It seems like every few months there's another case of police brutality that leads to the death of a young African American man. The case at the moment is that of Freddie Gray, a young man in Baltimore who died from spinal injuries after being arrested. There are many questions about this incident that still have not been answered, including why he was arrested in the first place.
It appears that when he saw the police he began to run. That they then chased after him, caught, restrained and arrested him. But so far there has been no charge brought to light, other than the crime of running from the police.
It is not hard to guess why Freddie ran when he saw the police. He has a history of arrests for petty crime, so this was not his first encounter with the police. Given that he was arrested and restrained so violently that it killed him, it seems that his instinct to run was correct. Apparently his mistake was not that he ran, his mistake was that he did not run fast enough.
It would be easy to look at this case quite literally in black and white. The police officers involved were white men, the young man involved was black.
As a middle class white woman, my own experience with the police recently was quite different from his. I was visiting Santa Monica, California with a friend. We had stopped at a cafe, and soon discovered that my purse had been stolen. Inside my purse was my phone, and we were able to use the Find My iPhone app to see where my purse had gone.
The police responded much more quickly than we expected, helped us track down the thieves, and my purse was returned to me with everything in it. In the end the police were my heroes, and I was very grateful to them that they were there to intervene on my behalf.
This has not always been my experience with the police. When I was a young punk rocker with a shaved head and a bad attitude I was often found on the other side of the law. I was distrustful of the police, as they were of me. I know what it's like to see a cop and run, whether or not you are doing anything illegal.
The difference is that a punk rocker can grow out her hair and her attitude and blend in. A black man will always be a black man.
Would Freddie Gray call the police if someone stole his wallet? If he did, would they respond quickly and treat him respectfully?
Unfortunately, I think that the answer to both of those questions is no.
This situation once again brings up our long history of institutionalized racism, civil rights violations and tensions between poor inner city communities and law enforcement. Continuing to see the situation only in black and white, with fingers pointing at both sides does nothing to change it.
What we need is understanding on both sides.
Years ago I attended a nonviolent communication training workshop conducted by the late Marshall Rosenberg, a great man who spent his life helping resolve conflicts peacefully in situations of extreme tension. That workshop taught me a lot of things about resolving conflicts, most importantly that all anger comes from an unmet need. If we can determine what our need is and communicate it, the anger defuses and we are able to come to an effective resolution.
The people of Baltimore are angry. The people of America are angry. We are angry because this is not just an isolated incident. People living in poor communities of color are treated as criminals before they have ever committed a crime.
The unmet need causing the anger here is the fundamental need for safety on both sides of the issue. Every community in America needs to feel that police are there as protectors. And the police need to feel like they are safe as well, or they will continue to overreact and escalate situations that might otherwise have been harmless.
For some time activists have been calling for more policing of the police. While transparency and accountability are important, I think relationships and communication are equally important. If the police had a better relationship with the communities they patrol, there would be less fear on all sides.
Currently, most people only encounter police when they are either a victim or a perpetrator of a crime. Either way, it's generally a bad situation when people are not at their best.
These encounters leave lasting impressions on everyone involved. After awhile the assumptions become that everyone is a criminal or that all police are a threat. And it's these impressions that lead to a situation where a young black man sees police and automatically starts to run, and the police see him running and automatically start to chase him.
To change the situation, the encounters need to change. Police need to be integrated into the communities they patrol. They need to spend time at the schools and hospitals and nursing homes in that community. They need to be a part of the fabric of the neighborhood. Not so that they can intimidate the people there, but to get to know them.
Imagine if Freddie Gray had grown up with police who were kind and generous. What would it have been like if police had been a part of his regular life all along, helping out on the playground at recess, helping him find his lost dog or assisting an elderly person across the street safely?
Maybe, if he had grown up with positive associations of police, he might have reacted differently when he saw the police coming. What if he caught their eye and waved and smiled. What if he said hello instead of running? Maybe things would have gone differently. Maybe he would still be alive today.
I love most holidays, but Valentine's Day has never been one of them. When I was single, it always seemed a sad reminder of my inadequacy at finding a partner. When I had a partner, they were never romantic enough to satisfy the commercial cravings for diamonds, chocolates, flowers and fancy dinners that the media has been drumming up ever since the big Christmas holiday sales ended.
For many years though, V-days have felt different for me. I haven't worried so much about what happens on this day, because it is the culmination of all of the days of the year that leave me feeling loved.
Today, for instance, my husband did some laundry and paid bills, and that feels plenty romantic to me. He claims to have big plans for later, but honestly, I am satisfied with the love and sacrifices he makes every day.
My son tells me that he is glad that he's a child and isn't expected to get anyone anything for Valentine's Day. I tell him that he is never obligated to get anyone anything on Valentine's Day. He replies that if he had a wife she would be furious if he didn't. I wonder where he gets this idea.
