Dr. Laura & Racism

So, last night Jon and I happened to catch some of Anderson Cooper on CNN and learned about the whole Dr. Laura racism-on-the-radio debacle.  If you haven’t heard the scoop, here’s the basics: a woman called into Dr. Laura’s show for advice (if you ask me, anyone who would call that horrible woman for advice is less than bright, but certainly not deserving of what came next).  The woman, Jade, said that she’s in an interracial marriage, she’s black and her husband is white, and that she has been hurt by her husband’s friends and family making racist comments, while her husband does nothing about it.  Dr. Laura managed to call the woman hypersensitive, dismiss the idea that the comments were racist, make gross generalizations about black people as a monolithic entity, use the N-word many times, and suggest that people who can’t put up with racist comments from friends and family members shouldn’t marry outside their race.  While many outlets are simply focusing on Dr. Laura’s use of the N-word, as you can see/hear, the rest of the exchange is really what drips with racism.  You can hear the whole audio and read a transcript over at Media Matters.

Before I respond, here’s Jamelle Bouie:

What Dr. Laura said was RACIST.

Dr. Laura asks Jade, the caller, for an example of a racist comment she’s been hearing from her husband’s friends and family, and Jade replies:

CALLER: OK. Last night — good example — we had a neighbor come over, and this neighbor — when every time he comes over, it’s always a black comment. It’s, “Oh, well, how do you black people like doing this?” And, “Do black people really like doing that?” And for a long time, I would ignore it. But last night, I got to the point where it –

SCHLESSINGER: I don’t think that’s racist.

CALLER: Well, the stereotype –

SCHLESSINGER: I don’t think that’s racist.

Memo to Dr. Laura: that IS racist. Assuming that all people of a certain race think/act alike and expecting an individual from that race/group to be able to speak for/represent the whole group, well, that’s racist. Just like people who think all women are alike and expect any one woman to represent/speak for the entire sex are sexist. Seeing an entire group of people as if they aren’t as diverse and individual as your group of people is racist. Full stop. There’s no hypersensitivity there, and I can see where this woman would feel hurt by her husband’s friends and family constantly making generalizations and stereotypes about her race and expecting her to be the ambassador for all black people.

Then, after stating that generalizations about black people aren’t racist statements, Dr. Laura forges ahead and makes a couple of generalizations about black people, namely that they all voted for Obama simply because he’s black, and that they’re all good at basketball:

A lot of blacks voted for Obama simply ’cause he was half-black. Didn’t matter what he was gonna do in office, it was a black thing. You gotta know that. That’s not a surprise. Not everything that somebody says — we had friends over the other day; we got about 35 people here — the guys who were gonna start playing basketball. I was going to go out and play basketball. My bodyguard and my dear friend is a black man. And I said, “White men can’t jump; I want you on my team.” That was racist? That was funny.

Nope, Dr. Laura, that entire paragraph is racist. And after that, as if her words are a little racist snowball rolling down the hill, Dr. Laura decides to get something off her chest: how deeply jealous she is that “black guys on HBO” can use the N-word but she, a white person, cannot.  She literally says the N-word over and over again.  It’s a common racist/sexist tactic to get upset that minority groups take words previously used to oppress and hurt them and turn them into something they use for their own power.  It’s not quite the same as the N-word, but it reminds me the way I and some of my favorite blogger friends have reclaimed the word “harpy.” If some man called me a harpy, I’d be downright pissed. But I jokingly call myself a harpy all the time.

After a commercial break, Jade, the caller, makes some very wise observations about race relations in this country.  She points out that older white people in this country seem more frightened and emboldened about racism after Obama’s election to the presidency.  This isn’t crazy stuff, folks like the Southern Poverty Law center have been pointing this out for over a year now.  You only have to look to footage of Tea Party events to know that some racists in this country are flipping out and feeling comfortable expressing very racist ideas in public.  But Dr. Laura tells the caller that she obviously has a “chip on your shoulder” and suggests she has “too much sensitivity.”

After a bit of arguing about the N-word, Jade hangs up and Dr. Laura concludes:

SCHLESSINGER: All right. Thank you very much. Thank you very much. Can’t have this argument. You know what? If you’re that hypersensitive about color and don’t have a sense of humor, don’t marry out of your race.

Talk about an epic fail from a professional advice giver!

