel, A Bone to Pick, my fictional characters Charlie, Hildie, and Rex discovered that random variables can sometimes pack a nasty punch. Our new household random variable wasn’t what I’d call nasty – but he did prove to be extremely time- and energy-consuming.

New husky puppy Moon Gephardt in action: Clockwise from upper left, walking on the wall, chewing on and tossing a toy, and Moon takes a good sniff of Yoshi, while Yoshi sends an imploring look toward the camera. All photos © 2024 by Jan S. Gephardt.
See Credits below.

Meet Moon, Our Random Variable

Moon, our new dog, contributed more than his share to that mixed bag in April. Every new household member arrives bringing challenges. When my son adopted a year-old husky at the end of March, we thought we knew what we were getting into, because we’d had a lot of dogs in our lives. But I gained a whole new appreciation for the “puppy sequence” in the movie Togo after a few weeks of living with Moon. Like Togo, Moon is a Siberian husky.

In true husky fashion, he is intelligent, creative, charming, loving, persistent, and athletic. He’s a wonderful dog. And he’s been giving me an awesome experience to take notes for future books when XK9 puppies come on the scene. He’s also lighting-fast, extremely strong, bullheaded, and needs constant watching.

We have a senior cat, a middle-aged cat, and a middle-aged, somewhat smaller dog. They range from hanging out amicably when Moon’s feeling mellow, to being irritated by Moon, and sometimes to actively being in danger from him. That’s not because he’s mean. It’s simply because he’s so much bigger, stronger, and faster – and he’s a puppy, so he doesn’t know his own strength.

Even when my husband is on the scene, keeping Moon well supervised, especially around our other pets, is challenging. When my husband left for an 8-day trip to help a friend in Mississippi, the “Moon management” effort during the final week of April shifted from “challenging” to seriously exhausting. Let’s just say my productivity took a nosedive.

This montage shows the four illustrations from the blog post “A Proper Balance of Politics and Business,” published on The Weird Blog April 10, 2024. All montages by Jan S. Gephardt. See the original blog post for details from individual illustrations.
See Credits below.

Striking “A Proper Balance of Politics and Business”

As noted above, my Weird Blog post topics presented a mixed bag in April. The first post, A Proper Balance of Politics and Business, explored a question that perplexes many businesses, both large and small: just ask Nike or Bud Light about that! Even we Weird Sisters ourselves differ on what works best for our mutual corporate (as Weird Sisters Publishing) and separate professional balances.

My sister G. S. Norwood generally prefers to eschew any overt political comment. It’s a caution well-learned and deeply entrenched after a professional lifetime of interactions in the business community of Dallas, TX. Politics isn’t a major factor in her written fiction work, either, so it seems quite appropriate to walk a line of neutrality in her professional persona.

In my own work, I find it very difficult – indeed, counter-productive – to attempt to erase general political assumptions and concepts from the worldbuilding of science fiction. The artistic choices one makes in my genre are shot through with political understandings. I think politics in science fiction is kind of baked in. That holds, whether one is commenting pointedly or not. Consider the implied comment of many dystopian visions. Or the assumptions made in a post-apocalyptic setting. Or the ways that political and corporate balances of power are portrayed in any given science fictional story-universe.

This montage includes one of Chaz Kemp’s variations on the “Windhover” space ship in the center. Behind “Windy,” clockwise from upper left are Lucy A. Synk’s “Quadra,” “Thisseling and Rajor Zee,” “Mosseen,” Jose-Luis Segura’s “Mac and Yo-Yo in their workshop,” and Lucy A. Synk’s “Kril, Daytime, with Moons.” The words say, “Astronomicals © 2019-2024 by Lucy A. Synk,” “Windhover ship ©2022 by Chaz Kemp,” and “© 2021 by Jose-Luis Segura,” on the “Mac and Yo-Yo” picture. Montage by Jan S. Gephardt.
See Credits below.

The Windhover Tetralogy as Illustrated Books

From politics to the beauty and potential of illustrated books? Yes, The Weird Blog’s topics were quite the mixed bag in April! Our second post of the month explored the new way that I’m planning to present the “vintage 1980s” science fiction of my late brother-in-law, Warren C. Norwood.

My objective was to give the new reissue editions of his first, four-book series a better evocation of Warren’s wide and wildly inventive imagined worlds. To achieve that, I’ve engaged the talents of three different illustrators, Lucy A. Synk, Chaz Kemp, and Jose-Luis Segura.

We’re tackling this rather extensive, involved project in two bursts of production work. The first one, which started in December and has run through the spring, is beginning to wind down. Other production considerations kick in during the summer, specifically finishing up the Bone of Contention rollout. Then we plan to crank it back up and finish the work this fall and winter, with book release dates in 2025.

For more details, and for more looks at work we’ve finished so far, check theIllustrated Bookspostitself. And I bet by now you see my point about how all the assorted projects and random variables created such a mixed bag in April.

About the Author

Author Jan S. Gephardt Is shifting from the mixed bag in April to focus more fully once again on her own XK9 Series of science fiction novels and shorter fiction in May and through the summer. Subscribers to her monthly newsletter currently have access to more original short fiction set in the XK9s’ universe than is currently available for sale. Her newest title, Bone of Contention, is set to be published September 24, 2024. It completes the XK9 “Bones” Trilogy, although the series will continue.

IMAGE CREDITS

All photos in the “Moon Montage” are © 2024 by Jan S. Gephardt, who also designed the montage. The second montage shows the four illustrations from the blog post “A Proper Balance of Politics and Business,” published on The Weird Blog April 10, 2024. All montages were designed by Jan S. Gephardt. See the original blog post for details about sources within the individual illustrations.

The third montage includes one of Chaz Kemp’s variations on the “Windhover” space ship in the center. Behind “Windy,” clockwise from upper left are Lucy A. Synk’s “Quadra,” “Thisseling and Rajor Zee,” “Mosseen,” Jose-Luis Segura’s “Mac and Yo-Yo in their workshop,” and Lucy A. Synk’s “Kril, Daytime, with Moons.” The words say, “Astronomicals © 2019-2024 by Lucy A. Synk,” “Windhover ship ©2022 by Chaz Kemp,” and “© 2021 by Jose-Luis Segura,” on the “Mac and Yo-Yo” picture. Montage by Jan S. Gephardt.

This square image is dominated by a red rectangle showing a black, green, yellow, and red design flanked by the words, “The seven principles: Umoja: Unity. To maintain unity in Family, community, nation, and culture.”

Kwanzaa Begins with Unity

Kwanzaa begins with Unity. Is there any value that should resonate more with all of us? Today is the first day of Kwanzaa, a seven-day celebration of African American strengths and values. I’m not Black, so I can’t presume to speak for Black people (other than as an ally against racism).

But no American of any ethnic background can afford to spurn the idea that unity is a paramount value, and sadly lacking in the USA right now. In this historical moment, all of us could afford to learn a few things from our Black neighbors and friends.

I don’t believe I did justice to the first day of Kwanzaa, back in 2017 when I wrote my first post about it. I squeezed it in between two other “holiday thoughts,” about the day after Christmas and Boxing Day. Both have their place, but Kwanzaa deserves to stand alone.

This square image is dominated by a red rectangle showing a black, green, yellow, and red design flanked by the words, “The seven principles: Umoja: Unity. To maintain unity in Family, community, nation, and culture.”
Image by, and courtesy of, Jeffrey St. Clair. See Credits below.

Kwanzaa Begins with Unity and so Should We

If you think about it, unity is what brought us together as a nation in the first place: unity against outside tyranny. We were perpetuating our own egregious tyranny over the enslaved Africans whose labor our white ancestors stole to build a lot of the young country. But at the same time the founders (apparently unironically) set forth principles of equity and justice.

The very foundations of this country were uniquely well-adapted to building a multicultural nationality. Emphasizing freedom, equality, and justice for everyone under the law was radical stuff in the 18th Century.

And it’s still radical stuff today. We set ourselves up “from the get-go” for a lot of trying and falling short. We are a multicultural republic, stitched together both by force and by choice. And we are perpetually certain to come up against opposing views competing for space and dominance.

The background of this square image is a charcoal drawing of four hands and forearms in a roughly square alignment, where each hand grasps the wrist of the person to their right. Superimposed over the drawing, it says, “’Unity is Strength, Division is Weakness.’ – Swahili Proverb.”
Courtesy of United We Stand on Facebook. See Credits below.

But Beginning is Not Enough

If you look at the whole principle as outlined in Jeffrey St. Clair’s design, the idea is “to maintain unity in family, community, nation and culture.” That’s no small feat. And it’s definitely not something we can do alone. That takes commitment. It takes grit, it takes communication, and it takes a lot of hard work by a lot of dedicated, like-minded people.

Kwanza begins with Unity, but it continues with six other principles that ground and support and make unity happen. This holiday celebrates strong Black people living in a vibrant culture – but no single segment of our multicultural republic can flourish without a broader unity.

Here in the USA we’ve managed to let ourselves be drawn into warring camps, to the extent that we’re in serious danger of losing it all. Can the “democratic experiment” we started almost 250 years ago survive? Not without Umoja. And not without Black people, White people, Native people, immigrants from all different communities and everybody else in this country joining together in our own self-defense.

This is a dark red square image with a length of woven Kente cloth across the bottom. At the top it says “@SanCophaLeague,” Then “Black Unity is key. ‘Get organized and you will compel the world to respect you.’ -Marcus Garvey.” In the lower left, just above the cloth band, it says, “Facebook.com/SanCophaLeague.”
Courtesy of SanCophaLeague. See Credits below.

Kwanzaa Begins With Unity, but the Series Continues

I have spent a lot of time this week going back though my old series of Kwanzaa articles and updating them for today’s standards. 2017 was 6 years ago, which is an eon or so on the Internet. Now they’re ready for mobile devices, and I’ve tried to optimize them other ways, as well as expand them into fuller explorations of the topic. Along the way, I’ve also worked to improve the illustrations in both quality and relevance.

