About nancyabramsblogger

I'm a recovering Catholic and grown-up ex homeschooler who feels like writing about it.

What to Do With an Anti-Choice Gift Card

hobby-lobby-1I’m pretty sure my mom wasn’t thinking about politics while Christmas shopping, but she gave me a gift card to Hobby Lobby in combination with some other knitting related gifts. It was really sweet of her because I do enjoy arts and crafts but um–this is Hobby Lobby we’re talking about.

Yeah, that Hobby Lobby.

Since the money has already been spent at this business I’m not super fond of, my plan now is to use the gift card but make an equal or greater donation to Planned Parenthood or some other organization that supports reproductive rights, sex ed, and sex positivity.

hobby-lobby-2

If you know of any good organizations, let me know in the comments.

Happy thinking!

Nancy

Toy Donation Woes: Race and Baby Dolls

3 Red Covered Present BoxMy office recently participated in a Christmas donation program, where people signed up to buy presents for various children in need. Participants were each given a child’s name, age, gender, and a small wish list with gift suggestions. The child I was assigned was a 7-year-old girl who wanted a baby doll, books, and a digital toy I wasn’t familiar with. We really only had to buy one gift per child, but I decided to get her a baby doll and a couple of books since children’s books at her age aren’t very expensive, and I figured, how hard can it be to choose a baby doll for a 7-year-old? It turns out, when you don’t know what the child looks like/likes, it’s kinda difficult. I wound up just upping the number of books and getting the kid a significant stack.

I will start with the caveat that I probably could have found a better selection if I’d had more time. I had about a week to make the purchase and didn’t have time to drive to the nearest Toys-R-Us that week, so I stopped at Target on my way home from work to do some in-person shopping, then wound up browsing Amazon. I realize those aren’t necessarily the ideal places to purchase toys–but they do carry them, and it’s not like there was no selection. One side of an aisle at Target was covered in dolls. It was just not the selection I expected.

Since she had specifically asked for a baby doll, not a doll that looks older than that, I’m excluding dolls that look old enough to be walking or talking. Those dolls were actually pretty diverse. At my local store, with these criteria in mind, there are pretty much only 2 types of baby dolls when it comes to appearance:

Dolls that look like this:

blonde-blue-eyed-dollblue-eyed-doll

 

And dolls that look like this:

black-baby-doll

It was early December. The shelves were fairly full, and I couldn’t help but notice that there were really no baby dolls that looked like me. I’m a white brunette with brown eyes. I was hoping to get a baby doll with an olive complexion and dark hair and eyes. A doll that doesn’t look like it’s genes come from any particular country. I knew I was over thinking this. I’d had plenty of blonde haired, blue eyed dolls as a kid and loved them as a kid. But I also live in a town with a huge South Asian population, a significant Latino population, and just general diversity. It shouldn’t be this hard to find dolls that look like my neighbors, you would think. So I decided to go to Amazon.

There was better selection all right, but in other ways, boy was Amazon a bummer.

This is the first doll I found that looked like me. I’ve included the description because the name of the product threw me for a loop.

brown-hair-brown-eyes-baby-doll

Why is this doll labeled “Hispanic”?

It could be from so many different places. It could be biracial. It could be white. It could be middle eastern, and yes, it could be Hispanic. Why is it labeled with an ethnicity at all?

Am I over thinking this? I don’t have children; I don’t know what kids actually like, but I was a bit disturbed that the first doll I found that looked like me was labeled something other than what I am, and that apparently to be white, you have to look like you’d do well in Nazi Germany.

I realize stores probably put toys on shelves based on what sells the most, and websites have to tag things in ways that make them easier to find, but I’m flabbergasted that in a store in my town, despite the diversity, there were only two types of dolls when it comes to appearance.

I couldn’t purchase a baby doll for this child because as an adult, I was too hung up on race. I’m a bit embarrassed by that.

Have any of you had strange experiences Christmas shopping that made you stop and think about why something is the way it is? I didn’t even touch gendered toy aisles in this post, but there was definitely a girl’s section and a boy’s section at my local Target.

