Should I wear a safety pin?

“As a show of support, groups of people across America are attaching safety pins to their lapels, shirts and dresses to signify that they are linked, willing to stand up for the vulnerable” says the New York Times. pin

While I clearly stand with that group, I have not yet worn a pin.

And mostly it’s because I am not sure the “vulnerable” want me to. I mean, it seems kind of condescending to me.  Am I wrong there?

Some are saying the pin is a meaningless gesture, like sending your prayers and thoughts after a tragedy. A friend of mine recently pointed out, however, that as an attorney, my pin may mean more to someone–because I really am in a position where I might be able to actually help someone who needs it.

I’d really like to hear from my friends on this, especially those who will be impacted by Trump’s policies, such as the LGBT community and the Muslims and racial minorities and women and atheists and … okay, everyone except for Christian white males, I guess.

Santa Claus is white!

Here we go again.  People are still debating whether a make-believe character can be a color other than their own.

The Mall of America — you know that place, America? Home of the widest variety of people on the planet? — anyway, the Mall has a Santa Claus this year who isn’t white, and that is making racists’ heads spin.

Many conservatives cannot stand the idea. Ronald Reagan would have never stood for it. nancy_reagan_mr_T_12(Here, of course, is where I insert a picture of Mr. T performing as Santa at the White House in the Reagan administration. Come on, you all knew that was coming.)

Santa is, of course, based on St. Nicholas, who was from Turkey, and thus was a darker skinned middle eastern man (just like Jesus!).

The idea that a fictional character like Santa must be white fits in with the conservative bubble, where everything involves them and has to fit into their world view or it either doesn’t exist (climate change, evolution) or it is changed to be just like them (Jesus and Santa).

But it’s not just Santa. I’ve seen science fiction geeks get all crazy when someone suggests that Superman could be black. “But he’s not!” they scream.

Well why not?  Geez, he’s not even from earth. He could be green with yellow polka dots. Why would that distract from truth, justice, and the American way? (OK, well, admittedly it would make it harder to pose as mild-mannered Clark Kent…)

There are indeed instances where the race or gender or sexual orientation of a fictional character is important to the story — but if it’s not, who cares? Why does it matter one bit what race Santa is?

For that matter, artistic license allows you to change the race of real people. Look at Hamilton, the wildly successful play. There was a conscious choice to cast people of all races to make an artistic statement even while the story itself tried to be accurate. So what? It’s art. Enjoy it and stop insisting that everything has to revolve around you.

black-santa-clause-star-tribune-800x430

Look how happy this kid is and how he doesn’t care about the Mall of America Santa’s race

“Let me tell you how you feel”

“Why are most of the animals in ‘The Secret Life of Pets’ male?” asked a female reviewer.

I thought that was a good question. It’s not like there was a plot reason to have the characters male. petsSo I posted that article on a page devoted to animation, and immediately was attacked. “Oh, here go the feminists again!” they said. “This woman doesn’t know what she’s talking about” and so on.

All from men, of course.

I expected one to scream “All cartoons matter!”

I always try to listen to the experts. When the vast majority of scientists are telling me that climate change is real and vaccinations are good, I tend to listen. I don’t have any experience in that area.

Similarly, it is tremendously frustrating for me as a lawyer who once taught Constitutional Law to be lectured by some high school dropout about the meaning of the second amendment.

Everyone reading this is an expert in something. Your job, your hobbies, your life — how do you like it when someone tries to tell you you’re wrong about something you know better than anyone else?

So when women tell you that the lack of representation in a film is important to them, don’t go tell them they shouldn’t feel that way. If black people are telling you that they fear the police and are targeted by them often, don’t go saying that they are wrong.

Let’s assume they’re the experts here.

 

Unexpected voices of reason

“A few perpetrators of evil do not represent us,” the politician said. “They do not control us. The blame lies with the people who committed these vicious acts, and no one else.”

“Every member of this body — every Republican and every Democrat — wants to see less gun violence,” he said. “Every member of this body wants a world in which people feel safe regardless of the color of their skin. And that’s not how people are feeling these days.”

black-lives-matter

“The values that brought those protesters to the streets in Dallas, the values that brought those protesters to the streets in Washington last night — respect, decency, compassion, humanity,” he said. “If we lose these fundamental things, what’s left?”

Just another silly liberal spouting about race again?  No, these words actually came from Paul Ryan. Yes, that Paul Ryan.

