Friday, August 24, 2012


Last night's episode of Totally Biased with (my son) W. Kamau Bell, opened with a wry comment on Todd Akin's faux paus about the inability of women to get  pregnant when they are "legitimately raped." Bell said if that were true, "Why are there so many light-skinned folk in Alabama?" And he could have added, "Georgia, Mississippi, Louisiana, Virginia, North Carolina, the U.S. of A."

Then it hit me: RAPE WAS LEGITIMATE DURING SLAVERY! That's why we have such a large number of light-skinned folk in this country. In order to increase the number of slaves, and his net worth, the progeny born of the white master's  rape of an enslaved woman, was always black, another slave, never counted as white or bi-racial. THIS RAPE WAS LEGITIMATE! 

There wasn't a court in the country that would have prosecuted any white man for forcing any woman to have sex. The custom (and it may as well have been the law) was that white men could do as they pleased with any woman—black, white, married, or single. With a powerful white male protector some women were immune from being considered fair game, but any black man who objected to the exploitation or abuse of a woman could be killed with impunity. RAPE WAS LEGITIMATE!

W.E.B. Du Bois, the scholar, historian, and activist who was a founder of the NAACP put it this way. “To the ordinary American or Englishman, the race question at bottom is simply a matter of ownership of women; white men want the right to use all women, colored and white.” 

The ownership of women. This is what the Republican War on Women is all about: returning to the days when powerful men could do as they wished with women; to the days when RAPE WAS LEGITIMATE. Todd Akin's casual remark merely referred to what they've been doing for some time now with their attacks on Planned Parenthood, trying to criminalize abortion, forcing pregnant women to have unnecessary procedures. Todd Akin did not step out of line; he merely reiterated Republican policy. This is nothing new. It's a significant plank in their platform for the 2012 election. Todd Akin simply made it crystal clear that the Republicans want to return to the days when RAPE WAS LEGITIMATE.

Saturday, August 4, 2012


This was posted on Face Book and is worth sharing widely
written by

 Donna Simone Plamondon

One problem with defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman is that there is NO LEGAL DEFINITION of male or female. Go ahead - try to find one.

My testimony to the Maryland State Legislature;

"As a Transexual/Intersex person and a registered voter I urge you to consider another perspective in the debate over Same Sex Marriage. If Marriage is to remain being defined as a legal union between a man and a woman it would then require legislation on the legal definition of a man and a woman.

As someone that has been affected by and studied sex/gender issues, it became evident that not all women are chromosomally xx nor all men xy. There are also xo, xxy, xyy and mosaic chromosomal karyotypes. Kleinfelters, Turners and Androgen Insensitivity Syndromes as well as Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia and 5-Alpha–reductase deficiency are but a few naturally occurring phenomena that result in female bodied males and male bodied females. Toxicologists are also recognizing the fact that prenatal exposure to certain environmental chemicals with hormonal properties as well as many commonly used medications for male pattern baldness, prostate and heart diseases can result in incongruent sex/genital development as well as ambiguent genitalia, intersex conditions (hermaphroditism) and transsexuality. For over 40 years now many babies born with ambiguous genitals are surgically corrected (?) to female during infancy no matter what their sex karyotype.

Scientists agree that 1.73% (1 in 58) of all babies born in the United States have some degree of intersex condition. The number of subclinical cases could at minimum double that percentage. Many of those conditions are not realized until patients present to their doctors in puberty or later with fertility issues. The medical community is reluctant to tell patients due to the potential of destroying that persons relationships and resulting in depression, anxiety and possible suicide. Instead they pursue fertility treatments, invitro fertilization, egg and sperm donors, or surrogate motherhood. If marriages were to be challenged in a court of law and DNA used as evidence many now legal marriages would need to be annulled.

Everyone is born with the innate ability to recognize their own gender no matter what genetic, medical or environmental factors they have been exposed to. None of these conditions are a choice for those affected. To exclude these people from protections granted all other citizens is in direct opposition to everything this country stands for. All citizens are entitled to the pursuit of the "American Dream". .

The original concept of the marriage license was to ensure that the union was voluntary and as societies blessing to those who choose to commit their lives to each other. The real threat to our society is the rate at which babies are being born outside of a committed, loving relationship. There are many same sex couples that are totally capable of raising happy, healthy, well adjusted children that will ultimately become productive members of our society.