So please take a look at the rest of the series in their new format! Take them in order, or skip around if one or another takes your fancy: See Self-Determination on Day Two, followed by Working Together and Investing Wisely. From there, explore Empowerment through Purpose, and Creative Healing. Appropriately enough, on New Year’s Day Kwanzaa Ends with Faith to Take that Step . . . whatever you determine those steps should be in the coming year.

IMAGE CREDITS

Many thanks to Jeffrey St. Clair, via LinkedIn’s Slide Share for today’s Umoja: Unity design. I really loved the “Unity is Strength” quote-image from United We Stand on Facebook, and I also loved how the quote coordinated with my topic today. It was a little harder to track down the SanCophaLeague’s exact image, which I first found on Pinterest. I figure it’s got to come from them since their name is all over it, but even Tineye Reverse Image Search didn’t turn it up. In any case, Thank you!

"Housing is absolutely essential to human flourishing. Without stable shelter, it all falls apart." - Matthew Desmond

Housing First

By Jan S. Gephardt

It’s called “Housing First,” and it’s a well-tested, successful, and cost-effective approach to the growing problem of unhoused people. It’s also humane and supportive – which may be why a lot of people have never heard of it. For a certain school of policy-making thought, I guess it just doesn’t punish poor people enough?

Whether you call them “homeless,” “persons experiencing homelessness,” or “unhoused persons” probably matters little in practical reality, although some would disagree. Poor people who can’t find a safe, secure place to sleep at night or keep their stuff from being stolen labor under a whole range of disadvantages. That’s a problem – both for the individuals who live each day in that dangerous situation, and for their communities.

"Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.” In the lower left-hand corner is the logo for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, with the words “United Nations Human Rights.”
Graphic treatment by the author. Logo courtesy of the United Nations Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Housing First

But how should we solve the problem? The traditional way, tested for centuries and failing for centuries, says if we do anything at all, we certainly should make them clean up their act before they “deserve” help. But if you accept the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the traditional view gets it exactly backwards. Also, it’s cruel, ineffective, and dehumanizing.

Article 25 (1) says, “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.” (my emphasis).

“Housing First” embodies that concept. And yes, strange as it might seem, the United States did ratify that agreement – although a lot of people in our assorted legislatures, a majority of dedicated capitalists, and a far-too-loud segment of the chattering class would like to conveniently forget that part.

The most recent “per 10,000 population” map I could find comes from Landgeist.com, published in 2021, reflecting 2020 data. It shows Washington DC as the highest density, with 93 unhoused per 10,000 people. The states with the highest density are New York (45/10,000), Hawaii (44), California (41) and Oregon (35). In the next tier are Washington State (30), Alaska (27), Massachusetts (26), and Nevada (22). In the 11-20 unhoused/10,000 range, are Colorado (17), New Mexico (16), Arizona (15), Montana and Minnesota (each with 14), Idaho and Florida (13), Nebraska, Delaware, and South Dakota (12), and Wyoming and Missouri (11). All of the other states are in the 4-10/10,000 category. NO state is without an unhoused population. Source: U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, 2020.
Many thanks to Landgeist.com, (Twitter @Landgeist Instagram @Land_geist).

How Big is the Problem?

Nearly every city of any size seems to have a growing number of unhoused persons. And no, that’s not your imagination. According to the 2022 Annual Homeless Assessment Report from HUD Public Affairs (the most recent one out, at this writing), there’s been an upward trend in this population since 2016. The COVID-19 pandemic made it worse, despite official moratoriums on evictions.

Not every place has the same levels of homelessness, though. Whatever your take on “Blue State” cities and their status as strongholds of “bleeding-heart liberals,” unhoused populations are generally higher there. That’s not because less liberal places are kinder – it’s because affordable housing is harder to find in vibrant, growing cities where real estate prices are highest.

Atlantic writer Jerusalem Demsas likens it to a game of “musical chairs” where there are more children than chairs. Or, in this case, more people than places to live. Those who can’t compete (read that “those not paid a living wage or even sometimes higher”) are literally left out in the cold. Creating more available, affordable housing is the obvious answer and it’s a basic tenet of the Housing First model. Still, cities and legislators resist.

“The biggest misconception about the homeless is that they got themselves in the mess — let them get themselves out. Many people think they are simply lazy. I urge those to make a friend at a local mission and find out how wrong these assumptions are.” — Ron Hall
Many thanks to GoodGoodGood and Ron Hall.

But What about Personal Responsibility?

Most of us don’t spend much time thinking about the rights and problems of our fellow human beings who are unhoused. If we are not ourselves among the working poor – or even if we are – it’s uncomfortable to think about. We’ve probably avoided making eye contact with panhandlers on the street. Stood so we’re upwind of a “street person” or “rough sleeper” who smells bad. Maybe even complained that they’re trashing our parks and street corners, or that they make us feel unsafe.

We also commonly wonder how they got themselves into this mess. Is it because they have PTSD and can’t hold a job? Because they’re alcoholics or addicted to some other drug? Because they’re lazy or can’t manage their money? Underlying all of these questions is the question of what is wrong with them? What character defect made them vulnerable to this? Why can’t they take personal responsibility?

We (all too self-righteously) often unconsciously accept the idea that “Well, clearly something must be wrong with them, because it hasn’t happened to me.” But that’s buying into the myth of the “undeserving poor.” We assign primary blame to the unhoused person, when all too often they ended up unhoused because they ran out of options. We never stop to wonder if maybe nothing is wrong with them, or if they really aren’t “degenerate,” but merely unlucky. We don’t do that, because doing that makes us feel way more unsafe than any “scary” homeless person’s presence could.

“Fear is dangerous. It creates an environment in which it’s acceptable to treat those experiencing poverty and homelessness with anger and hate. The first step to stopping this is to realize that this fear is unfounded and dangerous.” — Terence Lester
Many thanks to GoodGoodGood and Terence Lester.

Evolving Views on Addiction, Dysfunction, and Enabling

I now have a personal understanding of issues connected with addiction that I didn’t have fifteen years ago before a close family member went through that long, dark tunnel and unintentionally dragged the rest of us along. I’ve had an up-close-and-personal view of the state of addiction treatment and recovery during a period when the opioid crisis also dragged a lot of other families through their own long, dark tunnels.

Like many other wide-eyed, unprepared family members, I’ve been exhorted to apply “tough love.” I’ve been accused of “enabling dysfunction.” And most definitely criticized for not allowing my loved one to “hit bottom” so “recovery can begin.”

I’ve emerged from that experience with a currently-sober, functional, recovering family member (for which I’m thanking God, day-by-day). My family and I also have a lot of healing bruises and new (inward, spiritual) scars . . . And I know I now have a profound disgust for traditional, “one-size-fits-all,” “destroy ‘em to fix ‘em,” blame-based models of addiction treatment. People heal, recover, and grow, I’ve discovered, when they’re given realistic supports and autonomy-empowering options.

That’s why I see a lot of sense in the Housing First approach. It looks past the oppressive prejudice. Past the smelly clothes and scruffy appearance that lack of access to bathrooms and laundries guarantee. And past the trauma upon trauma that life on the streets inflicts endlessly. Instead, it focuses on the person. What does this person need? How can this person feel secure enough to look beyond the grinding daily struggle to survive, and find their unique way to thrive? How can this person, with all their challenges and strengths, be empowered to live their best life?

"Housing is absolutely essential to human flourishing. Without stable shelter, it all falls apart." - Matthew Desmond
Many thanks to BrainyQuotes and American sociologist Matthew Desmond.

The Many Challenges to Come

In the United States, Housing First is slowly beginning to gain ground, but it still is regarded as “experimental” and strange. It takes a while to bring people’s hearts and minds around. People still resist seeing new permanent housing for the formerly homeless as a better, more functional approach than bulldozing homeless encampments in the middle of the night. Especially if that new permanent housing is anywhere near their neighborhood.

Old-school ways of thinking and “cop culture,” which favor criminalization of the unhoused, will take a while to get rid of – even though they cost significantly more than Housing First. We’ll always have to push back against those who prefer to shove unhoused persons out of sight, rather than deal with them as human beings.

Ultimately, however, we can’t criminalize people out of existence. We cannot solve the problem just by wishing it didn’t exist. Unhoused persons will never find housing until it becomes available. Housing First offers a better way forward.

IMAGE CREDITS

Many thanks to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights for the use of their logo and to Landgeist.com, (Twitter @Landgeist Instagram @Land_geist), for their map. I’m also grateful to GoodGoodGood.com, Ron Hall, and Terence Lester, as well as BrainyQuotes.com and American sociologist Matthew Desmond, for the illustrated quotations.

“The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.” — Franklin D. Roosevelt

Not in My Neighborhood

By Jan S. Gephardt

“Not in my neighborhood!” I’m sure you’ve heard this characteristic cry of property owners almost everywhere. It’s a near-universal protective reflex when anything new or even potentially threatening appears on the horizon.

And there are times when it’s thoroughly justifiable. After all, the vast majority of us are persons of limited means. If we don’t protect and steward the value of things we own, who will? If our property value goes down too much, our home or other property can turn into more of a liability than an asset.

So, for example, if we don’t raise a stink a rumor that someone wants to install a landfill near our local school, we could be in trouble. Pretty soon there’ll be a stink on our kids and on our spring breezes. If we don’t make some noise about a “party house” where they blare loud music all night, we might lose our sleep and our hearing in the resulting din. And in either case, our neighborhood will suffer.

“We must do more to protect our neighborhoods and give integrity to our community plans.” – Alan Autry
Many thanks to AZ Quotes.

“Not in My Neighborhood” and Inequality

But “not in my neighborhood” isn’t always possible. That’s because what it actually means is “somewhere else.” So, for all too many of us, it’s okay if someone else’s neighborhood is trashed, just as long as ours isn’t? My country – indeed, my own home city – offers many cases in point, both from history and in the present.

That’s because the power to say “not in my neighborhood” doesn’t belong to everyone. No matter how “equal” we try to convince ourselves we are. It never has. In the United States, as I write this, dramatic economic inequality colors every aspect of our lives and the way we live. “Not in my neighborhood” currently finds some of its expression in gated communities. Some of it comes with gentrification. And it often finds expression that results in environmental injustices.

