The Past, The Protests, The Privilege

I’m a middle aged white guy who grew up with that privilege.   Sometimes I’ve been aware of it and sometimes I’ve been blithely unaware.  Right now, well, it’s hard not to be fully awake.

Many tens of thousands of us of all colors have taken to the streets this week, both physically and virtually, both non-violently and occasionally violently, to demand consequences for the death of a 46-year-old Black man, George Floyd, at the literal hands (well, knee) of a Minneapolis police officer as three of his fellow men in blue watched.

Found in Minneapolis

I dislike violence but I’m not surprised or even OUTRAGED by it.  Frankly, I wouldn’t blame many of us if we burned numerous landmarks in numerous cities down at this point.

Don’t take this as an endorsement of violence but more as an observation of the breaking point of human nature and what it seems to take, now and at various points in our history, to achieve any sort of meaningful social change.

Target will recover, trust me

Mr. Floyd, compliant and handcuffed, was nevertheless prone in the gutter with that police officer’s knee to his neck for a full EIGHT MINUTES, cutting off his air.  As Mr. Floyd pleaded that he couldn’t breathe and called to his dead Mom for help, the officer kept pressing down, on his neck.

In the last three of those minutes Mr. Floyd was no longer breathing and likely dead as the officer blithely looked around him and up at the sky, just sort of passing the time.  Yet his knee never moved, nor did any of his fellow officers.

It’s all captured on video from numerous angles and on numerous cameras.  So don’t even try arguing about it.

The impact of the iPhone cannot be understated

Mr. Floyd’s death is the latest of dozens and dozens and dozens – and dozens – of similar acts perpetrated by police all across the country on an ever-growing list of Black and Brown men, and sometimes women, in the last number of years. They have crossed over the line of guilt or innocence to techniques of interrogation engagement that end in viral recordings of Roman Coliseum-type murders.

What once seemed to many of us informed white Americans as complicated, perhaps nuanced issues of policing are now live examples of what is being perpetrated by representatives of the white patriarchal power structure in our names.  It’s the cost of doing business and what’s perceived as being needed to keep us at the top of the social order and ensure our continued and absolute white privilege.

It’s time to listen

I used to think as an openly gay, Jewish guy from New York City who could never hide who he was because of my surname and less than macho affect, I was not truly the beneficiary of all of this.

But over the years when I’ve considered the fact that I’ve never feared the police, have never been suspected or questioned by law enforcement about crime, and have certainly NEVER been warned by any relatives or friends on how to behave if a policeman happened to pull me over or approach me, I began to recognize the undeniable.

From the perspective of the law, I am LUCKY to be white.

Recognizing your privilege is step 1

Not only was that revelation embarrassing, it was enraging.   Until I indulged in the luxury of partly forgetting about it until the next viral act of racial injustice at the hands of the law came along.

These days it happens if not daily, then weekly or monthly.  So while I am more than able to forget where I put my keys and my wallet I’m seldom EVER able to misplace my white privilege.

What a sorry turn of current events.

Watching spots in Minneapolis and other cities burn as our POTUS fanned the flames of racial injustice and re-tweeted old law and order threats from the 1960s designed to incite more rioting and thus distract from his epic failures in so many other areas, everything seemed hopeless.

It’s hard to even look at a cartoon of him…

But then I began thinking about the death of Larry Kramer, a writer, AIDS activist and one of my personal heroes of courage, and I somehow began to have a vague scintilla of hope – and change.

To call Mr. Kramer a mere AIDS activist is, of course, to sell him short.  By all accounts he was THE FIRST AIDS ACTIVIST in the early 80s, someone who possessed a personal, unrelenting megaphone of activism so loud, unpleasant and in your face that it demanded to be heard until it finally was.

Don’t take my word for it.  Read his NY Times obituary. 

and consider the words of the leading voice of our medical community (Note: And one of Mr. Kramer’s chief nemeses) in 2020, Dr. Anthony Fauci: There is no question in my mind that Larry helped change medicine in this country.

The reason Larry did this was that, as he looked around the streets of his neighborhood, he saw dozens and dozens and dozens – and dozens – of his friends being brutally murdered by a relentless foe – the AIDS virus.  But crazy as it was, the white power structure, of which he was theoretically a member of like myself, was doing little to nothing about it.

Worse yet, they seemed to have little interest to radically change their ways and pay more than a little lip service to it despite the pile up of bodies not only in his neighborhood but all across the country.

So he realized if anything were to get done he and his comrades in arms (nee other potential victims) had to take to the streets and do it themselves.

