Adventures of the Nose

My kid did pretty well in school.  Amazing how one’s standards can change.  Our deal was for him to get C or better on all of his classes this first semester, and if he did, we’d let him get his nose pierced.  He has been pretty steadfast in his desire to have a pierced nose for the last couple years.  It isn’t just a phase.We got his report card Saturday and took him out Sunday.

The place we went is on West Seventh.  It’s called Holy Mackerel.  It’s a kind of edgy and chic place. Like you might imagine a very talented but troubled hair stylist might be in charge.  There are tall, locked jewelry cases in the waiting area.  In each of these cases is a vast and interesting assortment of ear, belly-button, nose and i-don’t-know-what rings.

We were there for 30 minutes before the piercing dude showed up.  There was lots of time to look around.  I always forget about what a vast selection of tattooing and body-mod products and services there are in the world.  There were earplugs (like an earring, but with a gauge similar to that of a pencil or a garden hose)  some were quite beautiful, but I just can’t get over the idea that it’s simply to stretch one’s skin for the beauty of it. Probably post traumatic childbirth syndrome.  Stretching out didn’t make any part of me more attractive.

Jasper had lots of time to ponder all his options.

Over the reception desk were a lovely set of black and white still photographs of people being suspended by hooks in their skin. Jasper tried to warn me away form looking at those,  but it was too late.  “Mom, why would anyone ever do something like that? It’s so gross. Do they have some sort of mental/ psychological problem?” I allowed as how I thought that might just be right and how some cultures might do it as a part of a religious experience.

As we were admiring these we got to listen to what sounded to me like Death Metal records.  That’s right, records. There was a real turntable playing behind the receptionist.  One of the choruses was “Shut up you fucking bitch.” over and over.  Another song repeated, “Sleep with her friends, sleep with her friends’ friends.” It was loud enough that the girl behind the counter kept saying, “What?” when we were checking in.

Next to the check in desk are two additional cases.  Tall with glass on 3 sides. In it were more hugantic earrings, lip and brow rings.  Two simple black disembodied ears demonstrated different piercing option.  There were also simple black sculptures one of a penis and the other of a vulva, showing options should you want the head of your penis or your clitoris pierced.  There were pictures of split tongue body mods, insertions and scarring used to give one’s self horns or just an interesting scar.

Jasper got his nose pierced with a simple tiny black marcasite stud.  He says it hurt a lot more than he thought it would.  When I  had mine done in the late 80’s there were no dainty studs for the nose.  It was only gigantic, protruding  starter earrings which were used.  Now there are a million different places to buy jewelry for whatever part you have pierced.   It’s a good time to be young and silly.

The service was good, the conditions were very, very clean and they guy who did Jasper’s piercing was very nice.  It’s a little distracting talking hygiene with a guy with horns implanted under the skin of his forehead, dangly earlobes, a star implanted under the skin of his right hand and a giant black and opal plug just under his lip, but we got through it.

The price he quoted us for the earring was off.  He said thirty to forty and it turned out to be 60.  He didn’t discover that until the stud was in Jasper’s nose.  “Is that going to be ok?”  he asked.  I thought about it (jasper was buying and looking alarmed).  ”

Well, wow.  Jasper is paying for that…  What are our options, really?”

He thought for a second… “Mmm.  Not too many.  I could let him pay for it in two parts.  When could you pay the second half, buddy?”

Jasper was relieved there wasn’t talk of sticking a  new stud in his throbbing nose.  “How about 2 weeks when I come back for you to check it?”  ”

“MMmm, I’d rather have it sooner than that.” He  He ended up taking a very small discount (like 5 bucks) and we ended up writing the check for the total.

It was like every method of psychological warfare applied.  Loud angry music, freaky looking dude, throbbing nose.  We just wanted to get the heck out of there.  I can’t say I look forward to going back or that I recommend it.

Square Peg

I had another conversation -a facebook conversation- with a young man I know and like.  On the day 4 police officers were assassinated in a coffee shop, he posted:

“G.E. to buy NBC, Huckabee’s contentious record of pardoning convicts, four policemen shot dead, Obama to send around 30,000 more American troops to Afghanistan. Just another front page in America”

I was feeling particularly emotional that day.  It didn’t seem like just another day to me.  it seemed like a sad day.  I tried to loop my young friend in with me.  By the time the exchange fizzled out I felt even more sad and plenty agitated.  He and his cohort of young educated white kids brought the hammer down on my conformist sheep-like ass.

me- One of those policemen was a woman. All were parents. They probably had favorite TV shows and appointments to keep before Christmas. It makes me sad.