Historically, “not in my neighborhood” is the very heart and soul of redlining. That’s a now-illegal lending and real estate practiced that very successfully segregated our cities. Its legacy lingers today. But it’s a concept our kids are unlikely to learn if we live in certain states that have restricted academic freedom and the First Amendment right to freedom of speech.

"If we wish to rebuild our cities, we must first rebuild our neighborhoods." -- Harvey Milk
Thanks again, AZ Quotes!

How “Not in My Neighborhood” can Cause Enduring Harm

Redlining by real estate developers such as J. C. Nichols in Kansas City created cascading results we still see today. By figuratively but quantifiably “walling off” parts of the metro area from each other, these practices guaranteed division. You can still see stark differences from one block to the next in my home town.

When they systematically invested money in some, while actively barring investment in others, they guaranteed harsh divisions between rich and poor areas. They chose to bless some with fertile ground to prosper, while they monetarily “salted the earth” in others to make sure they stayed poor. This not only impacted personal wealth – we also see it in schools, health outcomes, and many other compounding effects.

Income and racial disparities from redlining and similar practices left a mark. They made it possible for developers of the US interstate highway system to target Black and brown neighborhoods. Those “lower value” zones became the ones literally plowed under and paved over. The social chaos from that simple, cruel solution still haunts many cities today.

“The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.” — Franklin D. Roosevelt
Many thanks to QuoteFancy.

Righting Old Wrongs

The statutes that enabled redlining have since been declared illegal and unconstitutional, but the disparities persist. Johnson County, KS was the “favored land” in the Nichols vision – read that white and Christian only. No Jews need apply, and certainly no Black people back then. Our local officials and state legislators are still trying to eradicate all of the old, racist language from housing covenants. Legally, that’s been a lot harder than it should be.

Rectifying historic wrongs will take a lot more than erasing old language, however. The harder work is fighting persistent biases and historic patterns. In my town there’s a common understanding about which are the “good” or “safe” neighborhoods, and which are the “bad parts of town.” Cultural memory persists. To this day, some of my neighbors actively fear going into “the wrong parts of town.”

Unfortunately, avoidance doesn’t usually breed either an appetite to do something about it, or the individual means to do so. And heaven forbid we should suggest anything as radical as reparations! Most of those selfsame neighbors are still stuck in the “that was then, this is now” mindset of people afraid of losing their historic advantages.

“Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice. It is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life.” — Nelson Mandela
Many thanks to GoodGoodGood!

How “Not in My Neighborhood” Creates a Toxic Stew

Those disadvantaged, redlined communities also have borne the brunt of environmental injustice. Because they are poor (as well as often poorly-educated, hungry, over-scheduled by juggling multiple low-wage jobs, and ill), they don’t wield a lot of clout in municipal decisions. The working poor are almost never at the table when zoning changes that impact them are made.

Thus, we have situations such as the one in Brownsville, Texas, where Native Americans (another historically restricted and dispossessed group) have been fighting to preserve their heritage in the face of environmental destruction. We have activists from a Black neighborhood in South Charleston, WV, struggling for decades to contain the pollution from a Union Carbide plant. Or poor neighbors in Catawba, SC, fighting pollution from a paper mill. And don’t forget residents of the Wilmington Neighborhood in Los Angeles, struggling with pollution from oil refineries.

Where does it stop? How do we change and improve? Environmental destruction impacts poor neighborhoods first, but as the residents of East Palestine, OH have discovered, pollution can happen anywhere, anytime, with no warning. You also can ask people in Washington County, KS about that. Those folks all can attest that “not in my neighborhood” only goes so far.

Environmental injustice is a tangible, intolerable example of exhibited moral laxity and minimal concern for healthy standards by corporations and political structures based on the race, ethnicity, and class of those being impacted.” – Bernice King
Thanks again to GoodGoodGood!

Reconsidering “Not in My Neighborhood”

This post has been long on problems and short on practical solutions. That’s partly because few of the difficulties I’ve highlighted are easy-to-fix issues. Hidden danger lurks in only focusing on the “low-hanging fruit” – the easy fixes. Simple-minded solutions to complex issues aren’t solutions at all. They just defer the inevitable (and possibly attempt to shift blame).

If we habitually look at life as a zero-sum game where someone must by definition be a “loser,” we’ve not only taken a morally bankrupt approach. We’ve also set ourselves up for later grief. I write science fiction about an imaginary place far from earth. But through it I often try to re-imagine how solutions to clear and present problems might be solved – and what those solutions might look like.

Here in the present, our neighborhood is increasingly connected to everyone else’s neighborhood. All-or-nothing “solutions” are not helpful at all. It takes creativity to look at complex problems in new ways. It takes ingenuity and determination to craft new, better answers to the problems born of inequity, pollution, and systemic injustice.

In the final analysis, “Not in My Neighborhood” doesn’t truly fix anything. Not unless it transforms into “Not in Anybody’s Neighborhood.”

IMAGE CREDITS

As noted in the cutlines under the illustrations, for this post I’m grateful to AZ Quotes, QuoteFancy, and the wonderful post full of “Quotes about Justice to Inspire Positive Change” from GoodGoodGood.

Covers for Jan's three "Cops in Space" books, "The Other Side of Fear," "What's Bred in the Bone," and "A Bone to PIck."

What should police do?

By Jan S. Gephardt

We rarely think to ask a fundamental question: what should police do? What part should they play in a multicultural, representational democracy? The ubiquity of police forces around the world argues that many societies believe police do have a role in civilized life. But what – exactly – should it be?

As a novelist whose primary characters are science fictional detectives, I am in an unusual position, both to ask and to answer this question. But I believe it’s also a question everyone should ask. Especially every citizen in a representational, multicultural democracy.

Why should we ask? Isn’t the answer to that question obvious? Well, no. We’ve all grown up “pre-loaded” with conscious and unconscious attitudes and understandings of what police officers and police forces do, and why they exist. But clearly, those seldom-examined attitudes and understandings aren’t leading to very good outcomes. Not in much of the world. And certainly not here in the United States.

"Understand, our police officers put their lives on the line for us every single day. They've got a tough job to do to maintain public safety and hold accountable those who break the law." - Barack Obama.
Many thanks to BrainyQuote.

Asking as a Novelist

One of the best things science fiction does is hold up a mirror to society. If you think about it, all fiction does that in a certain way, because all fiction is a reflection of our experiences of life. I’ve written elsewhere about the role of the novelist in society. And yes, a fundamental aspect of our work is purely to produce entertainment.

But it’s not the only aspect. I would (and frequently do) argue that it may not even be the most important aspect, particularly in the realm of science fiction. That’s because science fiction is all about thought experiments.

When we start asking “what if?” a whole multiverse of possibilities opens up. What if a recent scientific discovery led to a new technological breakthrough? How would that change the world we live in? What if our society continues on its current course in this aspect, what might the future look like? How would our world change? How would we react?

So, as a novelist who writes about police in a future society, I must ask “What Should Police Do?”

"My role as a novelist is to explore ideas and imagination, and hopefully that will inspire people from my world to continue dreaming and to believe in dreams." - Alexis Wright.
Thanks again, BrainyQuote!

Asking as a Citizen

But I’m also a citizen: of the world, and also specifically of my country and community. I’m a taxpayer, a voter, a member of “the public.” I can be sliced and diced out and defined demographically, culturally, and any other way you choose. Mother. Wife. Daughter. Woman. Educated. Teacher (retired). Middle class. United Methodist. White. Senior citizen. Democrat. Science fiction fangirl. Creative person. Animal lover. Multiculturalist. I am all of those things and more.

And as that complex, multi-aspect creature, I bring all of my experiences, understandings, and biases into my role as a responsible adult in contemporary society. For me, that involves an active interest in news and politics. I have formed some rather strong opinions over the course of my life. Each day I refine them or adjust them or reinforce them as I receive and process information.

I see it as my right – indeed, my responsibility – as a citizen to ask if my government and community leaders are representing me and governing in a way I think is appropriate. Are they respecting and honoring values I share? If they’re not, then I have a right to question them, and to seek better representation. As do we all.

This means, as a citizen in contemporary society, I must ask “What Should Police Do?”

"Each day, millions of police officers do the selfless work of putting their lives on the line to protect civilians, frequently responding to or preventing crises completely with no recognition." - Letitia James
You’re now 3-0, BrainyQuote!

What Do We Ask Police To Do?

We currently ask police to fill a wide range of roles. “We’re asking cops to do too much in this country,” Dallas Police Chief David Brown said in a 2016 interview by the Washington Post. “We are. Every societal failure, we put it off on the cops to solve. Not enough mental health funding, let the cops handle it. … Here in Dallas we got a loose dog problem; let’s have the cops chase loose dogs. Schools fail, let’s give it to the cops. … That’s too much to ask. Policing was never meant to solve all those problems.”

I tend to agree with Chief Brown. As a teacher, I learned all too much about the many things our communities want to dump in the laps of their public servants. Usually while also underpaying them, restricting their operating budgets, and asking them to do work they never trained or signed up for. I get it, and I agree.

But what problems are the police meant to solve? Unlike some observers on the leftward end of the spectrum, I do believe there is a role for police in society. Unlike some observers on the rightward end of the spectrum, I don’t believe we will ever be well served by our current system. Certainly not when it’s focused on criminalizing poverty and mental illness. Not when it majors on crackdowns on minority populations and small offenders. And certainly not when it perpetuates the school-to-prison pipeline.

This graph charts United States crime clearance rates in 2020, the most recent year for which the statistics are available. “Murder and nonnegligent homicide:54.4%. Aggravated assault: 46.6%. Violent crime: 41.7%. Rape: 30.6%. Robbery: 28.8%. Arson: 21.5%. Larceny-theft: 15.1%. Property crime: 14.6%. Burglary: 14.%. Motor vehicle theft: 12.3%”
Graphic ©2023 by Statistia.