When I was his age I once spent an afternoon in a park with a handful of friends. Someone had a boom box, and we played "The Greatest Love of All" by Whitney Houston over and over again while we lip-synced and danced around.
It took me many years and many failed relationships to truly understand the meaning of that song. It wasn't until I reached the same conclusion as Whitney, that "learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all", that Valentine's Day changed for me.
I was no longer willing to stay in a relationship for fear of being alone, and being alone no longer seemed like such a terrible thing. I stopped waiting to be rescued, and instead I rescued myself.
Learning to love myself wasn't easy. Growing up I was mercilessly teased for being a skinny white girl on an Indian reservation. I internalized so much of this as a reflection on my self-worth. I desperately wanted someone to love me despite myself, and was continually disappointed that all of my relationships came up short.
It wasn't until I found myself in a terribly abusive relationship in my mid-twenties that I was forced to realize that what I was doing wasn't working. I became determined that I would find my way out of this unhealthy cycle.
There is one line in that old eighties song that isn't quite right. Learning to love yourself is not "easy to achieve". After many years of therapy, self-help books, mediation and self-reflection my journey led me to a place where I finally had learned to love myself. And that is when I met the man who I would be in my first truly healthy relationship with.
We were married by a lake in California three years ago in June.
My friends often tell me that I am so lucky to have found Max. I agree with them, but I also know that it was not just luck, it was hard work. Our relationship works because I love myself enough to know that I could walk away at any time. I stay because I don't have to. And that's a good feeling.
Wherever you are this Valentines Day, whether you are single, in a co-dependent, unhealthy relationship, or even if you are happily involved with the love of your life, I invite you to listen to this cheesy old eighties song and remember, learning to love yourself, it is the greatest love of all...
its way into my life, cluttering up my closets and shelves with it's sentimental uselessness. Every so often I dig through the piles and banish things that I never use and which don't mean too much to me. My load is lightened and I go about my life never thinking about it again.
This time however, the regret of donating that box has continued to slowly creep up on me. It was not immediate, but over the following months little memories began to come back to me. The signed cds from bands that I had seen before they got big, the obscure music of bands that never got big but should have, the music of friends who were musicians, cds that friends had burned for me...most of these could never be replaced, and I mourned them.
But the bigger loss was one I had not realized until a moment in the car when my son wanted to listen to some music. I felt it was time to expand his horizons a bit, and so I started to play some of my favorite music from back in high school and college. Music that I knew all of the lyrics to...music that came embedded with so many memories that each song was like a time capsule...music from a time when we didn't ask someone new what they did for a living, or what their hobbies were, we asked them what music they listened to. And that was when it hit me.
I never should have gotten rid of that box. Not because *I* need to someday take out those albums and relive those memories, but because someday *my son* should be able to dig in that box and discover it for himself.
When I was a kid I used to love looking through my mom's record collection. The cover artwork alone told a story. A story of a different time, a time that I never knew. A time when my mom and dad were young and rebellious and listened to music that reflected that. Songs by musicians like the Doors, the Mamas and Papas, Donovan, Simon and Garfunkle, Janis Joplin, the Beatles...I can still see the record covers in my mind.
One of my favorites that I discovered much later at my grandparents house was a Velvet Underground album that still had the banana unpeeled on the cover. Over time it had gotten cracked and I could see that the banana underneath was an intense fuchsia. There was such a deep sense of mystery about this album. This was weird stuff, intensely different than anything else I had heard. It was awesome.
The music fascinated me. This wasn't the eighties pop music I had heard on the radio like Madonna's "Material Girl" or Cyndi Lauper's "Girls Just Want to Have Fun", this was something much deeper.
I spent many hours listening to those records and memorizing everything about them, including most of the lyrics. On long road trips in our old, crappy Volkswagen Vanagon that was never warm enough and only had a half-assed radio, my mom would ask me to sing those songs to her. Sometimes she would listen as I sang, sometimes we would belt it out together. Sometimes she would ask me for songs I didn't know, and later I would find them and memorize them so that we could sing them together.
As I developed into a teenager I began to discover my own music. Music that was even deeper, and that was much darker and often angrier. Music by artists like the Cure, the Violent Femmes, the Pixies, Jane's Addiction...music by pissed off women like Tori Amos and Sinead O' Conner. Music that reflected my own emotional experience.
Again I spent hours staring at album covers, memorizing lyrics, becoming absorbed in the meaning behind the music. My friends were people who shared this love of music and who introduced me to their favorite stuff. We made mixed tapes for each other, weaving songs into story that said "I love you, I get you, we'll always be friends".