Nice boy: Now apply that to the thousands of troops being sent overseas. Kids, appointments, wives, husbands, aspirations, dreams, youth

It’s vastly less tragic that they’re missing all of those appointments when they willingly signed up to go. Still a volunteer only military. They, and their families to some extent, did make the choice to be in that position.

Friend of nice boy: The officer who murdered him of course won’t face prosecution, because this is America. And in America we only prosecute people who don’t get special privileges.

me-That officer didn’t murder him. He threw away is victim card a long time ago. How many cops or civilians would he have had to kill before you considered it justifiable homicide?
I suspect if you came home to a violent intruder you’d call whom? Maybe a Cop? For god’s sake don’t you know any blue collar people? These aren’t especially ‘privileged’ people. Neither are the armed forces. They’re working stiffs who probably had many fewer privileges than you have.
The world isn’t nearly as simple as you think it is. I know I’m just a mom and a nag, but please try to give the people who protect your rights as much consideration as you give the people who pick your vegetables. And stop assuming all brown people are victims of The Man.

Friend of nice boy: Well, after reading one article I see he was executed apparently in cold blood. If you or I killed a person in retribution we’d go to prison for murder. Cops? Doubtful. This is what I call privilege, because they are practically immune to punishment. And don’t assume anything about me and I wont assume that you’re a complete moron.
Oh ouch
And no, of course I won’t give carte blanche to anybody to “protect my rights.” Especially not by giving them the right to murder me without even a trial.
its made vastly more tragic when you consider that our volunteer army caters to and draws soldiers disproportionally from the lower classes who need the food, money, housing, opportunity for education and upward mobility that the armed forces supplies.

Nice boy:  It’s definitely pretty messed up that the officer killed him. I’d agree. That statement of the ‘unnamed patrolman’ said that he ‘thought that he recognized him’ and when he tried to flee he fired several rounds. Not okay. There is a very real possibility that it had not been him.

Also, vigilante justice – especially by the state – should  NEVER be tolerated. That man deserved his right to due process, a full investigation by someone other than the media, and a conviction by someone other than an angry cop. Everyone does. The day we make exceptions to that rule is a terrifying day.

The cops will stand together on this one – we will never know if the guy was executed or shot in self-defense (he was reaching for a gun . . .?)

I’ve thought it over and the nice boy and his friends are right about a lot of things.  But not everything.

I have some confessions to make.  You might not be able to even look me in the eye when I’m done.  Bear with me.  This is hard, and it’s getting in the way of my relationships. Here goes:  I am a liberal.  I’ve said that before, but I need to state it again just so we’re clear.  Paul Wellstone is one of my heroes.  I still remember Gary Eichten coming on the radio around ten-ish to say that there were reports that a small plane had crashed and that it was reportedly carrying Paul and his wife…  I was heading East on Marshall near Lexington.  My stomach dropped.

I am a liberal, been to anti-war protests, gay rights  marches, busted my ass for the public schools.  I almost always vote Democrat, but I’ve made exceptions (and in the case of Arne Carlson, I’d do it again).  I believe that legalization of marijuana would make the world a better place (but that in general the use of it makes you stupider than you were before).  I think it isn’t fair for people to hoard massive amounts of money to themselves and their families even after they die (if it all keeps moving up, the 95 percent of the population who make up the non-rich end up fighting each other for fewer and fewer resources). I’m pro-choice and pro- science.

Get my drift?  That isn’t the confession, isn’t the thing that seems to be getting me in trouble with my friends lately.  Here’s what is:  I like cops.  Well not all cops, but I really respect the idea of being a cop and believe that the people who work in law enforcement are good people, most of them.  I am grateful to them for doing everything from asking the neighbors to pipe down to checking out my house if the door is open when I come home, to chasing juvenile delinquents who poke holes in my tires or break my windows.

Lastly I need to confess that I’m torn.  I’m torn about a lot of things.  The world is way more complicated than I can figure out.  It seems like a lot of the people I know can’t be torn about things, can’t wrestle with their consciences or change their minds.  It worries me as much as the right wing whackos do.