What Problems WERE Police Meant to Solve?

If you were to ask the average “person on the street” this question, they’d probably say “Solve crimes,” or maybe “keep public order,” or perhaps “enforce the law.” Fair enough. So, how well are they doing?

Let’s take that first one, “solve crimes.” A look at the crime clearance rates (percentages of crimes that are cleared in a given year) is downright discouraging. “Clearance rate,” by the way, does not mean the full Law & Order-style litany of captured, charged, tried, and convicted. No, “clearance” means at least one person has been arrested and charged, or it means the probable perpetrator(s) are identified, but outside circumstances make arresting and charging them impossible. For two examples, circumstances could include that they died. Or maybe they’re in another country from which we can’t extradite them. Stuff does happen sometimes.

Clearance rates vary by the type of crime. But according to Statistia.com the only type that gets solved more than half the time in the USA is “murder and non-negligent homicide.” The clearance rate for that is 54.4%.

Flunking Crime-Solving

Think about it. That’s only a bit better than a 50-50 chance that any given murder will be solved. If I were grading a test and my student made a 54.4% on it, their grade would be an F (On a normal grading scale, 0-60% = an F). And that’s the best they do! You want them to solve your burglary? Sorry to tell you, but you have only a 14% chance that the perpetrator will be caught and charged with the crime. Someone stole your truck? Oh, dear. You only have a 12.3% chance they’ll ever arrest the thief.

So, basically, police in the United States flunk at crime-solving. Why? Well, there are a lot of reasons, and many of them are tied up in the other answers to the question “What should police do?”

"When you have police officers who abuse citizens, you erode public confidence in law enforcement. That makes the job of good police officers unsafe." - Mary Frances Berry
Thanks yet again, BrainyQuote!

What Should Police Do to “Serve and Protect”?

What does “keep public order,” “enforce the law,” or “protect people” look like, when it’s happening? Does “keeping public order” mean bulldozing camps of unhoused persons? Or imposing a curfew on a small population’s free movement during a specific part of the day or in a specific place? Does it mean beating or injuring protesters? The words “keeping public order” have been used to justify all of those actions.

On the other hand, it also could mean directing traffic away from an accident. Maybe it means repelling a violent insurrection from the Capitol. And it could mean shielding a person who has not been convicted of any crime from a lynch mob that wants to kill them. It’s an umbrella phrase, broad and nonspecific enough to be both used and abused.

Standards Without Clarification

And in the end, it’s not a very helpful standard without further clarification. The seemingly obvious “protect people” brings the same host of issues when we try to apply it to specific cases. Which people are the police to protect? From whom or what? In a racist, sexist society (don’t kid yourself: that’s this one), how many ways could that go wrong?

“Enforce the law” is only deceptively “more specific.” Does that mean “enforce all the laws, all the time?” By that standard, most of us should be, or should have been, arrested at many points in our lives.

People are fallible. There are times when we’re sick and can’t cut the noxious weeds in our front yard. Or we’re forgetful and only notice later that our driver’s license has expired. Perhaps we’re tired or in a hurry, so we jaywalked when we saw an opening, instead of walking down to the corner and waiting for the lights to change. Minor traffic violations, legally carrying a gun, or simply walking down the street have resulted in citizens being killed by police in the name of “enforcing the law.”

"Accountability for police officers should be an expectation, not an aberration." - Alex Padilla
You rock, BrainyQuote!

Okay, so: What SHOULD Police Do?

As we’ve seen, that’s a really problematic question! But, both as a citizen and as a novelist, I want to find better answers to it. I cannot endorse a blanket approach such as “abolish the police.” I’m not a fan of “defund,” either. Neither of those represent where I think this conversation should go.

On the other hand, a thoroughgoing interrogation of that “what should police do?” question isn’t going to deal kindly with old-school “cop culture.” Not with many contemporary police training techniques and approaches, either. Nor even with a fair number of contemporary laws and standards.

Yes, dear reader, you’ve probably figured out by now that I’m cueing up a series of blog posts on this topic. I’m not sure how long it’ll be. Considering our upcoming publication schedule, it most definitely won’t be every single post for the next umpty-dozen times without a break!

But over the next few months, I propose to take up one aspect of “what should police do?” at a time. I’ll examine how it’s currently being handled in the USA, survey the critiques, and then explain “how we handle it on Rana Station” and why I think that might work better. I hope you’ll find the series interesting.

IMAGE CREDITS

Many thanks to BrainyQuote (what would I have done without you for this post?) and Statistia.

Clockwise from upper left: An arrangement of roses, hydrangeas, and tulips form a backdrop for the words “Valentine’s Day Special;” a heart-shaped box’s lid, which is printed with the words, “Happy Valentine’s Day,” is offset to show a glimpse of the chocolates inside; a jewelry marketer inserted a woman’s diamond-studded engagement and wedding ring into the petals of a red rose; and a restaurant offers a “2023 Valentine’s Dinner” special.

Valentines and Love

By Jan S. Gephardt

Valentines and love are pretty inextricably bound together in our contemporary culture. But that connection wasn’t always understood in the same way. This post is part of a series of looks at holidays that have periodically appeared on “Artdog Adventures” and “The Weird Blog.” It will go live the day after Valentine’s Day, so it seems like a good time to consider the holiday.

Contemporary practices bear little relation to the third-century saint recognized by the Roman Catholic Church. Its origin may lie in a few lines of poetry by Geoffrey Chaucer. Others link the traditions to the Roman festival of Lupercalia or the troubadours of the late Middle Ages.

Troubadours sang songs about love. But many marriages among the upper classes of that period were matches made for political advantage. Marriages usually were arranged between powerful families when the girls, and often also the boys, were small children. If love had anything to do with it, it was a side benefit, developing later.

However (and however many times) it began, the February 14 date became linked in North European cultural imaginations with a celebration of mate-finding. Observations persisted and evolved through the unfolding centuries. Valentines and love became more firmly linked as time went on.

A colored etching made in 1870 envisioned a wedding by two young teens in the later Middle Ages. The bridegroom wears a fur-trimmed red tunic with a light colored cloak. The bride wears a light gray gown with a dark yellow cloak. Three brown-robed monks attend the ceremony (one officiating), while a crowd of others looks on.
A Victorian (1870) etching of a Medieval marriage in a stone cathedral between two, very young people. (See credits below).

What Kind of Love is This?

That Valentine’s Day ideal of marital love – or at least of couples’ love –became more firmly linked in the last three centuries or so. During the Victorian era the tradition of making poems and cards for a loved one (or “vinegar Valentines” designed as put-downs) flourished.

By the time I finished high school in 1972, Valentines and (always heterosexual) love had long since been permanently linked with romance and marriage. But meanwhile the institution of marriage went through a lot of turmoil and cultural change. At my high school in a small town, “catching a husband” by getting pregnant was still a thing. Until a Planned Parenthood came to a nearby city, girls had to ask their parents to get them a prescription if they wanted to use “The Pill.” I don’t know of anyone who had the guts to ask.

The linkage of love and marriage that we were fed by popular culture when I was growing up held that once you were married, you’d found your “happily ever after.” Marriage was supposedly the magic key to “legal sex” and a happy life. But the institution was far from a straightforward thing when, for many of us, the legal line between partner and property (or at least second-class citizenship) remained blurry.

And then several waves of our parents’ marriages started coming apart at the seams after the divorce laws changed. The economy changed, too, and within a decade more and more women were commonly expected to work outside the home.

Top: “open” and “closed” views of an 1863 Civil War Valentine. The tent’s flaps open to reveal a soldier composing a love letter while envisioning his beloved. Bottom: A German card from around 1900 opens into a 3-dimensional train. Photos from the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, via the New York Times.
As a paper sculptor, I had a grand time looking at these early 3D Valentines. (See credits below).

Valentines and Love and Spending Money

I finished college, taught for a couple of years, and then married my longtime boyfriend. By then it had become the “new reality” that a middle-class family needed two incomes to make ends meet. The income from the “wife’s job” somewhat made up for the fact that all salaries were falling ever-farther behind the cost of living.

But now we needed an ever-growing number of appliances and gadgets to help make up for not having a full-time stay-at-home person to cook, clean, and supply child care. A woman couldn’t do all of that the way her mother had, and also work full-time (the husband, help with housework? What??). Working Americans became ever more voracious consumers of nearly everything, from ready-made clothing to microwave ovens. Corollary to that evolution, Valentines Day became ever more expensive. Our contemporary focus on buying expensive gifts for our loved one has roots planted firmly in the United States (you’re welcome, World).

It’s become one of our biggest shopping days. Valentine’s Day spending in the US hit $23.9 billion (yes, that’s billion-with-a-B) in 2022. Every year we see articles on how to have a heartfelt Valentine’s Day without spending lots of money, but for many of us, Valentines and love mean spending big bucks, whether we have them or not.

Clockwise from upper left: An arrangement of roses, hydrangeas, and tulips form a backdrop for the words “Valentine’s Day Special;” a heart-shaped box’s lid, which is printed with the words, “Happy Valentine’s Day,” is offset to show a glimpse of the chocolates inside; a jewelry marketer inserted a woman’s diamond-studded engagement and wedding ring into the petals of a red rose; and a restaurant offers a “2023 Valentine’s Dinner” special.
There are so many ways to spend money on Valentine’s Day! Here are four favorites. (See credits below).

Whose Love “Counts”?

Up till now, we’ve focused on North European and American ideas about Valentines and love that are pretty exclusively heterosexual (And middle-class. And white). But there are billions of people in this world, and Northern Hemisphere, white, middle-class heterosexuals make up only a tiny fraction of them. As Valentine’s Day has become more widely celebrated through the world, it has expanded well beyond its original expressions.

Singles who feel left out and demoralized by the holiday live among us. There’s a variety of healthy ways to cope with feelings of being left out, left behind, or erased on Valentine’s Day. Among them are celebrations of familial love, deep friendship, pet love, and more.