I think that making mixed tapes for people was the prelude to my later obsession with filmmaking. I spent hours and hours planning out the tape, picking which song would lead into the next and carefully hitting play and record at the same time. If I messed up I had to do it again. And I had to listen to each song in real time, it wasn't just drag and drop like it is now. I listened to each song in real time, planning out what went next and how to match it perfectly to my message, and when I gave it to my loved one, they had to listen to it in the order that I gave it to them in.
Not only that, but there were two sides to it. So one side could represent one emotion and the other another. It was a build-up. There was intention behind it. It was an art form.
Later I would get the same feeling editing my movies. The exhilaration of how one shot met with the next to evoke that feeling or communicate that concept was the same feeling I had when I made a mixed tape, with the added benefit that I could create the message to begin with. And of course there was the visual component too. It was a lot of additional layers, but at its core, for me, filmmaking is just like making a mixed tape for a good friend.
But now all that is gone. If I want to listen to a song I can just type it in and listen. I don't have to listen to the rest of the album. I rarely bother to look at the album artwork or to read the lyrics and ponder the deeper meaning behind the song.
The last time I gave someone a mixed cd, they just imported it into their laptop and added the songs to their music collection. Whenever they bothered to listen to it, it was out of order. I was devastated and haven't made a mixed cd since. That was over ten years ago.
I recently made a spotify playlist for my mother-in-law to play while she was going through cancer treatment. It was the first time I had put music together for someone in a long time. It wasn't exactly the same as making a mixed tape, but there was definitely an echo of the feeling. Shortly after, my husband and I began putting together a playlist for the upcoming birth of our next baby. Again it evoked those similar feelings of joy that I remember from making mixed tapes back in the day.
I am slowly coming to terms with what the changes in technology has done to the art forms we had built around the old technology. It is not the same, and I definitely have a nostalgia for the old ways of doing things, but it's good in its own way.
If I could turn back time, I would keep that box of cds. But there is no way to get it back now. That box is gone forever, and lives only in my memory. I want my son to be able to have the same joy of discovery that I had when digging through my mom's record collection. I want him to experience that same realization that his mother is more than who he knows now, that she has an interesting past, a time before he was born when she was maybe sort of cool.
I have debated trying to rebuild my collection. In my fantasy world I will go to thrift shops and record stores and get back all of the albums I used to have. Only this time it will be on vinyl because that's even cooler...
But most likely I won't have the time or money for that. I'll be too busy with the new baby and working freelance projects to spend hours digging through music. In the end, I might just have to make due with making my son a playlist...it's not the same as a collection, but it will have to do.
If you're not Native American or a football fan, you might think that the Washington Redskins name change controversy doesn't affect you, so there's no reason to get involved. Please let me disabuse you of this notion.
America has a very unpleasant history of treatment towards our indigenous people that most of us don't like to think about.
If you're a typical American you were probably taught history that began when Columbus "discovered" America. What you know about the people who already lived here is probably pretty fuzzy. Perhaps a vague something about people in skimpy outfits with feather headdresses, bows and arrows, living in tipis. These people were either terrible savages that attacked the poor colonists or nice savages that showed them how to live in the new land and shared a lovely Thanksgiving meal with them.
When you think about what those people are like now, it's probably also pretty fuzzy. Some vague image involving casinos, alcoholism and some kind of spiritual connection with nature.
The actual truth of our American history is much too painful for most of us to bear. Columbus didn't discover America, there were already people here. Millions of people were intentionally, brutally massacred. Those that survived were forced onto reservations, their lands and ways of life taken from them by force.
As if this genocide weren't enough, during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries the government inflicted a cultural warfare on the remaining American Indian population. Babies were taken from their parents and adopted out to white families whenever possible. Children were taken from their parents and forced into boarding schools where they were treated as slave labor and punished for speaking their own language or practicing their customs.
This might seem like ancient history, but it's not. Native Americans continue to be subjected to terrible racism and bigotry. Like the owner of the Washington Redskins refusing to change the name of the team despite the protest of millions of Native Americans who are tired of being objectified and insulted.
We have acknowledged that kidnapping and enslaving people from Africa was wrong, and fired the owner of the Clippers for making racist comments. Yet when it comes to our indigenous people, we have yet to make a stand.
Today the US Patent and Trademark Office cancelled the federal trademark of the Redskins due to it's offensive nature. This seems like good news, but a similar ruling was overthrown in 1999. Dan Snyder, the owner of the Redskins has pledged to "never" change the name. Unless the majority of Americans are willing to stand together with our Native people and say "This is wrong, it's time to change it", this ruling could be overturned again.
I don't understand what Dan Snyder is thinking, how he can justify claiming that he knows more about what is offensive to another culture than the people from that culture. It is mind boggling to me. I would like him to imagine how he would feel if there was a German soccer team called the "German Candles" with a sterotypical image of a Jew as their mascot. How would he feel if the team owner declared that he would never change the name and denied that this was offensive to Jews, even though the owner was not a Jew himself?