Last night there was a catastrophic earth quake in Haiti.  It is quite possible that a hundred thousand people died or are dying right now, trapped under the rubble of their office or their church, their home, maybe their pharmacy or a bridge. It seems terribly sad and overwhelming. Every news report today is worse than the last.  I think that’s part of the reason I overreacted a little to the following status report on Facebook.

“It’s time to show the world that most of us support our troops. If you support our troops then please post this on your status and leave it there for one hour!! And if you don’t stand behind our troops, then please feel free to stand in front of them!!”

My response was as follows

“Sounds a little like the whole bra color deal to me. maybe if you support the troops, get a pen pal or something they’ll care about. “

to which I got the following:

“Wow!!! Pretty negative there Lisa. Been involved with Operation Shoebox since they started back in 2003. Guess I should have added a link or something…and yes, you can find a pen pal there too.”

To which I responded:

Not negative, just defensive because it almost sounds in that status report like the option doing this is essentially death, right?. I’m sure you didn’t write it, but the tone creeped me out a little. I’m frequently suspicious of rah rah stuff.

(see the logic goes from IF you support..THEN do this status thing, IF you don’t, then Go Stand in between the Troops and the enemy)

I don’t mean to be negative. I did the bra color thing and then thought it was kind of silly, and I was reacting to that. My son had a pen pal in Iraq for a long time and it was really cool. I didn’t intend to be vicious….”

What I didn’t say, because i hadn’t processed it yet is this.

It’s time to show the world that most of us support our troops.Why is NOW the time?  Are the troops like kids?  and they’re jealous that we aren’t putting them in our status reports enough?  That we’re all worried about Haiti (and what has Haiti done for us?) when we should be thinking about them? Now is NOT the time, silly. If you support our troops then please post this on your status and leave it there for one hour!!So if you don’t do this silly status thing, you obviously don’t support OUR troops. And if you don’t stand behind our troops, then please feel free to stand in front of them!! Bizarre logic wherein one is invited to be shot or blown to bits if one doesn’t post a certain status report on a social networking site.  What the hell is this?

I don’t want to fight about this, but I think the negativity started with the status report.

2010 and Race Parts 6 and 7

Friday will be blog day.  That’s my resolution.  Now if I can remember to follow through, it’ll be great.  I frequently lose or forget my resolutions.

Race Part 6 (I’ll figure out how to link to parts 1 through 5 later)

I went to a meeting last night that was presented by the Saint Paul Foundation.  I went because it was a neighborhood deal, it was close and people I knew were going to be there along with people I didn’t know yet.  I don’t really like meeting new people but I’m glad once I’ve done it.  I feel the same way about traveling and taking a shower.

I recommend you consider going  to one of these if you get the chance. It was refreshing in some ways I haven’t seen before.  If you’re white you’ll be relieved to have some of your discomfort acknowledged at the outset.  You’ll  also be glad there are a few ground rules, the most important and refreshing one being that everyone in the group is directed to assume right intentions.

Let’s be honest, this rule is there for my comfort and the comfort of other ignorant, big-mouthed and clumsy white people.  Many white folks are terrified to speak openly about race because it’s so easy to offend without knowing what happened.  Whether or not there was a misstep, the person is likely to be labeled as insensitive, ignorant, arrogant or just plain old racist.

This is bad for what I think everyone wants as an outcome: an open dialog and new insights to put into practice in our day-to-day lives.   If we drive white people out of discussions about race we really shoot the cause in the foot.

I’m white.  I live in a mixed inner city neighborhood.  I’ve never been a person of color. The best I can do is be aware of racism in me and around me and push back against it.  I can use my imagination to try to empathize with them, but I’ll never understand just what it’s like to be them.  Having an open conversation with a black person is a great way for me to get better at doing that.  It’s a valuable endeavor.

In addition to being white, I’m also a good person.  I don’t want to make people feel bad unless they’ve given me a reason.  I think a lot about interpersonal and intercultural relations, but I have great trepidation when it comes to discussing them openly.  I worry I’ll say something stupid or even something smart, but not very nice.  I worry that if I do that in the context of a discussion about race I’ll be called a bad person, a closet racist, or even an unconscious racist.

Things that make having that conversation feel unsafe for either side are detrimental to interracial relations.  In the last thirty years or so, I think we’ve learned a lot about how to make people of color feel more comfortable in the conversation.  We’ve learned how not to be patronizing, how not to use inflammatory language and even how argument or discussion styles can vary across cultures.

