‘No Bullshit’ 2017 is almost over: Time to ring in #racistinrecovery 2018

No. We cannot talk about something more pleasant. (On a separate note, for anyone dealing with elderly parents, this is a must-read. I chose it to illustrate this post because the title works for being a racist in recovery, too. Unpleasant but necessary…..)

“It is coercion of the strongest kind, because it appears in the guise of a self-evident necessity and is thus not even recognized as a coercive force.”

Ludwik Fleck, “Genesis & Development of a Scientific Fact”


I started 2017 with a post about making this a “no bullshit” year. Seing it out with a post about being a racist in recovery might be as “no bullshit” as it gets.

Attorney, mom, and all-around powerhouse Sandy Broadus introduced me to the term when, during a particularly heated social media discussion, she referred to some of the posters as “racists in recovery.” I may have been included in that group, I may not have. I don’t know.

What I did know was that it was a total hand-meet-glove moment and mine was in the air, waving wildly while yelling, “YES! THANK YOU!!!! THAT’S EXACTLY THE RIGHT TERM FOR IT!!!!”

In my mind, I saw the hashtag (#racistinrecovery). I saw myself wearing the T-shirt. Then I saw myself trying to explain to an angry mob that I had never worn a white sheet, pointy hat, set a cross on fire or dropped the “n-bomb” in casual conversation.

That’s racist behavior. Racist in recovery behavior is something else altogether.

Racist in recovery behavior is what happens upon realizing that the result of growing up majority culture means you have absorbed some default prejudicial beliefs you don’t even know you’ve absorbed. But knowing they’re there bothers you enough to try to undo the damage, at least as much as you can and more if possible. Which is tricky, because you don’t even know where it all is or when or how it’s gonna crop up.

I explained to someone this way: It’s like you’re a tea bag, and you live in a cup full of water. Everything around you is tea. Why would you think there was anything else?  How does a tea bag know that there’s a whole different kind of world outside a teacup? (I realize that this assumes sentience on the part of the tea bag. For purposes of this analogy, that assumption is correct.)

Being a Racist in Recovery means stepping far enough out of your comfort zone to trust someone else’s view of how what you are saying comes across. It means being willing to let go of notions you took for granted. It means taking the word of people’s experiences as people of color at their word, not challenging, minimizing, apologizing or denying those experiences. It means standing quietly and listening, and it means speaking up in situations where you hear someone who might want to be a racist in recovery or who is just a straight-up racist say something racist.

I’m not a big New Years resolver. I want to get more exercise and drop a few pounds, clean my house, write more, play my instruments more and waste less time 12 months of the year. But I would love to see #racistinrecovery become a thing in 2018.

Consider this my “Help Wanted” ad.

What the Sony hack & the Pentagon Papers have to do with dinner at my house

Celebrity gossip and pop culture are two of my guilty pleasures, and I follow world affairs and politics the way some people follow sports. I even have an unofficial list of Celebrities and World Leaders Welcome in my Home (it’s very short).

Unsurprisingly, last week’s news about the alleged North Korean hack of Sony felt like an early holiday gift. Also, its release of e-mails between executives discussing their opinions of stars’ talent and behavior (Angelina Jolie – on the list, Leonardo DiCaprio – not on the list) and tacky jokes about President Obama’s (on the list) taste in movies (must have Black character or African/African-American subject matter) got people talking.

About the wrong things.

This was particularly driven home in a Facebook post by a former editor. She’s a thoughtful and delightfully opinionated woman who now runs a non-profit.  Its mission is to train community volunteers as advocates for abused and neglected children  needing safe and permanent homes. She said, in part:

“The racist joking about the President had news value to the extent of exposing racism, but does showing it publicly do any more than that? Their personal conversation – racist or not – has no real implications on the general public, IMO, as they made no plans to carry out hateful acts against others.”

I disagree.

To put it in newspaper terms, the Entertainment Industry’s op-eds are liberal (in the form of political affiliations and donations) and say all the right things about fairness, justice and equality. But its articles support a status quo that keeps us so mired in class- and racially-based divisiveness that it might as well just save its money and ditch the op-ed page altogether.