If Jade had called me for advice, I’d definitely answer differently.  I’d validate her feelings that her husband’s family and friends are making racist comments.  I’d affirm that yes, expecting one person to represent her entire race, with the belief that the entire race thinks/acts alike, is racist.  I’d tell her that whether her husband agrees with her that the comments are racist, it’s her husband’s job as her spouse and as the one with the primary relationship with these people to tell them to cut it out.  If your spouse says your friends/family are hurting his/her feelings, you tell them to knock it off. You refuse to tolerate it in your house.  You inform them they will not be welcome in your house so long as they continue to say things that hurt your spouse.  Period.  It’s not that difficult to see that that’s the right answer to that question.

Because Dr. Laura did not take this opportunity to state the obvious, that spouses should have each other’s backs when someone is hurting one of their feelings, I can only conclude that she’s had these feelings of racial resentment, the ones that came bursting through in the exchange, for a while.  I’m not saying that Dr. Laura hates black people, or that, as a person, she’s a complete and total racist. But that exchange definitely revealed her racial resentment, and her words were racist.

To top it all off, Dr. Laura’s “apology” is of the “I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings”variety rather than the I’m sorry I said what I said variety.  She primarily focuses on the use of the N-word.  Her use of the N-word wasn’t even the half of it! She needs to do more than apologize for using an abhorrent word, but for the entire hateful exchange.  And she needs to examine her issues surrounding race, perhaps with a licensed therapist.

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pet peeves

I often tell people that I have one perfect dog and one very sweet but very crazy dog.

And then yesterday, I had the following exchange on Twitter:

Still thinking about this exchange as Jon and I went to bed, I said, “My friend says that people project their own personalities and issues on their pets. But we have two very different pets! And he says that one of them is probably me, and one of them is probably you.  But which is which?”

Very quickly, Jon replied, “I think it’s pretty obvious that I’m the chilled out, obedient one.”

To which I replied, “Are you saying I’m the cracked out crazy one in constant need of attention and affection and snuggles?”

His silence said all I needed to know.

Bessie, aka Jon. The chilled out, obedient dog with a voracious appetite who has never met a food she doesn't like. Her dad, on the other hand, has met two foods he doesn't like: olives and corned beef.

Olive, aka me. She's prone to run off chasing things that interest her, often lashes out at strangers, and is sometimes too smart for her own good.

But let's be honest here, this is how you normally find Olive, because she's a total attention whore.

mousetraps and crying jags

Friday morning I made a very disappointing and distressing discovery on the kitchen counter: mouse poop.  I’m not sure how any mice survive our neighborhood given the army of flea-bitten stray cats prowling around, but apparently they survive by hiding out in my house.  I called the World’s Greatest Landlord (no lie) and informed him of the discovery.  He told me he’d call the pest control people and asked if I was opposed to kill traps.  “Of course not! They’re mice! They have no natural habitat to be released into, as their natural habitat is my kitchen!”  He delivered a couple of mousetraps later that day.  They looked like this:

Image via Rennet Stowe's Flickr photostream.

Fast forward to about 1:00 am: Jon and I, sleepy and ready for bed, remember that we need to set the mousetraps.  We quickly realize we have no IDEA how to set them. In our sleepy state, we fumble around, trying to figure out these tiny death machines.  I finally get one set, when, just as I go to show it to Jon, SNAP! Right on my thumb. The dogs jumped a mile. Jon jumped a mile. I immediately burst into tears. It HURT.  But then I kept crying. I cried harder. And it wasn’t just because my thumb really really hurt.  I couldn’t bear the thought of that SNAP! happening to some little creature’s head.  I really lost it just thinking about it. I couldn’t handle the idea that I might be woken up in the night by a SNAP!, knowing what had just happened.  We went to bed, having given up on the traps for a while.

I kept crying. Jon started laughing his head off.  I started crying harder, thinking he was laughing at me. And, in all honesty, he probably should have been laughing at me, because who gets hysterical over mousetraps?  In reality, he was laughing because the SNAP! had really startled him, and for some reason his startle reflex is connected to his giggle box.  Eventually I splashed some cold water on my face and blew my very snotty nose.  We agreed we’d find some other solution than SNAP! traps.  I may or may not be hoping to get a kitty out of this deal.  I’m still not sure why the whole SNAP! incident got me so shook up, but all I know is, I can’t handle a SNAP! trap.

Anyone have suggestions for getting mice out of your kitchen without SNAP! traps?

Do I get a diploma now?

