#BuildBackBetter

I know that I am privileged. I’m white and well-educated. I grew up in rural New England with great parents and was sheltered from a lot of the temptations that get young people into trouble. My spouse B and I have been happily married for almost 38 years. We live in an area in the northeastern US that is affordable enough to live comfortably on one salary, so I could raise our family, help care for elders, volunteer, and pursue artistic work without the added pressure of needing to earn income. I have never lived in a big city with a high crime rate, so I can move about without worry, other than the usual caution that all women employ. I can speak freely and follow my religion, although that comes with some built-in sex discrimination. I am relatively healthy and have access to good-quality, affordable health care. When B retires, we have retirement savings and our house to live in. While not rich by US standards, I am aware that I have more wealth than the vast majority of people in the world.

Yes, I am privileged in so many ways.

Because I grew up in a tiny town, only about 200 people when I lived there and even smaller now, there was not a lot of racial diversity. My parents, though, were diligent about exposing us to the wider world and modeled the dignity and equality of all people, as did Catholic social justice doctrine. As a young child in the 1960’s, I watched as the civil rights movement was translated into law and hoped and, perhaps took for granted, that progress was being made toward the equality that the United States had so long touted.

While acknowledging that some progress has been made, there is still so, so much wrong, which is why the death of George Floyd at the hands of police – on top of so many other deaths of black and brown people in police custody; decades of inequality in education, housing, employment opportunities, and pay scale; violence; the higher rate of illness and death from COVID-19 among people of color and those living in poverty; unequal laws and enforcement resulting in large numbers of black men in prison; obstacles to voting; the recognition that many of our essential workers are poorly paid people of color; discrimination; and personal attacks of all kinds – has caused such anguish, outrage, and action across the country, not just among the black community, but among people of all races. People in other countries are demonstrating not only in support of the US civil rights and Black Lives Matter movement but also to highlight discrimination in their own countries against indigenous and black and brown people.

The vast majority of these protests have been peaceful, which made the recent clearing of the park near the White House all the more appalling. There have been other instances of violence against peaceful protesters and the press, which are totally unacceptable and against the US Constitution and laws. I also oppose any violence against the police or other protesters, arson, theft, and the destruction of property.

Because of my age and the need to protect myself and my family against COVID-19, I have not been to any protests in person. There have been several peaceful protests locally, including some directed against our county jail, which has a percentage of inmates who are people of color much higher than our population and a distressingly high number of inmates who have not been treated sufficiently for medical conditions and/or who have died. We have not had the kind of looting here that has happened in larger cities. There has been a very sad case of arson, the destruction of the premier accessible playground in our area, although no one knows whether or not the person/s involved were motivated by the murder of George Floyd. There has been an outpouring of donations to re-build this special place as soon as possible.

As a white person, I can’t know what it is like to be a person of color, but I do have a window into it from members of my family. Two of my brothers-in-law and my son-in-law, as well as their children, are people of color with personal or family roots in Asia and Africa. They have shared stories with me about fear when being stopped by police, about being followed and asked to leave a store while shopping, and about loss of educational opportunities. They hear derogatory language based on their race. Sometimes, their status as a family is questioned because they are bi- or multi-racial.

Our Declaration of Independence says that all “are created equal” and entitled to the rights of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” We need to carry this out, however belatedly, and maintain it for generations to come. As the late Rep. Barbara Jordan said, “What the people want is very simple – they want an America as good as its promise.”

How do we accomplish this? When I wrote this post a week ago, I did not have concrete ideas, but I have since heard a number of proposals, some around policing and legal practices and some that attempt to rectify consequences of racism in the areas of health care, housing, education, and employment. This gives us an opportunity to advocate with our local, state, and national representatives to enact new laws and policies to move us toward equality. It also means that we can use their positions on these proposals to evaluate candidates in upcoming elections.

I’ve recently had the opportunity to attend several webinars about the path toward greater environmental and social justice. Hearing leaders articulate needed actions and policies gives me hope. Another very hopeful thing for me is seeing the two youngest generations, often called Millennials and Generation Z, stepping forward with ideas and action to shape our future. These young people are more diverse and generally more accepting of personal differences than their elders. Much of the recent energy behind environmental justice, gun reform, and racial/ethnic/gender equality has come from these younger people. I know that I am a better advocate for these causes because of what I have learned from my daughters and their peers.