Marriage licenses are given to convicted murderers, child molesters and rapists. Are they more worthy of having their relationships honored while denying the commitment and responsible actions of same sex couples? If marriage is about procreation, why are marriage licenses granted to infertile couples or those having no intentions of having children?

Let us not forget the dream of the Pilgrims – those that originally risked all to travel to and settle this country. They left their native lands due to religious rule and intolerance. They had a vision of freedom for each individual to express their religious beliefs and worship their GOD without interfering in or being interfered by the beliefs of others - Freedom OF and Freedom FROM religion.

Let us not forget the basic principles shared by all religions. PEACE, LOVE, GRACE and RESPECT for all that share this planet we call home.

If “marriage” has its roots in religion, I believe, it is up to each individual church to decide who they will and will not marry. It is NOT the governments business to legislate religious policy. It IS the right of every human being to have their love and commitment recognized by civil law as equal in all respect to that of a religious marriage."

Friday, July 20, 2012


In several states in this country, the question posed above has been answered. In those states, it is easier to purchase and use a gun than it is to exercise your right to vote. In these states, guns may be purchased WITHOUT government-issued photo identification. In some places no identification of any kind is required to purchase a gun. In addition, it is lawful to carry these guns anywhere you go, including schools and movie theaters.

However, in many states, if you want to vote, you must have a copy of your birth certificate, social security card, marriage license and whatever other items the state requires to issue you a photo ID. In other words, obtaining a voter ID is inconvenient, costly and time consuming, but buying a gun is simple and easy. That includes assault rifles with clips carrying multiple rounds so you can kill and maim lots of people quickly without having to re-load.

What do such laws say about the "land of the free and the home of the brave"?

Friday, May 11, 2012

Admitting My Own Racism

Today, when I walked into the locker room at the Y after my exercise, I entered a tense scene. A Y staffer had just admonished a woman for spanking her daughter. The staffer said another woman in the locker room had been upset by the spanking and reported her to the staff. The little girl (who looked to be about five years old) was sniffling. Her mother was outraged that someone had reported her for disciplining her child and she loudly demanded of the woman who reported her.

"Are you telling me how I should discipline my child when she's misbehaving and talking back?"

The other woman quietly responded, "Perhaps you should not do it in a public place. There are other children here and they were upset by it."

"I have to punish her when she does something, not wait two hours and say, 'Now I'm going to punish you for what you did earlier.'"

The conversation went on in this vein for a couple of minutes. I did not get involved, although my heart was engaged. Why? Because the mother defending her actions was definitely not white; she wasn't African-American, but her skin was as brown as mine. The woman who reported her was white. I wanted to tell the brown woman that she did not have to explain herself to that nosy white woman who was undoubtedly acting out of her perceived white privilege and authority. Would she have reported a white woman for spanking her child, I asked myself indignantly.

After I gathered my things and left. I thought about my reaction.

My first thought was that I don't believe in disciplining children in front of others. I did spank my child when he was very young, largely because that's how I was reared, except that we got whippings with belts and switches. However, I never did it in front of anyone. I was interested in teaching him, not humiliating him.

Because I changed my mind about corporeal punishment a long time ago, my second thought was,  "I'm not sure how I would have reacted if I had seen the mother hitting her child." By the time my son was a tall, sturdy six-year-old, it occurred to me that in order for my spankings to have any meaning, any force, I'd have to hit him really hard with something other than my hand. Once in a rage, I hit him with my umbrella. He looked so hurt by my anger that I was flooded with shame. It occurred to me that using physical force on a child is an attempt to break the child's spirit. That was not my intent. I wanted my son to reach his full potential, so I never hit him again. Instead, I figured out what meant the most to him and deprived him of that when I felt discipline was necessary. Fortunately, I was blessed with an extraordinary child who rarely required restraints, even as a teenager.

My next thought was that if I had seen the mother spanking her child and been disturbed by it, I would not have interfered unless I thought the child's limbs or life were in danger. Why? Because the relationship between a parent and child is unique (even siblings have distinct relationships with each parent) and it is built from birth forward, not on one incident. I wouldn't think of telling someone else how to discipline their child even if I knew all the details of their relationship, which of course, you never do.