But there’s another whole rainbow of love in this world that in my opinion deserves equal treatment, both on Valentine’s Day and throughout the year. Included in their ranks are some of the most amazing, creative, wonderful people I know – and some of the most admirable examples of long-term commitment. Yet they aren’t feeling any love at all from certain conservative legislatures in my country (or from certain governments in others). I mean, of course, the whole range of what we call the LGBTQIA+ community. When we’re talking about Valentines and love, a narrow paradigm that’s stuck in Northern Hemisphere, white, middle-class, heterosexual love falls far too short.

On a black background, three symbolic couple outlines are colored with an underlay of the colors of the Pride Flag. The couple on the left is 2 women, the one in the middle is a man and a woman, and the one on the right is 2 men. Image from tenor.com.
If we’re going to celebrate love, let’s include all the love! (See credits below).

Love is More than Valentines

When all is said and done, Valentine’s Day is only one day. It’s an annual opportunity to think about and value all the love that’s in your life. A day to reach out and express your love for others. And to receive love from them as well.

Too much focus on how much you spend, what gift(s) you were (or were not) given, or how someone made you feel rejected, is a warning that your perspective needs work. But working on your perspective is a worthy use of your time on Valentine’s Day.

Because self-reflection is a form of self-care. Dare I say it, of self-love. And until your core self is secure in the knowledge that you are a person of value who deserves love (which you are, and you do), you can’t truly love anyone else. So start with healthy self-love – then look outward.

Otherwise, any external show of Valentines and love just rings hollow.

IMAGE CREDITS

Many thanks to Wikipedia, for the 19th century visualization of the medieval wedding. A scan by Laura Valentine of the book Aunt Louisa’s Nursery Favourite yielded the engraving, created 1 January 1870.

Thanks also to my friend, the author Rob Chilson, who called my attention to the New York Times article that featured the 19th century Valentines. The article discusses a collection from the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. It yielded the two 3D Valentine pictures.

I owe thanks to four different sources for the montage of ways to spend money on Valentine’s Day: Freshest Flowers of Haddon Heights, NJ for their “Valentine’s Day Special” graphic. Wilson Candies of Jeanette, PA, for the photo of their “Valentine’s Day” 8oz. Milk Chocolate Variety Heart Box. The Dallas Morning News for the photo from Blue Nile. It shows a Blue Nile Studio French Pavé Asscher-Cut diamond eternity ring in platinum with a Bella Vaughan for Blue Nile Grandeur Cushion Halo diamond engagement ring in platinum. And finally North Corner Haven restaurant in Lancaster, SC for their Valentine’s Dinner promo.

The “Love is Love” image is a screen-grab of an animated GIF available from Tenor. Thanks also to them!

“Develop an attitude of gratitude, and give thanks for everything that happens to you, knowing that every step forward is a step toward achieving something bigger and better than your current situation.” — Brian Tracy

Gratitude isn’t only for one day

By Jan S. Gephardt

Here in the United States, we recently celebrated Thanksgiving. As I noted in my last post, it’s supposed to be a time to reflect upon the blessings in our lives and be grateful. My purpose today is to make the point that gratitude isn’t only for one day a year. It’s better understood as a lifestyle.

It’s my lived experience that when one looks at the world with gratefulness, it’s easier to see the blessings that fill our lives. Even when our lives are hard. Maybe especially when they’re hard. And yes, this marks me as an optimist by nature.

I recognize that pessimists have an important place in the grand scheme of things. They do seem naturally better-suited for some essential roles in society. But that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily fun or easy to go through life as one. And it doesn’t mean that the pessimists in the world don’t need us optimists around. If they’ll accept it, we can give them necessary balance when they start going totally sour on everything (as is their natural bent).

“Both optimists and pessimists contribute to society. The optimist invents the aeroplane, the pessimist the parachute.” — George Bernard Shaw
Balance in life and human society requires both! (Many thanks to Quotefancy).

Are We Wise Enough to See It?

An important part of bringing that balance into one’s perspective is a key awareness. NO human is a totally “self-made” person. That “self-made” poppycock is a self-aggrandizing fallacy. It flies in the face of human nature because we are a social species. Our primary survival mechanism is gathering into interdependent groups. All of us, no matter how independent-minded and  contrary, must depend on others in many ways and for many things.

Maybe our families bestowed riches, education, and advantage on us. Or maybe they did just the opposite. Whatever our history and personal level of success, we all have received favor and grace somewhere along the line from someone. From society’s basic infrastructure, if nothing else! If we are wise enough, we recognize that.

And if we recognize it, honesty demands that we be grateful for it. Gratitude isn’t a show of weakness – it’s an acknowledgement that our species’ greatest survival skill is active in our lives. That’s why I contend that gratitude isn’t only for one day (for instance, Thanksgiving. Or perhaps the day after Christmas. Or some moment when we can’t escape the obligation to write a thank-you note). Gratitude isn’t only for one season. It isn’t only for one year, or any other finite period. Properly understood, it’s perpetual.

"Be thankful for what you have; you'll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don't have, you will never, ever have enough” — Oprah Winfrey
Maybe not a law of nature, but certainly a law of human psychology. (Courtesy of Wow4u).

Seven Days of Gratitude

Back in 2017 I wrote a series of seven blog posts in a row. I posted one right after another on seven successive days. They were my response to a self-challenge to think about the things I was most grateful for. Now, as I just pointed out, if gratitude isn’t only for one day – and it isn’t only for seven.

But that exercise provided a learning experience. Several patterns of thought emerged. Had I pushed the experiment further, I’m sure I would have discovered more. But even though I clearly had lots more time to write blog posts back then, there were limits.

What themes did I choose for my Seven Days of Gratitude? They covered quite a range, from the personal to the broadly institutional. Considering them from that perspective, let’s take a quick look. Are these things you would have chosen?

“Develop an attitude of gratitude, and give thanks for everything that happens to you, knowing that every step forward is a step toward achieving something bigger and better than your current situation.” — Brian Tracy
Don’t just take my word for it. The lives of the grateful are richer in every way. (Thanks again, Quotefancy!)

Gratitude for Personal Things

As I said, some of the things I was (and am) thankful for were personal. Take for instance my family (that was Day Two’s topic). Cliché, much? Yes, “I’m grateful for my family” is basic elementary-school essay fodder, but that doesn’t rob it of validity for many of us. Some people’s families are real-life horror shows, but most of us regard our near kin more kindly. How do you feel about yours?

Another important point of gratitude for me was the companion animals in my life. In genuine ways they also are family. Pack is Family, after all! Even though I didn’t bring them up as a topic till Day Six, they are an active force that makes my life better. This blog is so pet-friendly, that won’t surprise you. Since pet-related posts often get more traffic, if you’re reading this post you probably feel much the same!

One “gratitude topic” that isn’t in the lineup of “usual suspect” clichés was another deeply personal one. I expressed gratitude for my callings. That is, for the things I do well and that give my life meaning and purpose. I believe that each of us comes into the world with a unique suite of abilities and predispositions. When we find ways to develop and express those “best things” in our lives, everyone in our lives benefits in some way. It is a supremely satisfying “fit,” even when it’s also a lot of work. What are your callings? How do you express them?

This montage consists of three quote-images. The one on the left says, “Gratitude: Today be thankful and think how rich you are. Your family is priceless. Your health is wealth. Your time is gold.” – One Bite Wisdom. The middle one reads, “I am thankful for my pets because they complete my family.” – Anonymous. The one on the right says, “Your talent is God’s gift to you. What you do with it is your gift back to God.” – Leo Buscaglia.
How do these things work in your life? Do you see them as blessings? (See credits below).

Gratitude for Broader-Based Gifts: Food Security

Gratitude isn’t only for one day, and it isn’t only for one “level” of blessings. When I looked beyond my personal existence, I found yet more things to be grateful for. I’m privileged to be able to claim some of them. Take food security, for instance!

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation reported in September that more than one in five Americans has experienced food insecurity this year. One in five! In the country that is the richest nation in the world! And speaking of “in the world,” we’ve got a global food crisis on our hands. So, if food insecurity is not one of your clear and pressing worries, you have a very great deal to be thankful for!

Those of us blessed with food security should lift up a hearty “thank you!” And then why not look into Charity Navigator’s excellent guide to giving opportunities that fight hunger? But for a few twists of fate, we could be among those on the “hungry” side of the line!

“Before you eat food or drink water, look at what you’re about to eat or drink and feel love and gratitude. Make sure your conversations are positive when you are sitting down to a meal.” — Rhonda Byrne
An excellent place to start! But don’t stop there. (Quotefancy comes through for me again!).

Yet more Societal Gifts: Peace

Number Three on my 2017 list was Peace. Yes, we’ve all seen the clichés and memes about “whirled peas” and beauty pageant candidates claiming they’re all in for world peace. But gratitude isn’t only for one day, and it isn’t only for my small part of the world. Anytime we feel blasé about peace, we need to remember what’s actually going on in the world.

What would Somali farmers say about peace in their part of the world? How would Palestinian or Syrian children (whether refugees or not) feel, if they could grow up in peaceful neighborhoods? Or schoolgirls in the Democratic Republic of Congo, or Pakistan, or Afghanistan? How would Rohingya refugees feel about the ability to live quietly in peace? Or, of course, the Ukrainian people spending this winter huddling in what’s left of their cold, dark homes?

And let us not forget violence in our own country. The murder rate in my hometown of Kansas City is nothing short of blood-drenched, although (for now) my little neighborhood is relatively quiet. We “only” hear gunfire once in a while (last night, for example), and usually a fair number of blocks away. No, I don’t take peace for granted at all, and neither should anybody! You bet I’m grateful!

“My holy of holies is the human body, health, intelligence, talent, inspiration, love, and absolute freedom – freedom from violence and falsehood, no matter how the last two manifest themselves.” — Anton Chekhov
Freedom from violence makes all our dreams more possible. (What would I do without you, Quotefancy?)

But Wait! There’s More!

The last two items on my “Grateful” list deserve at least one separate blog post, so I’ll mention them only as a preview of future (and a reminder of past) posts. Kind of an “alpha and omega” for my thank-you roundup, the very first item on my list was freedom of religion, a topic I’ve already written about several times, including in my 2020 series on the First Amendment, and in a 2019 post about violence against places of worship.