Feel free to leave a comment! All opinions are welcome. Just be respectful and think things through before posting.

Happy thinking!

Nancy

Pope Emeritus Benedict tells Catholic Priests to “face East”

Priest Holding HostiaA friend of mine shared this article on Facebook in all seriousness, and I couldn’t stop laughing at the headline alone. Here’s the headline and a link to the article:

“Pope Emeritus Benedict reiterates call for priests to ‘face East’

Yup, it says exactly what it sounds like it’s saying. Benedict says, “In the liturgy’s orientation to the East, we see that Christians, together with the Lord, want to progress toward the salvation of creation in its entirety.” The article describes this step as an “ecumenical instrument.” Basically, it’s a way of unifying the [Christian] worship traditions of the East and West. This does not appear to be a mandatory command, but it is a serious recommendation from a man who is well respected by the Catholic community as a whole.

In Catholicism, the word ecumenical refers to efforts to promote unity between Christians of different Christian worship traditions, and does not include reaching out to non-Christians. However, I see a bit of tension in the ideas of this article–and this is what made me laugh. I can’t help but think to myself, from the headline alone, “Seriously, in what religion does prayer orient towards a specific direction?” Sure, there are probably some Eastern Christian Churches that do this, but come on now, where have I heard this before? Yes, that’s right. I’m talking about Islam.

As Catholics tend to do whenever they’re suggesting a new tradition, they have to make it seem like it’s just an old thing they used to always do, and they’re just going back to their roots (here, they talk about the Latin rite, which yes, did have the priest facing away from the congregation).

But I don’t think that’s what’s really going on in this situation. The question to ask is always why go back to the way things were? The Catholic church is very good at staying the same despite the many valid reasons there may be to change. I think, ultimately, it has to do with the way Catholics see themselves interacting with other religions, particularly Islam.

I see genuine tension right now as Catholics realize how quickly the Muslim world is growing. I think Catholic leaders are afraid of having people abandon their rigid religion for a more extreme, more rigid one. They’re also afraid that their religion isn’t growing fast enough to compete with others. They’re dealing with the fact that the Muslim world is having more kids than the Christian world. Just google birth rates in Europe and North America and compare them to birth rates in the middle East:

us-birth-ratesaudi-arabia-birth-rate-chart

birth-rate-italyiraq-birth-rate

Granted, these are from 2012, but seriously, there were more than 4 births per woman on average in Iraq while Italy, home of the ultra-conservative, anti-choice, anti-birth-control pope and cardinals and other old white men, has 1.4 births per woman. I suspect the anxiety over this is just all the more reason for Catholics to continue crusading against abortion and birth control-heck, even pulling out is a no-no in Catholicism. (I’ve probably shared this three or four times by now but Monty Python anybody?)

But maybe Benedict has managed to break the cycle of thinking about birth rates and babies. If that’s the case–and I suspect it is–he’s trying to give Catholics something in common with people from one of the largest religions in the world. It’s symbolic and does nothing to address real-world issues facing the Muslim world like the Syrian refugee crisis and, you know, ISIS, but I mean, it’s cute.

This is the best Catholicism has to offer, and to me, that’s hilarious.

As always, feel free to leave a comment. All opinions are welcome. Just be respectful and think things through before posting.

Happy thinking!

Nancy

 

Processing the 2016 Election: I’m Not Going Anywhere

Woman Holding Us Flag during Daytime

I had a post lined up for this weekend that had nothing to do with the US Presidential election, but then the unthinkable happened: Donald Trump won, not by popular vote, but because the US presidential elections still use the electoral college to choose who will be president. Regardless of who you voted for, there’s no denying that this system is deeply flawed.