One thing that’s missing from the discussions at this point is how to make middle of the road or even liberal people feel comfortable speaking their mind honestly.  An attempt to get across to people of color (especially black people, because this is where it usually comes up) just how fine a line good and decent white people have to walk when interacting across racial lines.  I’m not saying do this because we need to be kind to white folks, but because it isn’t good for anybody when we drive all but the most liberal and guilt-ridden white people away from the discussion.

Last night there was a discussion about an instance in a video where the son of a pretty insensitive white guy interrupted a black guy (Bryan) to rail on his own dad.  Brad was the white guy.  Later an Asian friend of his chewed him a new asshole for assuming he could be the savior of his black friend.  She was furious and he was totally confused.  The interrupted black guy said he knew where Brad was coming from and the interruption wasn’t offensive.  It was clear by the end of the video we were supposed to see that Brad had really been insensitive because he interrupted a black man, and fought his battles for him.

Only one guy in our group questioned this at first, everyone seemed to know what the party line was about having a “savior complex”.  The guy who said he disagreed with the assessment of the situation was a white guy, an iron worker and union steward who grew up in our neighborhood. I think he was right and I think there should have been more support for him speaking up.  Here’s why:

  • If we drive white working class people away from an open discussion of race by teaching them they can’t win for losing, that’s bad for the end cause
  • He can’t win for losing because he’s been told two conflicting things. First, that he must not be silent about racism, especially when someone he loves is  being insensitive.   BUT,  he’s also taught that if he jumps in, he might be blindsided by people who may find his support to be condescending.
  • He can’t win because when he stepped in to defend his black friend against his dad, it was racist, but when the Asian girl railed on him on behalf of the black guy, (who said it was not a problem)?  That’s Ok?
  • He can’t win because he’s been taught that if he lumps all black people or Indians or any person of color together he’s being insensitive BUT if he makes a comment that separates his friend from other black people, that is insensitive and hurtful  (the quote from the movie being, “when you separate me from other African Americans, it really hurts me.”)
  • He can’t win because he can’t criticize or defend any individual black person without being afraid he has crossed a line that keeps moving every time he looks away

Part 7

In a really honest, progressive and healing discussion of race there would be ‘aha!’ moments for all sides.  We would understand more about the other person’s perspective just as much as they learn about ours.  This has to go both ways.  Beating more about “white privilege” into the heads of well-educated white folks isn’t moving us forward.  That’s old-school.

Here’s what I’d like to see in a workshop:

  • Tell me about something neither one of us  really knows much about. Tell me about some racial differences that are real but neither good nor bad, like vitamin D deficiency, night vision/glare and lactose intolerance. These are things that are hard to argue with and help address the people who deny that race should even be an issue today.
  • Tell me it’s ok to talk about my white person’s confusion as far as what’s right in a mixed group.  And remind everyone that what’s right may be a moving target depending on the person you’re talking to.  For example, I rarely use “African American” because I find it to be linguistically too vague and cumbersome, whether this is offensive depends greatly on who I’m addressing.
  • Create some aha! moments for Everyone.  Tell Black people something they didn’t understand about the white experience and white people something they might not know about Black People, like that most white people have been traumatized into a completely unnatural state wherein they do not dance; don’t even try.  Why?  Because they’re white and have been told they can’t dance.  Doesn’t matter who told them. It only matters that they’ve been cowed into believing something that isn’t true, and the world is a sadder place to live because of it.
  • Lose ‘White Privilege’ from the list of key phrases repeated during these workshops.  It’s full of blame and shame. It doesn’t help solve any real problems. While we’re at, it lose Black Anger from the list as well.  It isn’t helpful and doesn’t help move the discussion forward.
  • Talk about  how to get around the conundrums inherent in trying to create a multicultural event and how people who have a complaint about insensitivity should be invited to be a part of planning committee  instead of going ballistic.
  • Talk about big cultural differences so people can wrap their minds around a different perspective.  For example, in some cultures when you are offered something, you are supposed to refuse at least 3 times before you accept.  In that culture an immediate acceptance could make the person making the offer feel taken advantage of because they didn’t have the chance to withdraw.  This can lead to hard feelings on both sides.
  • Talk about how Black English is linguistically just as or more complex than Standard American English and how learning the rules of what people making fun of it like to call Ebonics can help kids learn how to use Standard English more effectively for when they need it.

I’m probably not saying anything new, but I’ve been out of circulation on these kinds of issues lately.  Going to this meeting brought out lots of things that had been jangling in m head for a while now.