To me, all of this work is about respect for the dignity of each person and a moral obligation to care for others and for our global environment. There is so much work to do, but, together, we can #BuildBackBetter.

SoCS: a “hidden figure”

Over these last days, we have been hearing a lot in the media about Katherine Johnson, who recently died at the age of 101.

She was one of the women portrayed in the film Hidden Figures. She worked for NASA (the US space agency) as a human computer. Before the advent of the digital age, being a computer was a job, not a piece of equipment, and Katherine Johnson and her colleagues were the ones doing the computations involved to figure out trajectories for missions for satellites and manned spacecraft.

The women in Katherine Johnson’s computation department were, like her, African-American. And they were all women. Men, predominantly if not exclusively, worked in other departments where they were considered professional and paid more. The women who worked as human computers were not considered as professional by the government standards in place at the time and earned much less.

Katherine was a very accomplished mathematician. Her skills were noticed and she had the opportunity to work with the professional men on the first attempts to put astronauts into orbit. The work was going on in Virginia, which, at that time still had segregation laws in effect. One of the scenes in the movie that drove home what this meant was showing Katherine running across swaths of the NASA campus to get back to the building in which she had originally worked in order to use the “colored women” bathroom. She was eventually allowed to use a restroom close to her new workspace, but it was a stark reminder to me that this kind of discrimination was so overt during my lifetime.

Katherine encountered lots of sexist and racist discrimination, but persevered and triumphed. John Glenn trusted her work so much that he would not board his capsule for the first attempt at going into orbit by a US astronaut until she had personally verified all the figures.

After a long and distinguished career at NASA, Katherine Johnson was honored in a number of ways. There were NASA buildings named in her honor. President Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which is the highest civilian honor in the country. At the time of the Hidden Figures movie, she appeared on stage with the stars of the film during the award season.

I’m grateful that her story has received more notice so that she is no longer a “hidden figure” but an inspiration to new generations of women and of people of color to reach for the stars in their own lives, despite the racist and sexist attitudes that still, unfortunately, plague us.

Rest in peace, Katherine Johnson.
*****
Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is “figure.”  Join us! Find out how here: https://lindaghill.com/2020/03/06/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-march-7-2020

2019-2020 SoCS Badge by Shelley! https://www.quaintrevival.com/

One-Liner Wednesday: free

“Until we are all free, we are none of us free.”
~ Emma Lazarus
*****
Join us for Linda’s One-Liner Wednesdays! Find out how here:
https://lindaghill.com/2018/04/25/one-liner-wednesday-difficult-concepts/

 

discouraging news

Don’t worry. This isn’t about any particular or personal news. Just a general statement of what it is like for me and for many others in the United States these days.

Watching/reading/listening to news is very fraught and discouraging. Sometimes, such as when there is violence, the news is sad and discouraging in and of itself.

Just about any news story about national government is discouraging as the dysfunction that has been in evidence in recent years has only deepened. This is ironic because the Republicans control Congress and the presidency, which usually means that legislation would pass easily. However, there is so much dissension and confusion within the party and between the president and Congressional leaders that nothing of significance is getting through the process to become law.

In the not-too-distant past, the majority and minority party would cooperate and compromise to pass legislation with a goodly majority of bipartisan votes, but that has fallen by the wayside, leaving very discouraging gridlock in its wake.

One of the things that disturbs me most is how many people are publicly denying known and provable facts. For example, some say that Russia’s interference in the US elections didn’t take place and is just an excuse for Clinton’s loss, but Russia’s role in the DNC hack was publicly known and reported on months before the election. Further evidence of hacking by Russia has also been proven in attacks on various election systems in at least two dozen states. Additionally, we have seen Russia use the same tactics in other countries.

At least as troubling is the ugliness of attacks on individuals and groups of people. Obviously, this is not a new tactic either, but some people are emboldened by the president’s twitter attacks and by other high-profile leaders who namecall and stereotype or even engage in hate speech against racial, ethnic, religious, or gender groups. Public discourse gets diverted away from civil discussion of issues and is dragged into personal or group attacks.

In the midst of all this, we have the many disturbing stories of sexual harassment and assault being unearthed after the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke, showing how prevalent such stories are. Although the stories are horrifying and sad, the #MeToo movement feels empowering and hopeful to me. Maybe we have finally reached a critical juncture where everyone in the society realizes what sexual harassment and assault look, sound, and feel like so that we can actually put a stop to it.