For those of you who aren’t sure what the electoral college is or why this is crazyballs, read this paragraph and click the links. If you get nothing else from this post, understand that the electoral college is an actual group of people who vote for the president at a later date on behalf of everyone else, and who don’t always have to vote for the person their state already chose via popular vote. It’s not a one-elector-per-state situation either. The number of electors per state is awarded based on population size. But  wait, there’s more! The electoral votes are not really dispersed evenly by population, because a minimum number of electoral votes (3) is given to small states that, if it was all really awarded proportionally to population, might only get one or two, taking some votes away from densely populated states. Even states that have more cows than people get at least 3 electoral votes.  The system is undemocratic, making individual votes in densely populated states count less than votes in sparsely populated ones. If you live in California, your vote doesn’t count as much as a vote from someone in Wyoming, and really, neither of those hypothetical voters’ votes go directly to electing the president because of the electoral college. The electoral college hasn’t voted yet, but as far as I am aware, they have never gone rogue and changed the outcome of the election, although individuals in the electoral college can and do (sometimes) vote differently than they are expected to.

As I write this, we are in the weird limbo between the popular vote that took place on November 8th, awarding more not-yet-placed electoral votes to Trump than to Hillary, and the actual final voting of the electoral college that takes place on December 19th. Historically speaking, there is no reason to believe that Hillary will be selected over Trump, even though this is technically possible. It would take an unprecedented number of electors going rogue. His electoral lead is too large thanks to the number of states that he won, despite the fact that he actually lost the nationwide popular vote.

The results of this election shocked many. I live in a blue, east coast state. My friends and colleagues are definitely in a state of fear and uncertainty, and I’ve seen a lot of joking posts about moving to Canada that were going around the internet pre-election turn serious now that it’s over. My friends aren’t the only ones doing this either. Canada’s immigration website crashed on November 8th.

I completely understand wanting to leave if it’s a matter of safety or a matter of protecting your rights. I’m a woman, and I’m afraid of a Republican controlled US government overturning Roe v. Wade, the landmark supreme court decision that legalized abortion in my country. But you know what? I have a job, and I could probably scrape together the cash to travel somewhere to get an abortion if I absolutely had to. Many women can’t.

Minorities face poverty at greater rates than others. Many of them have way more reasons to fear a Republican-controlled US government than I do, and would have a more difficult time leaving the country if it became necessary. If people like me–liberals who can probably survive 4 years of Trump–leave the country right now, then there will be fewer people to vote in support of those minorities. To say no to a Trump reelection, and to vote for more progressive representatives at a local level who will fight Trump on our behalf.

Yes, consider your safety. Of course. But leaving the country right now only fixes the problem for you. It does nothing for the people who are stuck here. I’m not saying it’s going to go well over the next four years, but if the people like me who can afford to stay stick around, we can make sure those four years don’t extend into eight.

Because Trump’s America isn’t the nation we know and love. Let’s remember to cherish our diversity. To keep welcoming immigrants, because our parents, grandparents, or great grandparents were just like them.

Happy thinking,

Nancy

The Bizarre Halloween Controversy

creepy, graves, gravestonesEvery once in a while as a kid, I’d encounter other children whose parents made mine look lenient and laid back. There were only a few instances like this in my childhood, but when they did happen, they were always a surreal surprise. Halloween was one of those instances.

My parents never expressed any qualms about “letting” me celebrate Halloween by dressing up and trick-or-treating. Their only stipulation was that I couldn’t wear “dark, evil costumes.” Basically, anything dead or supernatural in an evil way was off limits. No sheet ghost costumes or horny devils for me. I didn’t usually find that terribly limiting. Over the years, I went as a fairy, a surgeon, a wrapped present, and Padme from Star Wars.

In high school, it was a big deal that after years of begging, my mom allowed me to dress up as a witch. (The reason she let it slide was primarily that I wanted to go as Elphaba from Wicked, who’s technically not an evil character.)

I thought this was pretty strict. Until I heard about my friend’s parents.

I didn’t really encounter this much with the Catholic kids I knew, but some of the kids I knew from other forms of Christianity were completely forbidden from celebrating Halloween. I remember trying to invite a friend trick-or-treating and being told she wasn’t allowed to celebrate Halloween AT ALL. No costumes. No candy. No jack-o-lanterns.