The “omega,” but far from the least important on my list? Gratitude for the arts. I’m a writer and artist. My career history includes work as an art and writing teacher, a graphic designer, a journalist, and an art agent, among other arts-related work. I come from an artistic family (for one, my sister and publishing partner is the Director of Concert Operations for The Dallas Winds, as followers of this blog may recall).

My whole LIFE has been about, and suffused with, the arts. They have not only sustained me as the source of my most meaningful work, however. The amazing thing about the arts is that they can touch any human life with a near-miraculous gift of grace. They have lifted our spirits in times of dire darkness, helped us find meaning, and opened untold wonder for untold numbers of people. So I’d be pretty darned ungrateful to leave them off of my list!

The quote on the left says, "Religious freedom should work two ways: we should be free to practice the religion of our choice, but we must also be free from having someone else's religion practiced on us." — John Irving. The one on the right says, "Art gives its vision to beauty not always recognized. And it surrenders freely -- whatever power it possesses to every sincere soul that seeks it. But above all else--it presents us with the gift of ourselves." — Aberjhani
Gratitude for these blessings brings richness and joy to our lives. (Double thanks to PictureQuotes; see credits below).

So, then. That’s my list. And while gratitude isn’t only for one day, it also isn’t only for one person’s list. What’s on yours? Can you find seven things to be grateful for? Share in the comments if you wish. But more important by far is to recognize them. Cherish them. And do your best to spread the gratitude you feel into the world around you.

IMAGE CREDITS

And now for more gratitude! First of all WOW, Quotefancy! This blog post wouldn’t be the same without my access to your trove of image-quotes. See the individual credit lines in the captions for the four different, but highly appropriate, quotations from this resource. Thank you very much! I also owe a double debt of gratitude to PictureQuotes for the two images used in the final montage. They provided both John Irving’s words on religious freedom and those of Aberjhani on art.

To the rest of my image sources, I also am grateful to you! Many thanks to Wow4u, for the Oprah Winfrey quote-image. And three hearty “thank you!” shout-outs to One Bite Wisdom on Pinterest, Quotesgram, and Biblereasons. I loved being able to find the component quotes that I used to build the three-part personal gratitude montage. I appreciate all of you!

This detail from Norman Rockwell’s iconic “Freedom from want” painting shows Grandma setting a beautifully-roasted turkey into place at the head of a bountiful Thanksgiving table. A smiling and happy white family, representing a wide variety of ages from the patriarch next to Grandma, through a range of adults and children, down to a little blonde girl of about six.

A Genuine American Thanksgiving

By Jan S. Gephardt

Here in the United States, it’s time for another celebration of our national Thanksgiving holiday. Today is supposedly a time to reflect upon the blessings in our lives and be grateful. But if you want the honest truth, that’s not what most Americans do. Forget Norman Rockwell. What does a Genuine American Thanksgiving look like today?

Americans being Americans, the holiday’s origins and purpose, as well as myths surrounding its traditions, are pretty murky. Digging deeply into its actually-rather-convoluted history Is dangerous if you have staked your identity on idealistic innocence and self-serving myths.

This detail from Norman Rockwell’s iconic “Freedom from want” painting shows Grandma setting a beautifully-roasted turkey into place at the head of a bountiful Thanksgiving table. A smiling and happy white family represents a wide variety of ages from the patriarch next to Grandma through a range of adults and children, down to a little blonde girl of about six.
Here’s a detail from Norman Rockwell’s iconic Thanksgiving painting, Freedom from want, 1943, one of four in the artist’s “Four Freedoms” Series. I can’t help noticing how predominantly white everything is, from the tablecloth and plates through the people. (Image courtesy of Artsper Magazine).

A little Thanksgiving Mythology

No, I’m not going to launch into a history lesson. Others have been there before me, including the article I cited above. As for me, I was stuffed full of all the traditional myths when I went to elementary school in Rolla, Missouri in the 1960s. The Pilgrims and the Indians. The happy story about two groups of unlike people coming together over shared bounty. All of it.

I made “handprint turkeys” and cut out Pilgrim hats from construction paper. I participated in a Thanksgiving play, for which my mother was supposed to make me an “Indian squaw” costume (on a day’s notice). I believe I probably had checked off all the cliché-boxes of “Genuine American Thanksgiving Mythology for Entitled Little White Kids” before I hit the ripe old age of nine.

But when I look at the holiday from any point of view other than one of white privilege, it’s easy to see that BS for what it really is. The holiday’s evolution is a triumph of that evergreen-and-currently-faddish American pastime, promoting “revisionist” (more properly “negationist”) history. I would like to hope that by now most of us understand whitewashing the past like that is an extremely problematical aspect of the holiday.

I would like to hope that, but I know better. Because that whole mythology is still an “inerrant truth” of a Genuine American Thanksgiving for a frightening number of white folks.

Above a black-and-white version of Jean Leon Gerome Ferris’ white supremacist painting, “The First Thanksgiving, 1621” are the words, “Thanksgiving is a special time to remember all the things we have.” Below it, the words continue: “And forget about the genocide that was committed to get it.”
The painting parodied in this meme is Jean Leon Gerome Ferris’ The First Thanksgiving, 1621. It was painted in 1912 during an era of rising white supremacy. Many thanks to Reddit for the image.

Genuine American Thanksgiving Food Hypocrisy

We Americans famously subvert the meaning of what we’re supposed to be celebrating on Thanksgiving. Even in my own family, people often seem to feel that the idea of actually talking about what we’re thankful for as a part of grace before the meal is somehow too “cutesy” or “cringy.” Perhaps these normally-liberal people think it would be “virtue signaling”? Whatever, the few times I’ve tried to entertain the thought I’ve been shot down (and not only by the kids when they were teenagers).

Instead, we (as a family and also as a nation) have often turned our Genuine American Thanksgiving into a festival of gluttony. When feelings will be hurt if everyone doesn’t try at least a little bit of everything, the pressure is on. It’s reasonable to enjoy a chance to eat well at what is essentially a harvest festival. What part of “party” doesn’t mean eating special foods, drinking festive drinks, and making merry? But in our appearance-obsessed culture being fat is a sin (or at least considered to be in very bad taste).

Unfortunately, the definition of “fat” is in the highly critical eye of the beholder . . . who will then feel free to judge harshly, no matter how much they themselves weigh. Guilt trips lie in wait like hidden landmines for many of us throughout our Genuine American Thanksgiving. And on into the rest of the holiday season, too.

This image is a composite of two memes. One speaks to the issue of fattening side dishes: a picture of a beautifully-staged lasagna with one piece cut out, and the words “If you don’t eat Lasagna on Thanksgiving, you are not Celebrating Properly.” The other shows an enormous table piled high with food. At the top it says: “My Mom:” (indicating all the food). Underneath the picture it says, “Me: But there’s only gonna be 4 people coming.”
Excess is a Thanksgiving tradition, it seems – at least, for those who can afford it. (See credits below).

Family at Thanksgiving

It’s no surprise that Thanksgiving and the rest of the holiday season can present serious mental health challenges. Traditionally, a Genuine American Thanksgiving comes with a heaping side-helping of stress.

In many American families, Thanksgiving is one of only a few times each year that relatives may see each other. Family members who may live hundreds or even thousands of miles away from each other don’t have many face-to-face opportunities. But on Thanksgiving they often brave modern air travel, snarled traffic, cataclysmic weather events, and more, simply to get there.

Then they crowd around one table (or perhaps the “adults’ table” and the “kids’ table”) in a cramped, overheated place to eat mass quantities of food. Long-haul travelers may be time-pressured and jet-lagged. The cook/cooks are probably exhausted and high-strung from the pressure of fixing all the fancy stuff so it’s ready and at peak tastiness on time. The smaller kids are probably off-schedule, wound up, and sugar-fueled by treats and snacks.

This image is a composite of three memes. The first on the left is split into a top and bottom picture. The top picture shows the T-Rex from “Jurassic Park” on a rampage, bellowing in the rain. The words on it say: “Mom getting ready for Thanksgiving.” In the lower picture we see the T-Rex toy from “Toy Story,” smiling in front of a wallpaper design of fluffy clouds in blue sky. The words on it say: “Mom when people arrive.” In the second meme, a child screams in fear when seven green parrots land on their red hoodie. The caption says, “Me at Thanksgiving with my family.” Around the screaming child are the questions: “What are you doing with your life?” “Did you gain weight?” “You’re drinking? It’s 11 a.m.” “When are you getting married?” “Are you even dating anyone?” and “Are you sure you’re not a lesbian?”
The third image shows a sketch of a young person looking at their smartphone. Above the drawing, it reads, “Happy Thanksgiving to someone checking their phone in the bathroom to escape their family.”
The memes are funny because the pressures are real. (See credits below).

A few Words about Exchanging Words

Emotions are already topsy-turvy, so now it’s time to talk to each other, right? I mean, what could possibly go wrong, after that setup? But what can you say? What can you ask? This part can end badly, depending on one’s mental preparation. Expectations of older relatives, based on standards from their youth, may not mesh well with the lived experiences of younger ones. Sibling rivalries and other past disagreements can surface under the stress. Boundaries can get trampled. Tastes may clash. Understandings often fail.

My own family has not been immune to this. For what seemed arbitrary reasons, the younger girl-children of two successive generations fell into disfavor with certain elder relatives. My sister G. S. Norwood endured that treatment when we were in our teens. And a different elder relative inflicted it on my daughter (and on me, the female in-law) in the following generation. Bottom line: you can’t always stop such treatment, but eventually we found ways to work around it.

This composite image consists of two memes. The first uses a Facebook background of laughing yellow emojis with “heart eyes.” It says, “Make sure to bring up politics at Thanksgiving this month to save on Christmas gifts.” The other is a Glenn McCoy cartoon. In the foreground a Native woman and two Pilgrim women clean up the remains of a meal and the dirty dishes. In the background, Native men and Pilgrim men are lined up for a football scrimmage. One of the women speaks to the others, saying “I hope this doesn’t become a 
tradition.”
Politics and football (and mountains of dirty dishes): for many of us, they are inescapable essentials of a Genuine American Thanksgiving. (See credits below).