1989, ACT UP protest, Wall Street #thanksLarry

Mr. Kramer founded the Gay Men’s Health Crisis and later ACTUP, two organizations that slowly, and eventually in very impolite ways, pushed AIDS activism and solutions into the public square by EVERY means necessary.

ACTUP, and Mr. Kramer in particular, set a road map for the modern day, post-1960s activists, creating loud, live events that were so disruptive they couldn’t be ignored.  These included theatrical demonstrations that interrupted Mass presided over by unsympathetic priests inside St. Patrick’s Cathedral and other Catholic Churches; die-ins at the White House and on Wall Street; name-calling political leaders murderers and much worse on national TV (Note: Dr. Fauci included); as well as very publicly outing any closeted gay person (or suspected gay person) in power who he deemed hiding (nee murdering us) instead of helping.

Combine this with more cutting-edge research done by younger people in the movement that backed up his demands with black and white science, and proposing well thought out solutions for improving current policies using logic, medicine and, most of all common sense.

Rather than say something was impossible based on what had happened in the past, they saw things that were possible by dreaming of and then inventing a better future.

It was yet another iteration of any number of American protest techniques that came before but at a different speed and adjusted to yet another time.  Think Dr. Martin Luther King’s March on Washington and the Freedom Riders of the 1960s demanding civil rights, the Suffragettes before them fighting for a woman’s right to vote and to use birth control and then go back a century and a half to the Boston Tea Party and the birth of the American Revolution.

The Boston Tea Party, or as POTUS would say, “Thugs”

Americans have ALWAYS been all about taking to the street, rattling the cages and engaging in very public, and yeah sometimes a bit over the line and occasionally violent (Note: On BOTH SIDES) social protests.

Of course, those were the pre-social media days, not to mention even pre-Internet, so cutting edge radical solutions look quite different now.   In these times we intellectually refer to it as the weaponization of social media via sophisticated disinformation campaigns using fake bots, algorithms and any other means necessary to achieve our agendas.

That friggin bird

If it’s receiving help from foreign actors, such as Russia, China and North Korea, states hoping for the devaluation of our country, it’s never been more available for the average protestor.  We’re all just any number of clicks and screen windows away from marshaling aid from any where in the world.

The ends justify the means is much more than a dusty old bromide of how to get ahead these days.  In many circles it’s a contemporary marching order that you WILL achieve your agenda by any means necessary, dire consequences of their domino effect into any other areas be damned.

And we’re bridling at people blocking traffic and setting fire to a few landmarks??

What is it that writer and philosopher George Santayana, once said:  Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it?

Exactly.  And in endless iterations over time.

Hozier featuring Mavis Staples – “Nina Cried Power”

The Chair’s Guide to Quarantine

 

My husband was at the market today and unwittingly made a woman smile.

She was unsuccessfully trying to juggle SIX DOUBLE ROLLS OF PAPER TOWELS in her hands as she hurried towards the checker and, seeing the futility of her efforts, met his eyes, nodded and laughed.

Perhaps your story involves insane amounts of hand sanitizer, tissues, toilet paper, or aspirin – either falling out of people’s arms (or your own) or not on the shelves at all.

Funny because it’s true (and there’s nothing wrong with that)

But THIS is a typical part of the day in the life of America today.

The calm before the storm, the panic before it could inevitably get really bad.

In order to stop myself from indulging in such behavior, I automatically think about what my mother used to say when Too Sensitive Me was getting overly upset by something going on in my world.

Just keep it up and I’ll really give you something to cry about!

Or, if my Mom’s brand of tough love isn’t working for you (Note: It certainly doesn’t for me), how about this admonition from the immortal Cher:

Perfection

Screenwriter John Patrick Shanley wrote those words for her to deliver in the classic 1987 film Moonstruck but they are no less timely 30 years plus later.

Still, this does not mean they are not overly HARSH.

If we want to weather the storm (or tornado or typhoon) of COVID-19 we need to practice….     um…..       Social    ……………………………………………     distancing.

What this means is not getting too close to others, keeping our hands clean, resisting the urge to touch our faces or mouths and, most importantly, and when possible –

STAYING HOME

Just remember to wash those sheets!

Yes, this is an economic hardship, especially for those who will no longer get paid for their jobs or others who are either unable to work virtually or have children now home from school.

Still, it’s just been announced every worker affected by self-quarantine (nee staying home) is at least eligible for unemployment.

Not to mention, remember all that guilt you might have felt for not spending enough time with your kids?  Well…..

If all else fails, empty boxes will do

Okay, who am I kidding?  I don’t have kids and am fortunate enough to be able to do my job from my bed, I mean, um, home… office.

Nevertheless, as one out of the many fortunate millions who managed to live through the raging AIDS epidemic of the eighties (and beyond ) who is still around to tell the tale, I do know something about viral panic.