Years later, while I was in college, I used to tutor kids at an after-school program at a local church. Halloween was coming up in a week, and one of my classmates asked if she could bring in Halloween themed treats to celebrate: lollipops decorated to look like ghosts. The woman running the program said it was OK, but my classmate was still a bit anxious. On the ride back she said, “I just want to respect their faith. I know some parents are really not OK with Halloween.” All this after she was told it wasn’t a problem. Clearly, for this classmate, Halloween had been as controversial a subject as Harry Potter was for me growing up.

Image result for halloween town

While, again, my Halloween experience wasn’t terribly restricted, there was still this restriction on “dark, evil” costumes, and the more I think about it, the more I think I know why.

I wasn’t allowed to watch the Halloweentown movies as a kid because there’s a scene in the first one that briefly features a pentagram. My mom saw it and freaked out. It’s a kids’ movie on Disney Channel, but according to my parents, it could lead me to “the occult.”

I don’t see a lot of people talking about this, but Christianity supports belief in many supernatural creatures. Catholicism is just as guilty of this as other denominations because Catholics do believe in possession by spirits, and Catholic priests can and do perform exorcisms.

My parents have believed in ghosts–yes, dead-people-roaming-around ghosts–for as long as I can remember. Case in point, when we moved from my old house to our current one, they found out that the family that lived here before us had lost a daughter very young. I don’t know how it happened, I just assumed it was to some kind of illness. My parents swear to this day that they saw the little girl roaming around the house as a ghost. They went to a priest for advice, had the house “blessed,” and the ghost “left.” Part of the process of getting rid of this ghost was naming the little girl. I think they named her after a virtue like “Hope” or “Grace” or something. Anyway, she’s “gone.”

If you believe in this stuff, then it’s a scary part of your reality. It’s supernatural. It’s hard to understand or control, so you want to protect your children from it, the same way you’d try to restrict their viewing of violent or sexual images. So you ban things that talk about it, except from a Christian perspective. C.S. Lewis is as overtly Christian as it gets in his supernatural stories, so The Chronicles of Narnia are OK, but Harry Potter? It paints a pleasant image of magic and witchcraft. What if it makes children try to get involved in this “very real” thing?

Fortune tellers and psychics were always off limits for me when I was growing up, not because they’re scams, but because those people “could be communing with evil spirits.” I was told as a child that if I were to touch an evil object owned by a psychic, I could become possessed by a demon.

Yep, demons. It’s incredible my parents don’t have shotguns filled with rock salt.

Were you allowed to celebrate Halloween? What are your thoughts about the holiday? I’m especially curious about how you feel about the holiday in relation to religion.

Feel free to leave a comment. All opinions are welcome. Just be respectful of others and think things through before posting.

Happy thinking!

Nancy

Homeschooling and Memorization

Girl Wearing White Purple and Pink Floral Short Sleeve DressThe other day, I had a conversation with one of my brothers that migrated to the topic of our many odd experiences with the other homeschooled kids we knew growing up. (For a more detailed post about my homeschooling experience, click here.) Some of those kids were more sheltered than we were, and educated in the strangest ways. He mentioned a particular memory of my friend’s little brother. (Names have been changed to preserve privacy.) My brother said:

“Gloria’s brother was my age, so obviously he was supposed to hang out with me while you two were hanging out. He’d brought school work with him and asked me to quiz him. I said sure. He pulled out three or four sheets of paper just covered in the digits of pi. He got through like two pages before having any trouble.”

I hadn’t really thought about it before this conversation, but my brother’s experience definitely reflects many more that I’ve had. Many homeschooling families have a very intense focus on memorization, and some parents list the information their child has memorized as an example of how superior their child’s homeschool education must be to other forms of schooling.

I was always very proud of my memorization skills during my time as a homeschooler, perhaps because of the aforementioned notion that this meant I was better educated than some of my peers. I had memorized the names of all the books of the Bible. I could recite poems ranging in length from a stanza to several pages completely from memory. I knew all the US states and capitals, and historical dates with brief explanations of a corresponding event afterwards. (For example, I still remember 1620: Mayflower Lands Pilgrims in Plymouth Massachusetts). Sure, it’s not uncommon for kids in public school to memorize the states and capitals and the occasional date. But how useful is all this memorization if these lists of facts aren’t paired with other relevant information?

