Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Racism

I'm on the verge of offending all 5 of my regular readers...
  So hold on!

     I've thought about writing this post more than once, but believe it or not, I actually worry that I may offend some of you. See, it's easy to spill my guts out here and tell you every horrible little detail about me, but voicing my opinions on things that are at best controversial, and at their very worst, horribly offensive, is a difficult task to take on. That said, I had an incident that prompted me to proceed.

    The difference in demographics between Barrington and Alameda is pretty substantial. Let me Google this for accuracy.


Alameda, Ca: Population 74,142 (But we made it 74,153)

Latino
13.4% of residents in Alameda, CA are Latino 13.4%
White
49.1% of residents in Alameda, CA are Caucasian 49.1%
Black
5.5% of residents in Alameda, CA are of African descent 5.5%
Asian
29.2% of residents in Alameda, CA are of Asian descent 29.2%
Other
2.6% of residents in Alameda, CA are of undetermined descent 2.6%



Barrington, IL: Population 10,168 (10,157 as of May 21)

Latino
2.33% of residents in Barrington, IL are Latino 2.3%
White
94.12% of residents in Barrington, IL are Caucasian 94.1%
Asian
2% of residents in Barrington, IL are of Asian descent 2%


     Wow, it looks even worse with the charts! It's really irrelevant to me that Barrington was predominately white as I do try and raise my children to be accepting of everyone; black, white, latino, gay straight, bisexual, transgender, even Republican. I don't care who you are, you have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness (which, in my opinion, includes the right to marry- but as usual, I digress.) But I will say this. My family totally makes what others could view as inappropriate, racist (I prefer politically incorrect) jokes. And so, here I go, trying to explain (defend?) myself for your amusement.

     A little background here. About 5 years ago, I was the most politically correct person you've ever known. I used terms like "African American" and "Latino" because it never occurred to me to say "Black" or "Mexican". We pay so much damn attention to renaming everyone every few years that we are only drawing more lines between us as time goes on. I think this is a new, almost blind sort of racism; a racism being brought on by government and media, or the really annoying voice of one person who has decided that being called Mexican (even if that sure is shit is where you are from) is somehow offensive. It breeds an element of fear in people that if they don't use the right terminology they are, in fact, racist. But now you've created this air around things that simply doesn't need to be there; an air in which otherwise normal human beings become passively, ignorantly racist because they are now thinking way too hard about how not to be racist. I was totally one of those people. I constantly corrected my children if they used a term like "black" to describe someone. Looking back, it seems so silly. I was only teaching them to identify and focus on our differences in a very intense and serious way rather than raising them to just be accepting of people for exactly how they are. Fast forward to the spring of 2007 and enter into my life the thing that would take the fear of being racist away, replacing it with a wicked sense of humor for the factual differences between all types of human beings: The Chicago Improv.

An example of what others might deem an inappropriate conversation in my home:

Winnie- "I wish we celebrated Hannakuh."

Me-  "Why?"

Winnie- "I don't know. I am a little Jewy. Seems like the right thing to do."


     When my 3 years at the Improv were up, I can promise you that I had heard every single racist joke ever told. When a black comic came in, the 'N' word was said more often than words like "and" or "the". Illegal immigrants, midgets (I know, I know- little people) middle easterners (I really can't use the terminology I heard most often on this group of people) and anyone in the political spotlight was fair game. The taunting was often relentless and, dare I say, funny as hell. And it doesn't stop short of white people. Jeff Dunham draws an audience that a monster truck rally would envy. I've never seen so many water-ordering, 10% tipping, mullet wearing, toothless idiots in my life. WTF is the deal with in-breeders and puppets?? Wow. That was pretty racist.

     Now, I'm not going to bother defending any of these people (or myself for that matter). If you don't know their work then youtube it and decide how you feel about it for yourself. All I can tell you is the more funny people put into our differences, the less I really seemed to notice them and the more I realized we're all a little quirky in our own ways. Some of it is based on how and where we grew up, and yes, the race we come from.

    I do need to say this here. There is a definite difference between making fun of the races and true hatred toward another group of people. And here's where it gets sticky. What is funny and what isn't? Well, I can tell you that it is rare to hear a really hurtful racist joke, even in a comedy club, unless the comic is huge. Tommy Davidson has a pretty damn racist act. He sells out when he comes to town. He pushes the envelope a little too far for me because he seems angry about a lot of things rather than just poking fun. But people love him and I'm not going to tell someone else what's funny and what isn't. For me, jokes about middle easterners bombing America are pretty out there, while jokes about middle easterners being stopped at checkpoints for fear from Americans who think they're here to bomb us can be pretty damn funny. And so maybe the thing that makes a joke funny is:

A) if it isn't blatantly hurtful and has an element of truth to it.
I.E. When Carlos Mencia (hack that he is) makes jokes about Mexicans crossing the border in a van full of 30+ people.
Or
B) when we are poking fun at the ignorance of others surrounding a specific race of people.
I.E. My example above regarding middle easterners being racially profiled.