This also reinforces for me my broader commitment to both feminism and social justice causes. When you see how many individuals’ lives are adversely affected by discrimination, abuse, lost opportunities, violence, health problems, etc., you can more readily see that we are not living up to our societal commitments to fairness, equality, and “the pursuit of happiness,” nor are we following the Constitutional call to “promote the general welfare.”  For me as a Catholic, social justice work is also part of upholding doctrine on the dignity of each person and of all types of work and workers  and on the call to care for all creation with special care being given to those most vulnerable.

The disturbing news of late shows how much work there is to be done.

I hope you will join me and the millions of others in these efforts.

doomed to repeat history – or just doomed?

I haven’t been using most of the (optional) prompts that have been provided for Just Jot It January, but I will start off using today’s, which is history.

It begs the question, “Does DT know/understand any history?”

If he did, would he be spouting the slogan “America First” which has disturbing connotations from the World War II era?

Would he have signed an order to ban Syrian refugees on Holocaust Remembrance Day, inviting comparisons to the shameful and cruel turning away of Jewish refugees trying to flee Hitler?

Does he understand the separation of powers in the United States Constitution? In some instances at the airports, executive branch personnel refused to carry out the order of federal judges. There will be numerous lawsuits filed challenging the legality of the executive order. US immigration law prohibits discrimination due to national origin, which this executive order clearly violates.

It also disturbs me that DT reneged on the promises made to visa, refugee, and green card applicants. A local example: A staff member at my parents’ retirement community is a long-time US resident and green card holder. He planned to leave in a few days to visit family in Iraq. Now, he won’t be able to go. Even if he can get to the Consulate, which is several hours away, and is granted a waiver, he may be leery of leaving the country because the administration has already shown that they are not honoring his green card as equal to that of someone from France or China – or Saudi Arabia, the country from which most of the 9/11 terrorists originated.

I have written often about my fear of Trump, which I am trying to mobilize into energy to fight for social and environmental justice in the face of his threats and actions.  These last two days make it even more difficult to not be afraid. Does DT think that he is above the laws of the United States? Does he think he makes the laws? The legislative and judicial branches need to assert their independent authority, as our system is designed. Sadly, only a few Congressional Republicans have spoken out against the executive orders on immigration.

Again, people power has been a source of hope. Protesters appeared at the airports where travellers were being detained despite their having valid visas and passports. Lawyers skilled in civil rights, Constitutional law, and immigration law rushed to help the affected people and filed emergency suits to keep them from being deported.

And this is only the second week of the administration.

I feel like a firefighter who is being summoned to multiple locations at the same time.

So much work to be done. So many people to try to protect.

Not knowing whence the next alarm comes.
*****
Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January! Find out how here:  https://lindaghill.com/2017/01/29/jusjojan-daily-prompt-jan-29th17/

jjj-2017

 

The “Confidence Gap”

The last several years in the United States have seen a number of articles, books, and studies about why women remain much less prominent than men in the upper echelons of business and government.

Some put the onus on women themselves for (variously) taking time off or cutting back responsibilities at work to tend to family, lack of self-confidence, and lack of ambition.

Research has made clear, though, that our country and our businesses, which we all like to think are meritocracies, are in fact, not.

What research has found in brief:
Women in the United States have been graduating from college at a higher rate than men and often have higher skill levels.
Though women are more skilled, they are also more likely to be humble. Men tend to exhibit a confidence level that they can’t actually back up with their skill set.
Despite this, managers tend to promote confident but less-competent men over more-humble but more-competent women.
If women adopt behaviors that are more confident, even when they have the skill set to back it up, they are viewed negatively, considered pushy, bossy, etc.

While women have been blamed for not being confident or ambitious enough, the bottom line is that the system is executed in a way that favors male-prevalent behavior patterns and penalizes female-prevalent ones, while also penalizing women who adopt more stereotypically male behaviors.

We need to stop blaming women and start changing corporate practices. Make assignments and promotions on the basis of demonstrated skills, not on who talks a good game. Actively solicit ideas and opinions from everyone on the team. Organize work hours in a way that helps people to manage their other responsibilities to family, community, etc. This is not just a women’s issue. Men also need to juggle multiple commitments.

To continue in the current mode is a waste of some of the knowledge, skills, and talents that women can bring to our companies, organizations, and government.

It’s (past) time for a change.