Heading into college, I found myself somewhat dissatisfied with my education in a lot of subjects. I began to see just how much I’d been missing. For instance, I still have huge gaps in my history education. Even with all the memorization, I was genuinely surprised by major events discussed in depth in my history-heavy humanities classes: events that had been briefly mentioned to me, but never really covered before in my homeschooling years. I also really don’t have a general sense of how the historical events flow into each other. I still see history as blocks of events and civilizations and cultures that exist completely separately in my mind, even though I realize they often existed at the same time, influencing each other. I may have a lot of the facts there, but they’re missing the connective tissue that’s vital to making sense of it all, and while I know not every teacher in every school presents these things well, I think the heavy focus on memorization  in my homeschooling education contributed to this disjointed understanding of history. You can memorize all the facts you want, but for them to mean anything, they have to be part of a big picture.

Maybe the ability to recall huge amounts of information is good for some subjects though. Curious about the usefulness of some of this memorization, I asked an engineer I know what he thought about the pi memorization exercise that my friend’s brother was doing. He told me that pi is useful in his math at work, but that knowing a lot of digits of pi is not. He certainly doesn’t type several pages of digits into his calculations manually just to use pi. The gist of our conversation ended with the conclusion that when you start learning more than a few digits beyond 3.14, it’s basically a party trick. There’s nothing wrong with learning it for fun, but it doesn’t have enough educational value to devote key math study time to learning it, even if you end up going into a math-heavy field as he did.

Practicing memorization is very good for one thing though: it’s excellent preparation for test taking. I know I can attribute at least some of my academic success to the fact that I’m pretty quick at memorizing information. Homeschooling did give me that. I don’t want it to seem like I hate memorization. I just think if you’re going to assign it, it should have a purpose. There are plenty of useful things you can have your child memorize. Geography facts are great for when you’re learning to navigate, or booking a vacation. Teach the names of the great lakes. The 5 boroughs of New York City. Children can practice public speaking by memorizing poetry, or famous speeches–but frame it that way. Know that that is why you’re doing it. And please don’t make your child memorize pages and pages of pi digits for math class unless they really want to do it.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about education and memorization, and when it’s useful. All opinions are welcome. Just be respectful of others and think things through before posting.

Happy thinking!

Nancy

 

Wedding Officiants and a Life Update

Macro Photo of Flowers in Wedding VenueMy fiance and I just selected a venue for our wedding. (One of the big reasons why I’ve been posting less frequently has been just wedding stuff.) After that, the next big order of business will be something I’m pretty nervous about: finding an officiant. My fiance and I have decided that we want a secular wedding ceremony, which means we’ll need to find an officiant in our area who can do that, and figure out whether or not using a secular officiant affects the legal side of things. Does our state care who the officiant is?

That’s not even my biggest concern.

Having a secular wedding means a lot to us as secular people. For me personally, it means saying my vows in a setting that reflects my personal beliefs and worldview rather than just those of my family. It’s the couple making the promise after all. I think it’s important for the promise to be in a format that we personally find meaningful, but for our families, it may be a source of confusion or even conflict.

For many people, a wedding is simply always a religious ceremony. In Catholicism, it’s  a sacrament, so it may be difficult to explain to our religious relatives that we’re not having a priest or minister perform the ceremony.

We might even have a female officiant. (Not that we have to. I’m just very open to the idea.) But in Catholicism, since women can’t be priests, women just don’t marry people. That means something as unimportant as the gender of our officiant could really weird out some members of my family. It would be absurd to them. What if that makes my parents think my marriage isn’t valid?

Maybe these fears are unfounded though. Secular weddings are increasingly common now. How many popular TV shows have had a friend of a couple marry them? Like Barney performing the ceremony for Lily and Marshall in How I Met Your Mother or several friends officiating at Howard and Bernadette’s wedding in The Big Bang Theory–it’s kind of a cool thing to do. My parents have seen some TV weddings like this. Maybe the idea of a nonreligious officiant isn’t as foreign to them now as it would have been a few years ago.