Today I have been married for four years. Or, as I like to say, I’ve put in enough time to have earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Marriage to Jon O. I’m thinking it’s a BA, because marriage is more an art than a science- what works for us may not work for anyone else, but 4 years in, I pretty well know what works for us.  I guess I’m now working on my Master’s, and I’m planning to go for a Ph.D. After that, I guess I’ll have to find a new metaphor!

I’ve been thinking about weddings a lot this week.  Last Saturday, I went to the wedding of a dear friend, a friend who had been a bridesmaid in my wedding.  It was a lovely, joyous occasion, and being there, I have to say the ceremony was just SO HER, so true to who my friend is as an exuberant, whimsical, beautiful, and loving person. I got teared up as they said their vows, and I grinned with true, shared joy as they walked down the aisle as husband and wife to the music of “All You Need Is Love” complete with live marimba, trombone, piano, and violin accompaniment.  Later, I told my husband that I think I need to arrange to go to a wedding the week of our anniversary every year, because they remind me what a special joy it is to be married.

Then, a few days ago, I tweeted something about my disgust at Chelsea Clinton’s wedding costing over $4 million.  Many of my “tweeps” joined in my disgust, and a few shared how they managed to pull off astonishingly cheap weddings.  Like, less than $50, cheap.  I like to think I had a pretty inexpensive wedding, but the truth is, our event probably cost our families around the national average when all was said and done. I’d like to see a poll of my tweeps’ wedding costs when controlled for an average ceremony and reception, because those who eloped were really throwing off the curve. And of course, all the cheap wedding talk led to someone wondering if she was a bad person because she had a more expensive wedding.  To which I say: of course not.  If you’ve got the money to spend and a vision to execute, more power to ya, enjoy your day. I certainly did. (And I’m not really as grossed out by Chelsea Clinton’s $4 million wedding now that I’ve been reminded that she’s throwing a shindig that will be attended by dignitaries and heads of state accustomed to a certain standard of accommodation.)

While I’m well aware that people in this country all too often focus on the wedding instead of the marriage, looking back at my wedding, I think it well-represented who we are as a couple, both then and now. I thought I’d share a few aspects.

In my life, I’ve been blessed with a wonderful family and a wonderful church family, all of whom had a hand in raising me, and all of whom share credit for the person I’ve become.  To grow up in a strong church family is a huge blessing, and everyone at Westminster Presbyterian Church really came together to make my special day a true “family” affair. We were married in the church I grew up in, and my church family had a hand in every aspect of our wedding.  As a small example, when, at the last minute, we realized the bouquets and boutonnieres had not arrived for the ceremony (long story, maybe I’ll tell you sometime), a woman of the church hurried into the reception hall, gathered up any extra flowers she could get her hands on, and stuck stems in the pockets of all the groomsmen.  She tied ribbons around white chrysanthemums for all the bridesmaids, and she quickly fashioned a bouquet for me.  While they weren’t the hand-tied mini white calla lilies I had envisioned, I had flowers in my hands and a smile on my face when I went down the aisle, and no one knew they weren’t the flowers I had planned on.  I had no time to worry, and no need to, because I was surrounded by people who loved us and who were taking care of us. I know that those people surround and care for us to this day.

Another thing that was very important to us was that our wedding be first and foremost a service of worship for the God who taught us to love and brought us together and blessed us so richly.  Led by a dear friend and Jon’s sister, we sang both modern praise and worship songs (more Jon’s style) and favorite hymns (more mine).  We were even beautifully serenaded by Jon’s best friend and best man, who sang “Ave Maria.”  After the wedding, several friends and even our wedding photographer remarked on the genuine and joyful faith they had seen on display both in the ceremony and over the weekend with our families. I’m pretty sure our photographer was introduced to Jesus for the first time at our wedding!