     So now the big question. Are those of us not considered a minority allowed to laugh? And don't pull the glass ceiling "I'm a woman therefore a minority" shit into this conversation. Hillary Clinton was almost president. Oprah is a gazillionaire. The plight of women may exist, but for the purposes of this conversation, let's not try and equate it with the plight of a descendant of slavery, ok? As a white woman, I always felt like laughing at anything other than a joke about a white woman was racist. But The Improv taught me that everyone is poked at and everyone gets their turn. Bobby Lee and his jokes about Koreans, Tommy Davidson on whites vs blacks, Lynn Koplitz and her man-bashing (priceless, btw) and yes, a lot of jokes about women are out there as well. None of which I find offensive because a lot of it is TRUE! I cry when I get my period, I want my husband to communicate more, I am emotional and crazy and clingy. I like flowers and candy and if my man forgets my birthday I will tear his eyes out. I am barefoot and pregnant 90% of my life.. the list goes on. And as for my man? My husband likes... hmmm. Well this isn't fun. I married a fucking metrosexual so I really can't gender stereotype him. What I can do, is make fun of his metrosexuality!

     My husband likes lotion, candles and hair cuts. His hands are softer than a baby's ass. He dresses better than 90% of the Backstreet Boys and shaves his balls. (Too much? Damn, I really might want to rethink this blogging thing) And just because you laughed at this doesn't mean you don't like women or are a metrophobe. (Coined.)  It just means that stereotypes can be funny because sometimes they are true. My hair dresser is gay. My daughter's PE teacher is a lesbian (I actually think this is a mandatory requirement.) And if you drive down the street to the Home Depot, there are tons of Mexicans looking for work. Is this racist? Factual? Both? I have no idea. I just know there is a lot of funny to be found in it. Why people get hung up on debunking certain stereotypes is beyond me. Sure, I understand the debunking of things such as "All Muslims are anti-American". It's hateful and breeds unnecessary fear into people; fear that could result in violence against someone's constitutional right to freedom of religion. It also happens to be inaccurate. But "the owner of my 7-11 is Indian" is not only true, but kinda makes me chuckle. Especially if you have had a conversation like the following:


I walked into my local 7-11 (while still living in Barrington) donning a sweatshirt which read "Bono is God"

Owner- (insert thick Indian accent) "Who is this Bono?" (Bone-oh, as in Sonny and Cher)

Me- "What? Oh. Bono. (Pronounced correctly) He's the, uh, lead singer of a band.

Owner- "Well, I do not know who this Bono is (once again, Sunny and Cher) but I can certainly tell you he is not God."

Me- "Yes. I realize he isn't God. It's a joke."

Owner- "Well, this joke? It is not funny."

Comedic gold, right there.

     
     And so now, the reason I wanted to finally write this post.

 The incident: 

     Taren had a friend over who is half black, half white and they were having a dance-off. Taren's friend was dancing like Michael Jackson. It was awesome. When her white mom came over and sat on the couch watching them with me, I asked her in my funniest tone "Can I assume where she got her dancing abilities from?" Racist? Now, I don't know that she got offended, I barely know this woman. What I do know is that this was not funny to her whatsoever. Wow. I just Googled "Why do black people dance better than white people?" and got a ton of Q and A forums where people are SERIOUSLY pissed off at this generalization. I might need to shut this post down to comments. 

     But that's the thing.There are differences between races. DUH! There are differences between genders, differences between west coasters and east coasters, and lets not even get started on religious differences, right?? So why is it such a bad and negative thing to say? Black people are better at athletics. Is this not true? I can't remember the last time a white person won the Chicago marathon. Or even an American, for that matter. Is that a racist comment? If I were married to a black man and someone asked me if my daughter could dance like that because of my husband, I would say "Absolutely. She gets her line dancing from my side." I guess what I'm trying to say is that we're all way to fucking sensitive these days. At least in public. There are plenty of us out there laughing in the privacy of our own homes because, as I'm sure you know, there are loads of immensely popular shows on TV that have racist jokes in them. The Office pokes fun at Mexicans, gay people, black people, Jews and so on. South Park has a black character named "Token" as in the token black character. Tosh.0.. well, he could be the king of racist comedy at the moment. And people are watching. Maybe only quietly, maybe a little fearfully, but they are watching. 