Finally, I did not witness the actual spanking, so I have no idea of the severity of it, or how long it went on. I walked in just in time to receive a lesson about my knee-jerk racist thoughts. My initial reaction was based solely on the skin color of the participants. Thankfully, I am conscious enough to check myself when I have racist thoughts, and more important, not to act on them.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The White Side: Entitlement Run Amuck

Some whites, well actually quite a few of them, believe they know more about the racism I've encountered than I do! To my face they dispute the accuracy of MY experiences. I've run into this a lot since I wrote a memoir about coming of age in Indianapolis back in the day when being racist was standard operating procedure. In the book I describe the daily humiliating incidences of racism I had to live with, and tell how they shaped my outlook. I grew up during the 1940s and 1950s BEFORE the Civil Rights Movement displayed racism in action on the nightly news. The horror of attack dogs chasing children and city water hoses nailing demonstrators to the side of buildings made some whites think that maybe racism was not such a good thing after all.

I spoke to a book club whose members were all white and had read my book. One woman said she was "about my age" and had also grown up in Indianapolis. She belligerently insisted that she had never witnessed any of the racism I wrote about. I responded, "That doesn't surprise me since you're not black." But, she persisted, "There was a black family in our neighborhood and everybody was nice to them." That was her "side" of my story; "proof" that what I had experienced was not true!

I wrote about what happened in the newly desegregated high school I attended. Other blacks who attended the same school while I was there told me about similar, though not identical incidents. (Though a few were actually identical.) Some schoolmates encountered less racial hostility than I, some more or about the same. But, not one of them said, "I don't believe you because nothing like that ever happened to me." There were also white former classmates who didn't deny my experience, but commiserated with me because they had no idea at the time what the black students were going through.

One white male classmate, however (who went on to become a well-connected, prosperous lawyer), was offended by what I wrote. He never saw any of the things I wrote about and couldn't understand how I, who was reared with basically the same values he was, could have come up with such skewed ideas about our high school and home town. I repeat: he's a white male; I'm a black female, both of us born in the 1930s.

Someone I once worked for emailed me that reading my book "creates an immediate urge to tell...your own story, or your side, or whatever." Of course he should tell his own story, but I wrote back that, "There are no sides in my story. It is an account of how I experienced the events of my life at that time." He also wrote that he would send me something to read that, "You probably will not like somewhat autobiographical so I may get back at you." I don't understand his need to "get back" at me, but I asked him to send it. "It will either confirm or contradict my expectations and I welcome either outcome."

It occurred to me that the people who want to tell their "side" are submerged in their whiteness and the belief that their view of the world is not just the right one, but the ONLY one. It's impossible for them to grasp that an experience that doesn't match theirs can be valid.

Either that or they're hopelessly racist.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Real Tragedy Never Ends...Part 2

In Sanford, Florida, a seventeen-year-old black boy, Trayvon Martin, was visiting his dad when he decided to walk to a convenience store. He was sauntering down the street when the captain of the local neighborhood watch, a man named George Zimmerman, decided that Trayvon looked "suspicious." (No one has ever said what was suspicious about Trayvon, so I am assuming it was his African ancestry.)

Zimmerman called police to report the suspicious character soiling his neighborhood. The police instructed him to do nothing and wait until they could come and investigate. Apparently, Trayvon look so dangerous, Zimmerman couldn't wait for the police. In his car he followed the boy, confronted him, then killed him with the 9 mm concealed gun he had a permit to carry. When the police arrived, Zimmerman said he shot Trayvon in "self-defense."

Trayvon was not armed and probably didn't even understand that the color of his skin could get him killed. Zimmerman, who is white, was not arrested.

As soon as I heard this story, I knew immediately that the young man was black and the killer was white. How did I know this? Because it happens regularly somewhere in America and the white killer usually gets away with it.

These kinds of stories remind me of two things I find despicable: America's love affair with guns and America's refusal to acknowledge and confront racism. I am sick of both of these issues. How many people will have to die before the racist monster is satiated?

I am working hard to keep an open, loving heart, but stories like this infuriate me so that I know I have more work to do.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Real Tragedy Never Ends...