Only time will tell with this one. I’ll probably end up sharing more about our secular wedding experiences, so if you’re interested in any specific details be sure to let me know and I’ll try to reply or maybe even bring them up in a future post (once we’ve made those decisions. We’re still not that far in the wedding planning process yet).

Have any of you been to secular wedding ceremonies in the past? Maybe even had one yourself? I’d love to hear about your experiences. How did family and friends respond to a nonreligious ceremony?

All opinions are welcome! Just be respectful of others and think things through before posting.

Happy thinking!

Nancy

Divorce and Catholicism

Printer Paper Cut With Orange ScissorI’ve been toying with drafts of a post about divorce for a while now, but I didn’t feel like I had the material to really back up the opinion I was trying to express. Then the other day I saw this video from Adam Ruins Everything about why divorce is actually not a terrible thing. I definitely recommend checking this video out. It gets to the heart of why it’s important to have legal divorce be accessible. One fact from the video that I’d never heard before is that by some estimates, the availability of divorce reduced the female suicide rate by 20%. Considering the fact that domestic violence didn’t used to be considered grounds for divorce in many places, and that marital rape wasn’t even legally considered rape until more recently than you’d think depending on the state, the availability of divorce was definitely a source of hope for many people, especially women.

In Catholicism, however, there is simply no such thing as divorce. Marriage, in Catholicism, is permanent. This means if a Catholic couple gets a legal divorce, they are still considered married in the eyes of the church. That can be OK at first. As this Catholic website explains, legally divorced Catholics are still considered full members of the church as long as they’re in good standing (basically if they go to mass and participate in the sacraments, especially communion and confession, and generally follow church rules). They don’t begin to run into trouble until they meet someone else, and decide they’d like to get married again.

Keep in mind that to the Catholic church, a divorced person is still in their first marriage. So to the church, this is a married person asking to also marry someone else. That’s definitely not allowed! The horror! But there is an option to proceed, and it’s called annulment.

Annulment is a process by which Catholics who are legally divorced (or who would like to be) can appeal to a church tribunal (basically a church court) to get a declaration of nullity, stating that one of the major requirements for  valid marriage wasn’t present on the day of the ceremony. These are the requirements for a valid Catholic marriage that would be examined for an annulment:

For a Catholic marriage to be valid, it is required that: (1) the spouses are free to marry; (2) they are capable of giving their consent to marry; (3) they freely exchange their consent; (4) in consenting to marry, they have the intention to marry for life, to be faithful to one another and be open to children; (5) they intend the good of each other; and (6) their consent is given in the presence of two witnesses and before a properly authorized Church minister. Exceptions to the last requirement must be approved by Church authority.

This list comes from an FAQ page on this website about annulments. Feel free to check it out for more information.

The thing that strikes me the most about this list is that if these are the criteria that the tribunal looks at to determine if the marriage can be annulled, why don’t they include any details from the actual marriage itself? The relationship after the wedding. A wedding is just a big party with some vows and a contract. That’s not the meat of the relationship. What if it’s an abusive marriage? What if even though both partners genuinely mean to be faithful when they say their vows, there is cheating down the road? What if they just grow apart? Find themselves coming to incompatible conclusions about life and the world around them that put a painful strain on their relationship? It can and does happen. I think those are all valid reasons for couple to consider divorce. But according to the church, only the events of the wedding itself and the intentions of the couple on that date are supposed to be examined.

I have been assured by my Catholic parents that of course the church would never force a couple to stay in an abusive marriage, and would gladly grant an annulment. I would like to believe them, and I imagine that in most cases the tribunal would take that into account. But if that is the case, why doesn’t this site say the tribunal will look into anything about the relationship after the wedding day? In that vein, one particular frequently asked question on the same web page about annulment makes me uneasy:

How can a couple married for many years present a case?