     So, yes. I asked a white woman if her half black daughter dances so well because of her father. But please, folks. Keep in mind that the question came from a 38 year old grandmother with 8 children piled into a 4 bedroom home who left college shy of getting her degree and drives a beat up minivan full of petrified chicken nuggets and empty bottles of wine. So go ahead, have a field day on me. 

     And in case you have never had a taste of the kind of jokes I'm talking about, here is my friend Gabriel telling a story about how he gave a black friend of his a "Racist gift basket":






Monday, December 6, 2010

Date Night Shmate Night

  I'm on the verge of hooking an IV full of coffee into my arm...

     It's irrelevant to my post. It just happens to be way too early on a Monday morning for much of anything. So where was I? Ah, yes. I am going to tell you the tale of two lovers who wanted to discover the city by the bay...

     Making time to "date" is challenging when you have children. Quite often, the idea of taking 2 Tylenol PMs and calling it a night sounds like the best date you could ever have. Mark and I try and get out a couple times a week, usually locally so that if anyone needs us back at home getting there is a snap. But with the recent re-addition of our eldest daughter to our household, we feel a little more confident venturing out into the city and further away from our nest. One of the things I think is so important in having a good relationship is nurturing it just as much as you nurture your relationship with your kids. I once heard Dr. Phil say "The foundation on which the entire family is built is the love affair between the mother and the father." Really soak that in. Without Mark and I being in love, there is nothing. I came frighteningly close to discovering this first hand. So for us, dating is a must.

     So let's go back a little bit here. 

     It's been nearly a week since I hit what I think may be the bottom of the bottom, (fingers crossed) and I can finally see why the switch was turned off. My life is utterly exhausting. Just to give you an idea of what I mean, I will highlight some of the finer events: I became a Cub Scout leader, I took 6 children to a book store, we cooked, made crafts, walked into town and got face painting, I lost Shaylon, I found Shaylon, we entered a hula hoop contest. I replaced old shoes, bought new clothes, signed Declan up for tutoring. I walked to and from school several times, cleaned out closets, drawers and cabinets. I gave 2 haircuts, bathed bodies 16 times, started solids (not me- the baby) put away 10 or so loads of laundry, went to a 7:30 am girl scout event on a Saturday (shoot me), scrubbed my tile, got into therapy, had a dance-off, a singing contest, a sleep-over, a knock-down-drag-out fight with a teenager, and made 25 gift boxes for Taren's gingerbread house fund raiser at school. And that's just a portion of my life over the past 5 days since you heard from me. Oh, and I managed to get the stomach flu for 2 days in there, rendering  me completely useless. On the up side, this did allow me to finally start watching How I Met Your Mother which, I must say, is a super cute show! But I digress. Back to date night.

     So as part of my own personal therapy, I have decided to get myself out and into the world once more. I bought a few travel books, and am essentially going to become a tourist in my own city. No more feeling sad, no more anger or guilt. This is the start of a new adventure for me; a new life for us. I spent 11 years in Chicago without really getting to know the city and all of it's wonderful charm. I am not going to let NorCal pass me by so easily. So after a brief history lesson, the first stop in Fodor's San Francisco 2011 was Union Square. 

     It would start with a trip to Oakland. Yes, Oakland. For those of you who don't know, Alameda is an island on the east bay of San Francisco right next to Oakland. Like right next to Oakland. I think if I spit in the wind it would land on a bum on the other side of the bridge. Yet for all its proximital (my computer does not like this word) issues, Alameda remains unscathed; basking in it's reputation for a strong police force and low crime level. Quite simply, they just don't let it bleed over. The bridges that connect the island to the mainland are truly the end of the line for crime. Island living = good. On the other hand, traveling outside of the city via BART = Oakland. I was leaving at 8:29 pm on a train that would reach Mark by 8:50. Dinner reservations were at 9. A failure of parenting 102. However long you think things will take, double it

     I made Taylor accompany me to the station where the most infamous shooting in Oakland took place only 1 year ago. Good times. Things turned out not be quite as scary as I pictured. There was a 50 year old whore trying to get some action, a totally drunk old man singing into a can, and several people who have apparently been told different things by Jesus himself vying for my attention, but overall, the Fruitvale station is harmless. The train was crowded, but this turned out to be a perk since the empty seat I took up happened to be next to a hot young environmentalist from San Jose. He was drinking something alcoholic out of a Sprite bottle which I was happy for, since I am quite sure the beer goggles were the only reason conversation was striking. Turns out he's from the Midwest so we even shared common ground. I was just about to laugh heartily and bat my eyes at one of his jokes when the first of many phone calls came through. 

"Mom, this is Ashley. The car just died. Like everything just turned off." 
"Where are you?"
"On the side of the road somewhere."

     And so it begins. 