In his novel, No Longer at Ease, Chinua Achebe, the Nigerian writer said, "Real tragedy never ends; it goes on hopelessly forever. Achebe was referring to a situation in Nigeria, but he could as easily been talking about racism in the U.S.

In a Black History Month special, I spoke to the Bartholomew County Library in Columbus, Indiana. My talk was promoted as "From The Help's Point of View." (For my thoughts on The Help, see another blog entry.) I am writing here about a discussion on race, that perennially taboo subject, in a "mixed" group--meaning blacks and whites in the same room. I am actually weary of talking about The Help, but the book/movie has obviously hit a nerve in America; two nerves, actually, one black, one white. Despite enormous progress, the U.S. is still a racially divided nation. It's just that the division is now no longer socially acceptable or legally viable.

Most blacks know that the vast majority of whites never want to talk about racism, so like them, I have often tiptoed around racial issues or broached them in a way designed not to offend delicate white sensibilities. In the words of one audience member, "We have swept racism under the rug for so long that the carpet has become too lumpy to walk on."

I decided to do a little cleaning under the rug; to invite a candid discussion. The audience was small enough (about fifty people) and mixed enough (about ten blacks, one self-identified gay man, a Hispanic family and the remainder white) so that we could have a discussion and easily see who was speaking.

I began by declaring that we are all the same, but perceive things differently because of the circumstances of our births and our particular experiences. I then asked how many people there had worked as domestic help--about four hands went up, one of them white. I asked how many had employed domestic help—about twenty hands went up, two of them black.

I shared with the audience that most blacks saw The Help, both novel and movie as a sanitized version of what actually happened in Mississippi in the 1960s. At the time, blacks were being killed and mercilessly beaten for trying to register to vote, among other things. I also pointed out that despite the title, the book was Skeeter’s story, not the story of the help. Skeeter is the one who triumphs in the end. We don’t know what happens to the black women she leaves behind, yet the tremendous popularity of this book is an indication that most readers find this storyline quite satisfying. Several members of last night’s audience agreed that it was an inspiring book because Skeeter had helped the black women fight back.

I discovered that many whites felt that by reading and enjoying The Help, they now better understand blacks and have taken a step toward improved race relations. They did not want to hear that this “lovely, moving story” is barely credible. In their keen disappointment that I did not see it the same way, they accused me of making “too much” of a work of fiction; after all, one woman said, “It’s not a documentary.” My response was that millions of book sales and a popular movie had made much of The Help. I am merely trying to understand why this not-particularly-profound work of fiction has struck such a chord. The discussion went on from there even including the “N” words—nigger and Negro.

I don't expect that any hearts or minds were changed, but we talked openly about racial misconceptions and the world did not explode. A bit of dust was cleared from under the carpet, but it's still plenty lumpy.

Here are some of the memorable exchanges.

A woman expressed her disappointment in my talk because she had come expecting to hear an "uplifting" story about how I went from being a maid to a successful writer.

Another woman thought I was exceptionally brave to speak the truth about racism to a largely white audience, although she lamented she could tell it didn't do any good.

When I was asked what Indiana was like while I was growing up in the forties and fifties, I responded, "It was as racist and segregated as anyplace below the Mason-Dixon line, except that there were no signs that said White and Colored." A woman on the front row who appeared younger than I am, felt privileged to interrupt me by shouting, "That's not true!" I asked if she was disputing the accuracy of my experience. She said I was misrepresenting Indiana. In order to disprove what I'd said, she told us a story. When she was a child her parents took the family to a Howard Johnsons somewhere in Indiana. There was a sign on the door that said No Negroes Allowed. When her parents saw the sign, they put the family back in the car and drove away. This should have been an ironically funny story, except that she was using it to "prove" that not all whites were racists because her parents weren't. Such are the distorted lenses through which race is viewed in America.

Another exchange occurred when someone admonished me for talking about racism when things are so much better now. Then another member of the audience shared his experience of a month ago. He is a corporate exec who was calling on a client in Martinsville, Indiana when the building in which they were meeting was surrounded by Klan members in full regalia.

The fact that he lived to tell the tale is an indication that things are indeed better now.