Jon and I met while working as counselors at a Presbyterian summer camp, so it was only right that the camp director performed our wedding.  Knowing David, who has a penchant for preaching parables entirely in alliteration, I knew we’d get a very unique message on our special day, and he did not disappoint.  He centered his message on lessons from camp that apply to marriage.  Here’s part of what he said:

(1) Feed the Untraditional. If there is any adjective we can all agree on to describe Jesus, it is that he was “untraditional.” He did things differently. He shattered traditions. He said things in new ways. I think this is what makes camp so powerful. The same message, but shared in a new context with a different vocabulary and lived out in community. I encourage you to finds ways to keep your faith and marriage fresh. Look for new wineskins. Hold fast to your faith, but don’t mistake the packaging for the real thing. Jesus had harsh words for the traditionalists. Those he hung with were the marginalized. Keep your faith untraditional and fresh.
(2) Find some wilderness places. Ask a camper what their favorite part of camp was and you’ll get a variety of answers, swimming, games, camping out, capture the flag, but ask a counselor, and one response dominates. They like FOB. Flat On Bunk, that time after lunch when you go back to the cabin for rest time. It is time to recharge and renew. Marriages need FOB as well. We may not get it after lunch each day, but we need to find it somewhere. Jesus had only three years of ministry to share the Good News and change the world, yet we constantly find him sneaking away for time away to reflect and renew; to step back and refocus; to be intentional about his relationship with God and listen for direction.
You two face busy times ahead. School, marriage, and real life are coming at you. Times of stress and times when the demands of the world seem to press in from all sides. Jesus always got away to wilderness and natural places….mountain tops, sea shores, desserts, and gardens. Find the time and places that help you stay grounded and well-rounded. Take FOB time to cultivate your relationship with each other and your relationship with your Creator.
(3) Finally, Form Your Own Family Group. One of the things about camp that makes it so impacting is that we form family groups and for that week of camp they share meals, activities, worship. They live together 24 hours a day in community so they see each other as they really are. Each person has to give of themselves to make it work. In a way it is a microcosm of life and of marriage. You are forming your own family group and God will now see you as one unit. You are giving each other the greatest gift possible – yourself – even as Christ gave himself for the church. It is the marriage relationship that Scripture chooses to use as its model for the relationship between Jesus and the church. With God’s help you can model the relationship. You will have challenges, but God promises to be with you through it all, just as you today make public your commitment to be with each other through it all.

Enjoy the gift of life. And enjoy the gift of each other. And don’t forget to have fun along the way. Roast a marshmallow or two and have a s’more. And remember, you have this huge community of friends and family here to root you on, to encourage and support you.

Four years later, I can say that his advice was right on. I’m even rather amused now at how apt it was. We are all about “untraditional.” On our wedding day, we spent our time before the ceremony smooching in the hallway, tradition of not seeing each other be damned. At the end of the ceremony, we were introduced as “Jon and Sarah [Lastname], husband and wife” because I absolutely despise the traditional erasing of female identity in announcing them as “Mr. and Mrs. Jon [Lastname].” And to this day, we strive not to fall back on traditional roles in our marriage, but to be who we are, completely and honestly, supporting and encouraging each other and playing to our strengths.

We are also all about FOB time. Through the rigors of residency and the trials of life, our time to relax and recharge together has been fought for fiercely and guarded closely. At the wedding last weekend, one of the bridesmaids, upon learning I was about to celebrate four years of marriage, asked me “Four good years? Was it easy?” I thought for a minute and replied: “Life has sometimes been very hard, but the marriage has been easy.” I know this might not always be the case, that sometimes marriage itself might get hard, but over the past four years, our marriage has been our sanctuary in a life that has sometimes been tumultuous.

And we have, over the past four years, been knit together as a family, one unit. While moving halfway across the country from everyone you know and love is a stressful and hard thing, it was also an immense blessing for us as a newlywed couple. We have been forced to forge together and rely on each other when we had no one else to rely on. We know we that no matter what comes our way, we’re in it together.

I am so happy to look back at how far we’ve come in our marriage over the past four years.  And I’m impressed with how perfectly our ceremony foretold our life together.  Now, I’m off to give Jon the gift I made for him. I promise to tell you all about that tomorrow!

Sarah & Julie & Julia

Julia and me at the exhibit of her kitchen at the Smithsonian.

I’ve seen “Julie & Julia” three times now, having watched it yesterday for the third time.  And I’ll probably see it again. It might be my new favorite movie, right up there with “Elf,” “Zoolander,” “10 Things I Hate About You,” and “Center Stage” in terms of films I watch over and over (my taste, as you can see, is nothing but the highest quality in films).

At first I thought I liked the film because of Julia.  I mean, Meryl Streep is freakin’ fabulous as Julia Child, and really, Julia Child was just amazing. I said the first time I saw the film that I’d have rather just watched Julia, and had the Julie part left out altogether.  Amy Adams is a lovely actress, but her Julie just didn’t stand a chance next to Meryl’s Julia. Julia is/was vibrant and vivacious and in love with her husband and with life. I’d happily watch a whole movie of Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci grabbing each other’s butts and holding hands and making out and making jokes about cannolini being “hot as a stiff cock.”