Politics and Football

In addition to intergenerational strife, Americans today have an incredibly divided political landscape to navigate. Every couple of years, a Genuine American Thanksgiving comes later in the same month as a major election (if you think the mid-terms aren’t “major” you have not been paying attention!). But in recent years a political system that for all practical purposes makes us choose “either or” between two parties has divided us deeply.

That’s not a problem if everyone in the family agrees on the basic tenets of one party. However, that’s rarely the case. What can we do if someone we love is “on the other side”? Psychologists urge us to remember that there are ways to bridge the gap, if both sides are willing to engage.

And if all else fails, perhaps there’s football. Many families have a strong collegiate or NFL football team affiliation. If all else fails, they still can unite over love of their team, or at least love of the sport. Football has become a cherished Thanksgiving tradition in many households. It can even transcend politics – especially if people are looking for “something else, please!” to talk about.

But what if there still remain a few undiscussed aggressions to work off? Why not get rid of them with an informal family scrimmage in the front or back yard during breaks? It’s exercise in the fresh air, and that can’t be bad. It won’t work for all families, but it works for some.

This photo shows a densely-packed crowd on Black Friday. Its caption says, “Black Friday: People trampling over each other for cheap goods mere hours after being thankful for what they already have.”
Best wishes and good success to us all, this Christmas season! (Many thanks for the meme, Bustle!)

Christmas Songs Before Thanksgiving?

Oh, great. Yet another Genuine American Thanksgiving “political” divide! There are those who live all year in eager anticipation of seasonal Christmas music. They seemingly just can’t wait for the chestnuts to start roasting on the open fire. They probably feel secret delight that “even stoplights” to blink a bright red and green. And they yearn to pretend that their snowman is Parson Brown. The rest of us would willingly end them if they start that sh*t as early as Halloween.

But after Thanksgiving, it’s a different story (or a lost cause, depending on how you see it). Like it or not, the Christmas shopping season begins about the minute Thanksgiving ends. Never mind that the day after Thanksgiving is by law Native American Heritage Day (as if Thanksgiving itself weren’t enough of an ethnic insult). But more importantly, everybody knows it’s Black Friday.

Make no mistake about it, from an economic standpoint, the Christmas shopping season is huge for American businesses. Time to break out the jingle bells and go “ho-ho-ho” all the way to the shopping mall (or wherever, depending on what buying opportunity best floats your boat). I’m more of a Small Business Saturday or Cyber Monday kind of girl, myself, but some people live for the joy of the Black Friday hunt.

You be you, whatever your plan. That, too, is an important part of a Genuine American Thanksgiving. 😊

IMAGE CREDITS:

Once again, I want to thank Artsper Magazine for the history and detail image for Norman Rockwell’s iconic Thanksgiving painting, Freedom from want, 1943. Deepest appreciation to Reddit for the meme that lampoons Jean Leon Gerome Ferris’ 1912 painting, The First Thanksgiving, 1621. Many thanks for the memes about Thanksgiving food to “Hardcore Italians” on Facebook, and “Bored Panda.”

I appreciate Nate ‘Patchy’ Adams @NateAdams741 on Twitter for the “Mom T-Rex” meme, “Bored Panda” and “tasteslikesarcasm,” @tasteslikesarc on Twitter for the “Family Questions” meme, and Some EE Cards for the “Phone in the Bathroom” image. Thanks yet again to Bored Panda for the Facebook-themed politics meme, and to the wonderful Glenn McCoy (in this case via Reddit) for the “Tradition” cartoon. And finally, thank you to “Bustle” for the Black Friday meme.

Here are two illustrated quotes: first, “Bad officials are elected by good citizens who don’t vote.” – George Jean Nathan. Second, “If you don’t vote, you lose the right to complain.” – George Carlin.

We Get One More Chance

By Jan S. Gephardt

I almost didn’t post anything this week. Life events (my daughter’s health crisis and my father’s recent death) have just about sandbagged me. But, with a little encouragement from my Weird Sister (who’s also had her cataclysms this year), I concluded I did need to say something this week. Because things in my beloved country are rapidly running toward a collision point. And because in this season of advance voting, we get one more chance.

Anyone who’s followed this blog for long knows I am passionate about voting. I was among the first crop of 18-year-olds allowed to vote in the US, and from that day on I have never voluntarily missed an election. While this makes me pretty run-of-the-mill in my family, it makes me rather uncommon among the general US population.

I wish it wasn’t so. I wish everyone who was old enough and eligible understood how important it is to make an educated vote on the key matters of the day.

Here are two illustrated quotes: first, “We do not have government by the majority. We have government by the majority who participate.” – Thomas Jefferson. Second, “Someone struggled for your right to vote. Use it.” – Susan B. Anthony.
Voices from the past weigh in. I hope people consider their words. (See credits below).

Of Primary Importance

Here in Kansas, we proved just how wrong polls can be, and just how powerful women – especially young, angry women – can be in an election. Back then I posted, tweeted, and blogged for all I was worth about the incredible importance of voting in every election, not just the big, “sexy” ones in the fall. I am under no illusion that I made a measurable difference, but enough people did step up to create a rather amazing outcome.

Nobody thought young people would vote. Nobody expected angry young women to vote in such numbers. Everybody had kind of written Kansas off as “oh, well, they’re a red state.”

They’re doing that again this fall. Will the “sleeping giant” of angry young women go back to sleep, assuming they “fixed it all” in August? Well, the issues are less clear-cut in November, if you choose to look at it that way. They aren’t for me personally, but I vote anyway. I guess we’ll find out what others decide.

The cartoon shows two crowds, one of which is about double the size of the other. Everyone in the smaller crowd wears a T-shirt that says, “I voted.” The larger crowd wears blank shirts, and a word balloon above them reads, “We didn’t vote because it won’t make a difference.”
This cartoon image says it better than I ever could in words. As the picture makes clear, it WOULD have made a difference. Whatever you do, don’t sit this one out! (See credits below).

Don’t be Discouraged by the Polls

One thing I keep telling myself is that I can’t lose hope. If Kansas in August is anything to go by, the polling then showed a close race. It was anything but close, although one benighted idiot did demand – and pay for – a recount.

When was the last time you got a call from an unknown number and actually picked up? Pollsters do their best, I assume. But they’re at a disadvantage in an age when we have to jealously guard our time and our privacy against abuse. Recent polls have consistently skewed conservative, in large part because who has landlines these days? Who routinely answers phone calls? Older people who haven’t caught on to the pitfalls.

Other places, such as focus groups, public events (fairs, shopping centers, etc.) offer opinions from small populations who often self-select to at least a certain extent. Email polling is often partisan to the point of becoming an echo-chamber. I’ve come to the conclusion that polls are just “iffy” guesses (sometimes accurate, sometimes not) till the election happens. Kansas in August proved that to a more dramatic extent than we’ve seen in a while.

Here are two illustrated quotes: first, “Bad officials are elected by good citizens who don’t vote.” – George Jean Nathan. Second, “If you don’t vote, you lose the right to complain.” – George Carlin.
The two “Georges” have it right. Inform yourself and vote, if you haven’t! (See credits below).

In the General Election we get One More Chance.

The outcome still lies with us. We get one more chance. A lot of the candidates have bought into the “Big Lie” that previous elections were rigged. Note that none of that camp who DID get elected seem to worry that the vote was rigged in their case, however. We get one more chance to refrain from giving more power to that group.

In the name of “election integrity” state legislators already have instituted changes that inhibit many of the voters they deem to be skeevy (weirdly enough, they don’t seem to target old white conservatives, although those who need assistance to vote are out of luck). If some of the candidate-election commissioners, secretaries of state, and/or attorneys general are voted in, we’ll get more of that, plus legislatures with the power to reject results they don’t like.

Elections matter. We get one more chance in November.

IMAGE CREDITS:

Largely because (mentally and emotionally) my main reactor core has already melted down and I’m limping along on “impulse power” toward the nearest repair base, I used illustrations from my previous blog posts for this one. The two “vote-quote pairs” are both from my November 4, 2019 post, “Vote Tuesday! Will your voice be heard?” See that post for sources.

Similarly, the cartoon image by Nick Anderson of the Houston Chronicle came from my 2016 post, “Vote Like your Life Depends on It – Because it Just Might,” which used an image from The Coffee Party USA’s Facebook Page. Many thanks to all the original sources!

Artist Anne Taintor combines an advertising image from the 1940s or 50s of a woman at a stove with the caption, “Why, I’d be delighted to put my needs last again.”

Not Meant That Way

By Jan S. Gephardt

This week I read something that stopped me in my tracks with its unconscious bias. It hit me wrong immediately. I realized it actually was quite offensive. But ever since then I’ve been puzzling through the reasons why. Because it clearly was not meant that way.

What did I read? In this case it was a pair of 42-year-old microaggressions. What made it nag at me so much was that I wanted to be fair, combined the fact that they were not meant that way.

We’ve all heard about microaggressions and unconscious biases by this time. That is, we have unless we’re living under a rock or militantly Not Paying Attention. But unpacking exactly what counts as a microaggression – or how we can become aware of our unconscious biases (pro tip: we all have them) – isn’t clear for most of us. It all seems kinda hard to pin down.

That’s because it is hard to pin down. And that’s usually because we sense that something about it is offensive, even though it’s not meant that way.

Author David Brin, with his early novels “Sundiver” and “Startide Rising.”
David Brin has been an important voice in science fiction (and in science) for decades. Like every intelligent being, he has learned many things since he wrote the unintentional microaggressions quoted in this post. (World of David Brin).

The Origin Story for These Particular Microaggressions

The passage that made me stop and do a double-take came from Sundiver, David Brin’s first novel. That’s the one where he set up the universe for the “Uplift” series. The book dates to 1980 (Startide Rising, the sort-of sequel and the one that made the big, er, splash, didn’t come till 1983). I was reading it because I’ve been going back in time to read or re-read a lot of “vintage” science fiction lately.