     I would spend the duration of the trip, save for the final stretch where BART goes under water and I lose phone service, talking to her about how to handle the situation. She and my son had dropped me off at Fruitvale. Thankfully, they made it back on the island before things went bad. They were now close to home, but the car wasn't exactly parked in a legal space, and further instructions were required. As I lost service, I told her to call her Dad and fill him in. The remaining 4 minutes of my ride would be devoted to listening about some stupid bird that needs a specific kind of tree which apparently some assholes are chopping down. Blah blah blah. But it didn't matter what he said. He was pretty.) 

     When I arrived at Montgomery station, I didn't know where my ticket was (first time ever riding BART. Someone might have mentioned to me you need your ticket to get both on and off.) I ended up having to dump out my purse in order to find it while all the locals walked past me with that "Tourist" scowl across their faces. I used the wrong escalator to get up to the street level and Mark was nowhere to be found. It took me about 10 minutes to decide to go back in a look for another set of stairs on the opposite side of the tunnel. There he was. Duh. He is on the phone with Ashley. It's 9pm. We still have a bus to take. 

     The miracle in all of this is that somewhere, somehow, back in our days apart, Mark actually listened to me when I told him to add road side emergency to my insurance policy. We called Geico and help for Ashley was finally on the way. 

     The bus was thankfully running late, and as the conversation about our idiot kids got heated, Mark looked at me with that "Done" look in his eye. It was time to focus on us. I changed the conversation to housework. Is there even a "me" in here anymore? 9:10. Where is this bus?? My phone rang again. Between Mark and I this must have been about the 9th call we received so far that evening. As I looked at the screen I was surprised not to see Ashley displayed, but rather Winne. 

"Hi Winnie."
"Mom? Where's Ashley?"
"The car broke down. They will be home shortly."

     I completely forgot to call Win and let her know that her brother and sister were delayed. The last thing we said at 8:15 when we left the house was that they would return in just a few minutes. Here were were an hour later. I can hear Avion screaming in the background.

"I can't find a bottle." 
"Well, look for it."
"I did."
"Well look harder!"
"I DID!"
"I don't know what you want me to do, Winnie. He needs a bottle and to be put to bed. You're just going to have to find it. I couldn't come home in the next few minutes even if I wanted to." 
(Did I now want to?)
"Fine. Whatever, Mom."  Click.

     So let's recap. My car is broken down somewhere in Alameda and my 2 teenagers are in charge of somehow fixing this situation. My infant is screaming and the tween in charge of him cannot locate anything to feed him with. Oh, and we were beginning to run ridiculously late for our reservations. Maybe the whole night was a mistake. But we pressed forward.

     Mark missed our stop by a few which put us in a pretty seedy part of town. We would have to walk back through a herd of drug dealers and prostitutes. A bum across the street was yelling obscenities at everyone passing him by. I actually found this funny. I kept my purse under my coat, and chose not to make another call to check in at home until we got to our destination. 

"Hi. Welcome to Le Colonial."
"Hi. We have a reservation. Smith. 2."
"Smith... Smiiiiiiiiiith. Hmmmmm. Smith, Smith, Smith. I'm sorry. No Smith."

     Well this just fucking figures.

"I made reservations a couple of hours ago online." 
(Breathe. Don't punch her in the throat.)
"Oh it's fine. We can squeeze you in."

     Finally. Aside from the hottie little bird man on the train, this was the first thing to go right that evening. We called Winnie, she had found the bottle. We called Ashley, Geico was taking care of her.  The Universe was at last aligning with us, and just to say she was sorry for our evening thus far, said Universe took away phone service at Le Colonial. Thank you. 

     Dinner was amazing and afterward we walked to Union Square to see the Christmas lights and ice rink. By 11pm we were both exhausted and headed back to BART where Mark fell asleep and almost missed our stop. We had to take a cab home, but that wasn't too bad as I convinced my husband to stop briefly at our friend's 80's prom themed birthday party (she's 28) just to say hello before walking the final few blocks home.

     Overall, despite our rocky start, the evening was great. I'm looking forward to this weekend when my best friend from Chicago is coming to town. Already on the to-do list is a walk through the beatnik section of North Beach, a hair raising trolley ride down the steepest side of the city, and a visit to the Castro for a photo op in Harvey Milk Plaza under the rainbow flag. Oh yes! For more on my adventures of city discovery, I have started a new blog:


     This is strictly my travels in and around San Francisco. There won't be any swearing, or gut spilling. No sob stories or pregnancy scares. This is just a nuts and bolts "travel" blog with much focus on eating since I love food! If you want to visit SF it could be entertaining and informative once I really get going.

     And on that note, I have a house to clean, lunch to make, a pine box derby car to design, 25 gifts to paint and a toddler to play with. 

Hear that? It's the sound of me being happy.