I grew up on the Navajo Nation and am very familiar with tribal customs and culture. Many of my best friends are Native American. But I am not, and I would never presume to say what is and isn't offensive to a culture that is not mine. I don't have to guess whether the use of the name Redskins is offensive or not, it is enough for me that many people from many different tribes have expressed that they feel that it is.
It is time to change the name.
I'm 30 weeks pregnant and I love it when people not only acknowledge that I'm pregnant, but marvel in the miracle of it by touching my belly and talking to the baby in there.
I have a message for the pregnant women who have expressed discomfort at people wanting to touch their bellies: GET OVER IT! You are about to have strangers sticking their hands up your vagina and you're worried about someone touching your belly? Seriously, relax. Stop ruining it for the rest of us with your petty complaints.
Saturday I arrived at a barbecue around the same time as another pregnant woman I know. We joyfully rubbed our bellies together while encouraging our babies to say hello. It was awesome! And it made me realize that because of the outspoken backlash of those few people who find having their bellies touched uncomfortable, I haven't gotten as much belly love as I would like.
I appreciate your desire to be polite, but ignoring the miracle that is going on in front of you is a sad state of affairs as well.
I know that nobody wants to be in the awkward position of assuming someone is pregnant who turns out to just be fat, but I am enormous and people are still acting surprised when I mention that I'm due in a few months. Really? You thought that was just a beer gut? Come on people, if my belly is that big and I'm *not* pregnant, we've got bigger problems here than a minor social faux pax.
I've traveled quite a bit recently and been disappointed that nobody has offered to help me as I've struggled with getting my bag up and down from the overhead compartment. This sucks. Being pregnant is so uncomfortable and the only upside is that people should be nicer to you.
The next time you see a pregnant person struggling, offer to help.
And yes, there are people who don't like to have their belly touched, it's true, but they're not the only pregnant ones out there. So if you want to touch a beautiful bulging baby in a belly, just ask, because there's also people like me, who will appreciate the attention.
As a parent I am often surprised by how little our education system has changed since I was a kid. Earlier tonight my son's fifth grade class presented their powerpoint presentations on influential people in Colorado. One student described a famous explorer who was sent to apprentice with a master at the age of ten, as was common at the time.
This really caught my attention and I found myself contemplating what life would be like if we gave ten year olds the opportunity to apprentice with a master in the field of their choosing.
I thought about what I was like at ten. Introverted and observant, I was more comfortable with books than people. I had an ongoing monologue in my head that turned all of my observations of the world into stories.
I was passionate about animals and the environment, and I wanted to be an astronaut so I could explore space. But most of all, I wanted to be a writer.
And I still do. My ten year old self knew what I wanted to do with my life, and twenty seven years later I'm still "trying to figure out what I really want to do" because I can't shake the message that I got as a kid that "nobody makes a living as a writer" and "to be successful you have to stay in school".
Through middle school and high school I was forced to spend a little bit of time on a lot of different subjects so that I could take tests that proved that I had sufficiently memorized what has largely turned out to be a lot of useless information.
But what if I wasn't forced to learn all that stuff? What if I were given the opportunity to apprentice with a master instead? If at ten I was encouraged to pursue my true passions and taught how to make a living doing what I enjoy, I think I would have been a lot happier throughout my life.
But instead I suffered through years of misery trying to do things I wasn't good at and didn't enjoy because that was how our education system was set up.
And that terrible system hasn't changed. A quarter of a century later my son is complaining to me that he doesn't understand why he's being forced to learn stuff he doesn't enjoy and can't see using in real life. It's hard because as a parent I'm supposed to support his teachers, but often I find myself agreeing with his assessment.
Why are we still forcing kids to learn useless information? Kids growing up today aren't allowed to focus on their subjects of interest until college, and even then they often are forced to take general classes until their third or fourth year. And we wonder why so many people are lost and unhappy, pursuing careers they don't enjoy because they don't know what they really want to do, when most of them probably did know once, before it was educated out of them.
I'm not suggesting that we completely stop teaching multiple subjects after fifth grade, but I do think we need to reevaluate this broken system. It was designed for an industrial age when we needed lots of workers to do basic tasks that required very little creativity, ingenuity or passion. That time is dead. We need fully evolved human beings with as much creativity and ingenuity as possible. Not only for the general happiness of the population, but in order to evolve quickly enough to survive as a species.
Imagine what your life would be like if your passions had been encouraged and nurtured throughout your schooling. What would that look like? Let's create that world together. It might be too late for our childhood selves, but it's not too late for the kids that will usher in the future. Let's make it happen.
Since becoming a mom to a little boy with Trisomy 21 I have written a lot about Down syndrome and disabilities. I am a storyteller, wife and mom to a teen and a toddler. Life is busy!