There was a time not so many decades ago that I remember washing and disinfecting my hands so religiously and profusely that I actually scrubbed the surface layer of skin off the top of one of my palms.

Not feeling nostalgic for this

It was then, and only then, I began to understand the futility of hysteria and the hilarity of my own neurosis.   No matter how appropriate I believed I was being that is how much my reactions weren’t helping.  Certainly, they weren’t making me any cleaner.

So until they get more information and come up with a reliable, available test/treatment/cure for this virus en masse, here are some handy survival tips:

1- TAKE POSITIVE ACTIONS OF YOUR CHOICE – Demonstrate on the streets (alone, or with a few folks 6ft apart please), commiserate with friends and loved ones (more on this below), rant at the TV and politicians (Note: Well, THE politician, wink wink) , research and come up with position papers that will solve the entire thing but Do NOT FEEL GUILTY about NOT doing EVERY ONE OF THESE THINGS EACH DAY.

I support Netflix, I do not support pizza in bed (I mean, there is a line)

Seriously, no one is Mother Theresa, not even Mother Theresa.  She might have done great unselfish things but even she is a construct, a gold standard of perfectionism and self-sacrifice that is non-human and can’t possibly provide you a true unvarnished 100% human X-ray of a real woman.  Or man.

Therefore, do what you can but don’t beat yourself up for not doing enough.  You’re not letting yourself off the hook for anything, you’re simply being yourself.  And you get to wake up and try again the next day, and the next, and the day after that.   Because you’re one of the lucky.

2- COMFORT FOOD TV – This does not mean binge watching The Wire or finding a streaming service offering all 14 episodes of Fassbinder’s Berlin Alexanderplatz.

Instead it means marathons of The Simpsons, The Bachelor (or Bachelorette), Law and Order SVU/CSI/NCIS/Blue Bloods or WWE (Note: That’s Worldwide Wrestling for my fellow gays).

Gotta love that Olivia Benson brand of encouragement #benson2020

A few days ago someone told me that a really smart person they knew had taken to watching countless back-to-back Big Bang Theory episodes they’d already seen.

But I have that beat.  This weekend I tuned in Logo and in one sitting tore through twelve straight episodes of The Nanny, a show I seldom if ever saw in first run.

THOSE. OUTFITS.

 

Maybe it was Fran Drescher’s voice, or the fact that Renee Taylor, the comic actress who played her mother, reminded me of my mother, or just maybe it’s the fact that, like me, the title character is from Flushing, Queens AND Jewish and likes to wear loud clothes and is a scheming nag when she doesn’t get her way.  But after all those decades, in this particular time of this decade, boy is she hilarious.

3- START A SILLY CREATIVE PROJECT DOOMED TO FAILURE –Maybe it’s the book, screenplay, poem , song or short story you always wanted to write.

Perhaps it’s rearranging the furniture in your living room.

Or even hanging the framed picture that’s been sitting in your closet for a year because you are sure you’ll f-k up your wall if you try to do it yourself.

When I was in my twenties I thought it was a great idea to use high gloss black paint on every wall in my bathroom and to this day I treasure the reaction of my landlady when she saw it.

The point is, why NOT?  God knows you have the time and it will give you something to talk about instead of the virus.

4- “PHONE” A FRIEND – This might sound silly or obvious but there is a lot to unpack here.   Living in a world where EVERYONE is being told to stay inside as much as possible means that for one of the first times in your life you are truly NOT alone.  So use it as an excuse to reach out to…..ANYONE because, well, you actually have a reason.

it’s time to Facetime!

This means someone from your past, present or perhaps…future?  You don’t need to pretend anymore.  We’re all a bit crazed.  Some aberrant behavior is to be expected.   So take advantage of the fact that there’s a wider berth of crazy for all of us.

The office acquaintance, the best friend who is no longer best, the former or future lover of your dreams.  Even the individual you at one point wanted to tell off but now actually miss.  Does it REALLY matter???

And know that in 2020 coronavirus parlance, “phone” clearly means, Skype, text, gchat, zoom or any virtual reality of your choice.

5- BE.  OF. SERVICE. –  Nothing takes you out of your own insanity or isolation more than helping someone else with his or her own stuff.  This means ANYONE and ANYWHERE.  Oh, and there is little noble about this.  Most likely whomever you are helping has it FAR WORSE than you do and you will get to feel mighty good about YOUR life afterwards.

This + thinking about Tom Hanks (and Rita!)

This is how many of us got through the eighties.

And how many of us will get through today.

Justin Hurwitz – “Quarantine” (from First Man)