Another politician said this today: “If you are a normal, white American, the truth is you don’t understand being black in America and you instinctively underestimate the level of discrimination and the level of additional risk.”  This radical leftist? Newt Gingrich.

Maybe they’re starting to get it. Maybe Trump’s nomination has awakened them to what they have done to America.

Earth, Wind, Fire, and Racism

I’m going to tell you something I’ve never told anyone before.  A memory that popped into my head when I read about the death of Maurice White, the leader of the band Earth, Wind, and Fire. ewf

Way back in the 70s, I was in High School in Richmond, Virginia, which Tom Robbins calls “The World’s Biggest Confederate Museum.” It was a turbulent time, with protests over busing and integration still going on.

I went to a high school in the suburbs where we maybe had ten black students total.

Now, my parents taught me to be a good, clean-cut kid. I never said a curse word, never drank or smoke or took drugs –I was a good, boring kid who was really into the drama club and music. My parents also were no bigots. They taught me that the “n” word was just as bad as the “f” word and there was no way I would ever say either.

Anyway, I remember listening to an Earth, Wind and Fire song on the radio and liking it (although I can’t recall which one right now). I had already been playing in bands and writing my own music, and I was really impressed with the musicianship and the complexity of the song.

And in my mind, I imagined the work that would go into it. And my mind conjured up an image of all the arrangers and composers working on that song.

And then I had a shock. An epiphany.

In my mind, all the people making the record were white. The black guys were just the singers. For some reason, my mind couldn’t imagine that the black guys could have accomplished such an ornate and complicated task of writing, arranging, producing and playing that song.

And I felt ashamed for my thought.

I certainly didn’t see myself as a racist, and I had thoughts like that? Me? I had been the campaign manager for one of the black kids who had run for class President and we won, making the local news and everything. I had black friends in the drama club. I had Funkadelic albums! How could I think something like this?

I realized how ingrained racism in our society could be. And I started thinking about it a lot. And then I thought about sexism in our society and how we take so much for granted and don’t question it.

It was an important first step for me. I still had a ways to go. For instance, it took many more years before I realized that gay people deserved to get married, but that was basically because society around me had not even gone in that direction yet.

Fortunately, the younger generation is growing up without the same environment I had. That kind of thinking is foreign to them. It’s us old folks that had to change (and that’s why, the older you are, the more likely you are to be racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, and Republican).

So thank you, Maurice White, for making me think about the biases we all have. And thank you for making me want to change them.

 

Driving While Black

Let me tell you about a recent case I had.

My client is a young black kid in college.  He’s never been in trouble before in his life. His dad is a successful businessman.

Being a good kid, he was allowed to borrow Dad’s expensive car to hang out with his friends. He did.

On the way home, he gets pulled over by a cop, who cites as the reason an “obscured license plate,” meaning it was covered in mud or something and the officer couldn’t read it. They’re allowed to stop to make sure it isn’t a false plate or something. (Actually, these days, cops can pull you over for just about anything, but that’s a topic for another day.)

My client is cooperative and polite.police car

The officer then says to my client that he wants to search the car. Thanks to a recent decision by a Republican-run Pennsylvania Supreme Court,*  you have no privacy rights in your car and the police can pretty much search whenever they want to. So my client, not wanting to cause a fuss, agrees. The officer finds a small amount of marijuana, left there by one of my client’s friends.

It should be noted that the officer detected no sign that my client was under the influence of marijuana — because he wasn’t. My client says he never smokes, and I have no reason to doubt that. Officers look for things like the smell of burnt marijuana, glassy eyes, and you know, the kind of way stoned people act. Had the officer thought there was any sign of that he would have taken my client in for a blood test and then, if there was a positive result, charged him with Driving Under the Influence.

So my client gets charged with Possession of a Small Amount of Marijuana.

He continues on his way home.

As he nears home, he gets pulled over again. This time, this new officer says he’s pulling him over because the windows were too harshly tinted. Same thing happens — he doesn’t suspect my client of having committed any crime but demands a search anyway, and finds a grinder that the first cop missed. Now my client gets charged with Possession of Drug Paraphernalia and Possession of Marijuana (for the few seeds found in the grinder).

Notice that the first cop never mentioned tinted windows and the second cop never mentioned an obscured license plate. Note as well that my client was never charged with the supposed reasons for the stops.

