Friday, September 07, 2012

It's Personal

So I was checking out a blog post by Charlie Pierce (whom I adore) about his reaction to Obama's speech at the DNC last night. And I happened to run across a different blog post that really grabbed me.

The one that got me was this:
http://www.esquire.com/blogs/politics/womens-caucus-dnc-2012-12454556

I'm a child of the 1960s. I was 3 years old when Neil Armstrong landed on the moon, and I have a vague, grainy memory of seeing him do so, bouncing around on the screen of a black-and-white television between the fingers of my little hands placed to either side of him.

During the 1960s, we were one of several white families living on the Zuni Indian reservation. My parents both taught at the high school. This was the time when the American Indian Movement was taking hold and trying to build political power for the tribes. My father was a history/anthropology major (I can't remember what degrees he held, but my brother has said that Dad was only a few hours or a dissertation or something away from his Ph.D.) So we had lots of books in the house having to do with Native American history. I knew from these books about the slaughter at Wounded Knee and other places, about forced relocations of tribes (The Trail of Tears, The Long Walk), and that the basic policy of the American government for a great many years was "the only good Indian is a dead Indian" -- in a word, genocide.

Books also taught me that after the tribes had been stripped of their ancestral lands and confined to reservations and were no longer the physical threat to white settlement that they had been, the government policy toward Indians changed only slightly, to "the only good Indian is an assimilated Indian." The idea was to focus on the kids, to separate them from their families, their culture, their customs, their language, by shipping them off to boarding schools. In fact, I knew several older people in the Zuni tribe who had been shipped off to boarding schools as children. I heard their descriptions of being sent off into an alien world, hair cut, forced to wear school uniforms, being ridiculed or beaten for speaking their native language, missing family and friends back home. I heard the sadness and pain in their voices as they described these things. So I understood AIM's rage and the reasons behind it.

After I turned 9 or so, we moved off the reservation, ending up in Roswell, NM. And so I was introduced to the joys of cable TV. There were four California stations on our cable system, all of which showed old movies at various times. KTLA would have Weeks -- a Gene Kelly week, a Marx Brothers week, a Fred Astaire week, a Humphrey Bogart week, a Drama week. And so I fell in love with old movies. (And with Lakers basketball, when Kareem, Magic, James Worthy, Michael Cooper, and the like were playing, but that's another story for another time.)

I was Utterly. Devastated. the first time I saw the movie To Kill a Mockingbird. I could not wrap my mind around the injustice of it all. I agonized over it: How? How could they do that to Tom Robinson? How could people be that... that... MEAN? That cruel? That EVIL?

So I learned about the Civil Rights struggles, about Dr. King, and watched old newsreel and news footage of black people in Mississippi and Alabama -- who had the simple temerity! to believe they were fellow human beings -- being beaten, sprayed with water cannon, and attacked by police dogs as they sought to make us all recognize that they had the right to an equal education, the right to vote, the simple right to be seated and served at a restaurant. (That these things would even be in question was something that I still have trouble wrapping my mind around, to this very day.)

Sexism was another big thing to really be addressed in American society during my formative years. I was just old enough to benefit from Title IX when I was in middle and high schools and played basketball. Nancy Lopez, the boundary-shattering female golfer from Roswell -- and who played a large part in the passage of Title IX -- went to my high school. Her team trophies and photos were displayed in various cases around the school. There was even a big mural painted on the wall of the cafeteria.

But there was another, more personal experience with sexism that bothers me to this day: My own mother, upon graduating from UNM in 1963 with a B.S. degree in chemistry, applied to be a forensic chemist with the FBI, only to be told that "we don't hire women in that capacity -- but we'd be pleased to consider you for our typing pool, or as a receptionist."

I still shake my head at this. I truly don't get the thinking (if indeed there is any) behind "Oh, you're just a woman. Only a man can do (fill in the blank)." Frankly, unless it's being able to write your name in the snow with your own urine, I feel that there ain't nothing a man can do that a woman can't.

So I'm watching the political process in this country during the last year with increasing dismay. This whole thing about disenrolling voters to "protect against voter fraud"? And the political rhetoric saying that women shouldn't have access to birth control or abortion? Um, hey people: we *solved* these things already. People DIED to get us to acknowledge the basic reality that these rights belong to everyone. And now certain political interests (who appear to me to be mainly white men?) want to roll back these rights in their nostalgia for the bad old days when minorities and women "knew their places"?

In response, let me give you this one simple answer: Hell, NO. (Another, more primal answer also springs to mind:  Fuck You.)

This is apolitical. This is not about the left or the right. It's about making sure everybody GETS a fair chance. To me, this is personal.

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