Julie, on the other hand, drove me a little insane.  She was whiny and petty and mopey. She was selfish, snippy with her husband, and given to throwing lying-in-the-floor tantrums when things weren’t going so well in the kitchen, even though she was cooking for fun, as a hobby, and no one was freaking making her do it. I found myself annoyed by her the entire time I was watching the movie for the first time, and for most of my second viewing as well.

But yesterday, while watching the film for the third time, I had a revelation.  One thing I managed to pick up from all the Jungian psychology I learned as a lit major is that usually, the things we most hate in the Other are things we hate in ourselves.

Basically, I am Julie.

Like Julie, I’ve had to move and will move again because of my husband’s more prestigious job.  Like Julie, I’m a writer, but I’m not really a writer, not in the sense of getting paid to write things, and instead, like Julie, I work in a bureaucratic job that I don’t really love most of the time.  Like Julie, I feel that most of my friends are more successful than I am.  Like Julie, I feel I could be a magazine cover girl for a piece on failing to live up to one’s college potential.  Like Julie, I lack a best girl friend to confide in.  Like Julie, my hobbies include blogging and cooking. Like Julie, my husband encourages my hobbies and reminds me that I am too a writer and a good one at that (seriously, he even reads my academic papers, even though I’m sure they’re about as comprehensible to him as his medical journals are to me).

And that’s just the superficial stuff.  I even realized, while watching the scene where she drops a chicken on the floor and lays down and cries, a scene that annoyed me the first two times I saw it, I have done almost that exact same thing.  I can’t remember what I was cooking except that I burned it badly, and as I flipped out and opened windows and banged things around and generally acted like a toddler, my charming doctor husband informed me: “YOU ARE JUST LIKE THE HOSPITAL!” This was shocking, as it made no sense to me.  How was I just like a children’s hospital? He then explained that the hospital where he works has an ICU and a normal floor, but no “step down floor.” That is, there’s no level between “oh my God, things are serious and someone might die” and “things are probably going to be fine, everything’s routine, no need to worry.”  He was trying to tell me that I lack a level between HYSTERICAL HISSY FIT and lalala nothing to see here. Like Julie.

Maybe like Julie I’ll end up a bestselling author. Maybe I won’t.  But from now on, when I watch “Julie & Julia,” (and yes, I’ll probably be watching it again) I’ll be a little kinder and less judgmental of Julie. Because the things that bug me about her are things that bug me about me. And we’re both just doing the best we can.

pop goes the question

Photo by Nina Leen via Google's LIFE photo archive.

In an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal, Hannah Seligson longs for days of yore.  The piece is called “How the Marriage Proposal Became a Negotiation: The question, like the ring, used to be a surprise.” It seems to be a given that this is fairly tragic. Seligson writes: “We’ve gone from popping the question to a long conversation, hammering out the details of when and how the engagement will happen.” Seligson even hints that this new negotiation-style is emasculating men and eroding gender norms, which seem to be understood as an uncommon good: “So how is all this bargaining affecting gender dynamics?” Seligson asks.  She also writes: “the gender dance is still being worked out” and notes that one man felt cheated that his proposal wasn’t an out-of-the-blue popping of the question.

Seligson concludes, as if to allay WSJ readers fears that all that is sacred and holy and separate-spherical about traditional gender roles has been dismantled:

“Even so, do not mistake this for a level playing field. While there is more negotiation and compromise about the marriage timetable, Ms. Miller says her research showed that the man still holds the power to shut down the marriage conversation. Men in their 20s and 30s don’t seem to view the backroom negotiation as emasculating or ceding their turf to a generation of empowered women either. On the contrary—all this talking may have simply eliminated the only scary aspect of a proposal for a man: that the woman will say no.”

Yay! The men still have the majority of the power! Continue reading

what it’s like to be married to me

Image via Flickr user MonsieurLui under a Creative Commons license.

Last night I may or may not have delivered a soliloquy on the word “vulva” to my husband while he was trying to read. That’s what it’s like to be married to me.  I’ll make you chocolate whiskey pots de creme on a weeknight, but you might have to endure my monologues (aka rants) on occasion. I hope the trade-off in chocolate and other delicious foodstuffs is worth it.