Now, for all my white friends: How often has this happened to you? How often are you pulled over for tinted windows or an obscured license plate or something else that is solely based on the officer’s opinion? A light out is an objective thing that makes sense for a traffic stop; how much tint is too much? How much mud is too much? Those kinds of things are judgment calls.

In my job as a defense attorney, I see those kinds of stops all the time, and almost always for young, dark-skinned men in expensive cars. In fact, as I have written about before, my Office Manager’s husband — a dark-skinned Hispanic businessman — gets pulled over probably once every two or three months for these kinds of reasons. He stands by and waits while the officer searches his car and always finds nothing and then he either gets a warning or a minor ticket that is hardly worth fighting over.

And many of my clients have similar stories, the worst of which are when the police find money and no other sign of criminal activity but keep the money because “it must have come from drugs!” Often, the cost of hiring an attorney to fight to get the money back is more than the amount of money taken, so ca-ching! Free money for the police fund. (That’s where a lot of those police tanks and other military gear comes from, you know.)

Now, are all police profiling black drivers? Oh, of course not. But when you see it happen as often as those of us in the criminal justice system see, you realize that there’s something going on here.

Once I was discussing a case in chambers with a judge who said that the police clearly knew what they were doing since she sees so many cases where drugs have been found during these searches. “That’s because you never hear about the stops where nothing is found,” I countered. “It looks like 100% of all searches are successful to you, because those are the only cases that come before you.” To her credit, she nodded, as if she had never considered that fact before.

And I think that’s where a lot of white people are — they don’t personally see it, so they think it doesn’t happen.

Now back to my case: There were two different DAs assigned to this case because they happened in two different jurisdictions, but I got them to talk to each other. They saw what was going on agreed to give my client probation without a verdict — he doesn’t plead guilty, and as long as he stays out of trouble and doesn’t test positive for any drugs (not a problem for him) the matter will eventually be dismissed and wiped from his record.

And boy, has he learned not to let those particular friends ride in his car any more.

 

*The good news is that thanks to some of these judges now being forced to resign due to various scandals, including one judge who is now in jail, a bunch of Democrats were elected to replace them. So this policy may change in the future.

Jesus, Santa, and Hermione Granger: All white!

Here we go again.

It was only last year that Megyn Kelly from Fox News was insisting that not only is Santa Claus white (despite being based on St. Nicholas, who was from modern-day Turkey) but so is Jesus (who was a Jewish lad from the middle east).

This Christmas, people are complaining that a new play about the Harry Potter gang is wrong because it casts Hermione as a black woman.

Ron, Hermione, and Harry as adults.  Look, they got the teeth right.

Ron, Hermione, and Harry as adults. Look, they got the teeth right.

Hello? Hermione is fictional! She’s a made-up people! She doesn’t really exist! (And anyway, J.K. Rowling pointed out that at no time is Hermione’s race mentioned in the books — only that she has “brown eyes and frizzy hair.” And then “large front teeth.” And there’s another mention in a later book that talks about her “looking brown.” Seriously.)

Not all of the complaints about this are from racist bigots. Sometimes the biggest complainers are the fanboys who get an idea in their heads and decide that X version of a fictional character is the only one possible, and any variation is blasphemy. “Superman can’t be black!” they scream, ignoring the fact that Superman isn’t even human — he could be green and polka dotted (although that might make his secret identity a bit tougher to hide).

Sometimes the race of a character matters in a fictional story. I’m currently working on a steampunk novel featuring Teddy Roosevelt. The main character is a black woman, and that is very important to the plotline, since the story takes place at a time when neither women nor blacks had any real power.

But Hermione? Why not? Isn’t one of the biggest themes in the Harry Potter novel about how we should accept people for who they are and not discriminate? The bad guys were all concerned with “purity of blood,” remember? Isn’t it obvious that the race of their fellow students didn’t matter to the Potter gang? Before hooking up with Ginny, Harry had dates with Cho Chang (Chinese ancestry) and Pavarti Patil (Indian ancestry), right? And didn’t Rowlings have a pretty diverse cast (well, for something taking place in England)? Okay, enough — my inner nerd is escaping.

Re-interpretations of fictional works happen all the time. Geez, look at how many times Shakespeare is done in a new way. Fictional characters can change race and sex and everything.

Which, coincidentally, brings me to another book I am editing now: Alternate Sherlocks — a collection of short stories featuring some pretty well-known authors — with Sherlock Holmes in new versions: as a female child, as an alien, as a vampire, as a parrot …

I sure hope that the speciests don’t come after me for that one.