Also, since I’m writing about an “uplifted” species, I thought I should refresh my memory of the novels that put that term into widespread science fictional use. I’d gotten roughly a third of the way into the book when I encountered the introduction of the character Helene DeSilva.

She’s been pre-introduced as “the best commandant a Confederacy outpost ever had.” When she first walks into the book, protagonist Jacob Demwa describes her as athletic, blonde, tall, and slender. She opens with a happy announcement in “geek-speak” about the mission. She is presented as a well-educated, capable, intelligent – even extraordinary – person. So far, so good. Brin is clearly bent on following a radical break with tradition in science fiction at that time: presenting female characters as, like, full-fledged, competent people. (You’re shocked, I know).

L-R, the covers for “The Other Side of Fear,” “What’s Bred in the Bone,” and “A Bone to Pick,” by Jan S. Gephardt.
The XK9s are uplifted police dogs who live on a space station. (Weird Sisters Publishing LLC. Cover art, L-R, is ©2020 by Lucy A. Synk, and ©2019 and 2020 by Jody A. Lee).

Insert Foot Into Mouth

Then her (male) boss introduces her this way: “this is Helene deSilva, Confederacy Commandant here on Mercury, and my right-hand man. Couldn’t get along without her.”

A little later, after Jacob learns her age and his reactions to her shift, she says, “I’ve worked too hard at becoming a woman, as well as an officer and a gentleman, to jump from ‘jail bait’ into Social Security.” She also makes it clear that, because he’s the only attractive man on the base who’s not subordinate to her, she’s interested in him sexually.

Oh, my. Where should I start? First of all, he didn’t mean it that way. (How many times have we heard have we heard that before?)

Microaggressions: Brief, everyday indignities that are verbal, behavioral or environmental, that they may not be intentional or unintentionally communicated to women, to people of color, to gay/lesbians that have an insulting message behind them that often time causes severe psychological distress and harm.” – Laurete Education, Inc., 2011
Microaggressors may say or do things that were “not meant that way,” but they’re microaggressions all the same. It’s not the intent, it’s the cumulative effect. (Terry Clarke Blog).

Trying to Imagine What That Would Look Like

Let me state right off the top that the purpose of this post is NOT to beat up on David Brin. I’m reasonably sure he had good intentions. In his daring first novel, which also involved many other complex scientific ideas and dramatic tasks to accomplish, the young author tried to walk what was still an extremely unfamiliar line in 1980.

Among all the other challenges, he sought to portray a woman as a confident, competent leader who was three-dimensional enough to also have “a female side.” But like many white, male science fiction writers of that period, he’d spent his life immersed in the overwhelmingly white and male world of “hard science.”

He probably had never been consciously aware of meeting a real live self-actualized professional woman of the sort he wanted to portray. Hypothetically, he thought they could exist. But he clearly wasn’t sure what such a being would “look like.”

In a Renaissance interior, a man holding a book and woman with embroidery in her lap sit in an elegant room with a younger woman standing nearby. The caption says, “You might have a Ph D in the subject, but according to this Wikipedia article I briefly perused . . .”
In a second Renaissance room, a man and woman stand behind a clerk sitting at a table holding a small scale. The caption says, “Let him finish showing you how it works, dear. Scales can be difficult.”
Nicole Tersigni creates satirical images of mansplaining and other belittling behavior. (Nicole Tersigni/NYTimes).

Unpacking the Part that was Not Meant That Way

But the unconscious assumptions embedded in these lines torpedoed his best intentions. Like many early attempts to do something unfamiliar, it was – perhaps awkward is the kindest way to put it. (And yes, I’m aware of the microaggressions embedded in that comment).

Let’s first talk about the odd uses of male characterizations that we almost never hear anymore: “right-hand man” and “an officer and a gentleman.” Used as they are here, both would today be seen as microaggressions. The assumption that underpins them is that a man (implicitly understood to mean “white, male, and well-educated”) is the ultimate standard by which everything else is measured.

If you’re metaphorically a “man,” you’re being praised as “best-quality,” even if you’re biologically not a man, and therefore (by inferred definition) inferior. It’s the obverse of the assumption that gave us “run like a girl,” “throw like a girl,” “drive like a woman,” and “scream like a little girl.”

In the first picture an old man sits in a chair with a young woman standing behind him. The caption says, “Careful with that equality talk. You don’t want to grow up and be a feminist.”
In the other a young peasant woman with a basket, a child and an older man confront a young gentleman in a top hat. The caption says, “I can see you’re very busy, but I just had to tell you that you’d be so much prettier if you smiled.”
Here’s more of Nicole Tersigni’s wry wit on obnoxious, condescending men. (Nicole Tersigni/NYTimes).

What Lurks Under the Words?

“My right-hand man. Couldn’t get along without her” sounds archaic to most of us today. That’s for good reason. Very few men these days remain unwary (or oblivious) enough to publicly refer to a powerful, competent woman as their “right-hand man.” Not if they expect to survive her wrath, that is.

I should note that the phrase “right-hand man” has a military origin. It dates to the 17th and 18th centuries. Also, it’s often equated with “my man Friday.” That one’s been in the vernacular since 1719, when Daniel Defoe wrote Robinson Crusoe. As you might recall, in that story Friday was an Indigenous man who acted as a servant to the shipwrecked Crusoe. A “man Friday” has been understood ever since as meaning a (racially inferior) servant or assistant. Doubly demeaning in its subtext is the appellation, “Girl Friday.”

“Couldn’t get along without her” is, if anything, even more condescending than the supposedly-flattering elevation to male status. It implies that she exists to ease his way. From there it’s a very short walk to the limiting traditional status of (and the often-unreasonable demands placed upon) a “helpmeet.”

Artist Anne Taintor combines an advertising image from the 1940s or 50s of a woman at a stove with the caption, “Why, I’d be delighted to put my needs last again.”
Anne Taintor comments on traditional women’s roles using mid-20th century ad pictures and biting sarcasm. (Anne Taintor/Bored Panda).

Military Missteps

The “an officer and a gentleman” example just piles it on higher and deeper. It again uses a phrase layered with military tradition. Also, it once again equates being superior (an officer) with being a man (which, of course, used to be literally true). And it lifts “man/gentleman/privileged being” up as the ideal thing to be.

If at this point you’re thinking those phrases really didn’t seem all that obnoxious to you, say hello to your own unconscious bias. Yes, I’m going on and on about a couple of stupid little phrases that weren’t meant to offend anyone. They were not meant that way. Just the opposite, probably. But that’s my point. These are microaggressions because while they may not be meant badly, when you open up the hood on them, they’re monstrous. They “merely” take it for granted that men are better than women. That’s all. Where could the harm possibly lie in that?

Confronting one’s unconscious bias is uncomfortable. It’s exhausting to be more mindful of the subtext that lies within the things we say. A whole bunch of the unconscious stereotyping has been baked into our understandings. So it’s normal to feel overwhelmed and defensive. Especially if people are offended, even though our words were not meant that way.

This is a succinct variation on the sound privilege makes when it gets pinched. (Quotemaster).

Exhaustion Happens, But it’s An Excuse with an Expiration Date

The first response of those who’ve lived their whole lives in a place of privilege, only to find it being challenged now, is often to push back. Aside from that, thinking is hard work. It’s exhausting. It takes a lifetime to build the habit of mindfulness. Worse, we’re going to get it wrong. A lot. Especially at first.

People who’ve always previously had the luxury of not having to worry about who they may offend won’t like this. It’s terribly inconvenient and uncomfortable. So much easier and simpler to attack others by complaining that they are “too woke” and unreasonably “politically correct!”

But most of the world, throughout most of history, hasn’t had such luxury. They’ve been forced to think about every word they say and everything they do in the presence of those with greater privilege. Now demographics are changing. Some population groups are growing. Census experts say the United States will lose its white majority and become a “majority minority” country by 2045. Parts of it have already gone that route. Other parts of the world are experiencing similar shifts.

“Microaggressions add up. No matter how confident people from marginalized or underrepresented communities feel about their identities, microaggressions create unsafe spaces and make individuals feel like perpetual outsiders.” – Mira Yang
Words from someone who can speak on the matter with authority. (The Daily Northwestern, Mira Yang).

Privilege Won’t Let People off the Hook Forever

The handwriting is on the wall. Currently-privileged, dominant-culture white people will become one of the minority groups in the country by mid-century. And unfortunately, contemporary trends give us little hope for a peaceful transition. It’s more likely entitled, privileged white people with power will fight any erosion of their privilege (and their license to offend others without consequences).

But microaggressions add up, and they can be stifling to the recipients. Decades-long trends tell us they’re growing less and less tolerant. Less willing to submit meekly to abuse. Given the kind of demographic shifts we face, it’s not hard to foresee more awareness about microaggressions. And that means the time will come when “it was not meant that way” will no longer be any defense.

IMAGE CREDITS

The covers for David Brin’s novels and his bio photo all came from his website, “Worlds of David Brin.” Learn more about Sundiver here. Learn more about Startide Rising here. The covers of my (so far) three “XK9 books” about uplifted police dogs on a space station are courtesy of Weird Sisters Publishing LLC. Cover art, L-R, is ©2020 by Lucy A. Synk, and ©2019 and 2020 by Jody A. Lee.

Many thanks to the Terry Clarke Blog for the definition image for “microaggressions.” I’m doubly grateful to the New York Times and Nicole Tersigni for the wonderful glimpses into her book Men to Avoid in Art and Life. Thanks again, Bored Panda and Anne Taintor, for the “Put My Needs Last” image. Some readers may recall that I also used it in G. S. Norwood’s post “A Spotlessly Beautiful Home” last August.

I appreciate Quotemaster for the quote-image from Charleton Heston. And I deeply appreciate Mira Yang’s perspective as one who has been on the “receiving end.” Read her op-ed in The Daily Northwestern for a deeper look at her experiences.

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