People like Amy Pascal (as an Amy, I have wondered aloud whether there is there a whiter name, but that is another topic for another day) and Scott Rudin regularly commit hateful acts against all of us. They’re just the latest links in a long chain of industry executives who’ve acted similarly. (They’ve also joined my “not on the list” list.)

People in their positions have tremendous influence. They control the stories we hear. They control the faces of those stories and the voices that tell them. They control the message, its volume and when and how that message gets released, heard and processed.

They frame the narrative of our culture.

It’s all about green at the expense of black and brown – and, I’d argue – white, too. That’s no surprise to anyone with a working brain. But Pascal’s e-mails really illustrate of the degree of insidiousness, denial of and willful obliviousness to past, current and future damage.

From that standpoint, the Sony hack, in its own way, is no less important than the Watergate scandal or release of the Pentagon Papers.

The Entertainment Industrial Complex has made lots of money selling us its sanitized version of reality for public consumption. Maybe it’s time we stopped buying.

Out from under the bed, with a couple of books

So, Tuesday was Election Day and we all woke up the next morning here in the US either depressed beyond belief or jubilant. Neither one is a very healthy state to maintain over time.

Truth is, the world is kind of a scary place these days. What with beheadings making an unfortunate comeback, income inequality, climate change, the digital Third World (more on this sometime later) and other things, the underside of my bed is becoming a very attractive place to be. So what if you can build a Great Dane out of the dust that’s collected there? I just think of it as soft lining for my secret nest. But only one percenters can spend all their time hiding beneath their beds (and they’ve no reason, even though I’m sure even their underbed regions are plush and fabulous with real soft linings and not the imitation stuff made from excess pet hair). I do not have that luxury.

Which might explain why I was particularly drawn to two recently published books.

Adrian and the Tree of Secrets (Arsenal)” is a graphic young adult novel originally published in French with a story by Hubert (English translation by David Homel) and illustrations (no translation needed) by Marie Caillou.

I’d actually never read one of these before. It’s more a short story than novel, the tale of a teenage boy for whom school and home are both equally unpleasant. The smart-and-awkward combo plate is generally a one-way ticket to high school pariah-land. Toss coming to terms with being gay into the mix and you’ve got a whole new level of angst. Adrian is handling it pretty well until Jeremy, the most popular boy in school, turns out to have his own secret. Jeremy also has a girlfriend, who doesn’t take kindly to idea of losing – or sharing – him. Caillou’s drawings are a worthy match for Hubert’s spare prose, and the point at which they leave Adrian is both disturbing and authentic. I would go with 13 and up on this one, and it’s a great way to spark a discussion about difficult topics with people in that age group.

The other, “Graphic History of Anti-Semitism (Schiffer)” is a coffee-table book, a perfect gift for the history buff in your life, particularly if your history buff is a Jewish fatalist. Jerome Forman, a retired attorney, began collecting antique European and American anti-Semitic graphic art – postcards, posters, ads, sheet music, books and other material – after handling an employment discrimination case. His client, an African-American woman, had worked for years at the same company and was passed over for a promotion which was, instead, given to a white woman who was less qualified than she. As he prepared for and tried the case, Forman wrestled internally with his own issues and thoughts about the consequences of hatred borne of differences between people of different hues and beliefs.

Forman has divided the book into several chapters, among them, “The Mythical Jew,” “Organized Anti-Semitism” and “Jewish Power.” Many of the pieces in his collection are not in pristine shape, because he sought out material that had been used – postcards that were purchased, written on and mailed.

Forman provides information on the pieces in his collection (the places from where and to where a postcard was mailed, the history of terms such as “Sheeney,” thought to have originated in England in the 19th century). His descriptions are informative without being tedious, and devoid of outrage, a wise move. Letting the art speak for itself is a big part of what provides this worthwhile book with its power.

I’m sure they’re out there on the big web-based bookselling behemoth, but if you decide to buy one or both and there’s still an independent bookstore in your town, go there. You can also check out Worldcat, which will steer you to the nearest library where they’re available.

Or just skip it and go hang out under your bed.