The tribunal process examines the events leading up to, and at the time of, the wedding ceremony, in an effort to determine whether what was required for a valid marriage was ever brought about. The length of common life is not proof of validity but a long marriage does provide evidence that a couple had some capacity for a life-long commitment. It does not prove or disprove the existence of a valid marriage bond. [Italics mine]

I’m concerned about how they will define a long marriage. Is two years long? Twenty?  Long isn’t a very specific word. Also, it’s not uncommon for people to stay in abusive relationships for a pretty long time, even though they know it’s dangerous. The psychology of abuse is complicated, and abusers are often very sweet and loving in between spurts of hurtful language or violence, making victims question whether their abusers are really that bad, only for the cycle to occur again.

I’d like to see the church change its position on divorce. I’d like to see the long annulment process completely eliminated. If the church wants to do a divorce ceremony that’s up to them, but the current legality of divorce is an important right that may be saving the lives of some women. The antiquated view the church has on divorce only creates social stigma, which can erode the support system a struggling person might need to get back on their feet after such  split. The Catholic church is very good at creating stigma, at making certain things taboo. I’d like to see that change.

What are your thoughts on divorce, annulment, and Catholicism? Do you have any experience with the Catholic annulment process? I’d love to hear your story. All opinions are welcome. Just be respectful and think things through before posting.

Happy thinking!

Nancy

Thoughts I Had After Watching Star Trek Beyond with my Parents

There are two things every single member of my immediate family enjoys: science fiction, and Broadway musicals. Strange combination? Definitely. But Catholicism also used to be something we all had in common. While I’ve been dealing with family tension since I started to form my own opinions about religion and politics, I’ve still been able to enjoy science fiction and musicals with my parents, and I love that.

Sometimes though, a science fiction film or show does something progressive, and talking to my ultra-Catholic conservative parents about how awesome that is runs the risk of creating more conflict, so I’ll be reacting here instead.

A couple of weeks ago, I went to see Star Trek Beyond with my parents. As is often the case in Star Trek, there’s a scene where the characters are coming back to Starfleet after a mission, and greeting people they know. In one such scene, we see Sulu coming home to a man and a little girl. There’s no major PDA or anything, but you can tell the girl is meant to be their daughter, and Sulu and the other man walk together with their arms at each other’s backs. It’s subtle; the characters never talk about it, but it’s there: Sulu has a spouse or romantic partner, and it’s not a woman. For the first time ever, Star Trek has included a gay character, and they chose to make that character be Sulu–an important character on the bridge of the Enterprise–in a nod to George Takei, the actor who played Sulu in the original series. Takei came out as gay in 2005.

If you’re not a big sci fi fan, you may know George Takei from his Facebook posts. He’s amassed a huge following by sharing interesting tidbits of internet hilariousness, and you know, the weird stuff that gets shared on the internet. He’s also been vocal since he came out about gay rights. What I find particularly interesting though about this story is that Takei wasn’t happy with this decision to make Sulu gay in the new films. Takei explains:

I’m delighted that there’s a gay character. Unfortunately, it’s a twisting of Gene [Rodberry]’s creation, to which he put in so much thought. I think it’s really unfortunate.

Takei says that Sulu was always a heterosexual character, so this is a pretty big change that he doesn’t think makes much sense. This whole thing is fascinating to me as a former English major and total sci fi nerd. Takei has a good point. Sulu, as a character, has existed for a long time as a straight man. While it’s wonderful to have gay people represented in one of the most popular science fiction franchises ever, does it really make sense to change one of the franchise’s beloved characters in such a substantial way? Why not just introduce some new characters to the franchise? Part of me is a bit bothered by this, but it’s a very small part of me.

Today, when it seems like every other move that comes out is a sequal or remake of something pretty old, we’re going to have to accept that one of the ways the new versions can really stand out from the old ones is diversity. There was a time when no one would bat an eye to see an all white, mostly male cast, but that’s just not the case anymore. As much as I appreciate fan loyalty to a franchise and to the original versions of these beloved characters, I can’t help but think that maybe the progress we’re seeing is also improving these franchises in this one sense: showing that even in fictional worlds, people come in all shapes, sizes, colors, sexualities, and so forth.

Star Wars Episode VII, which debuted many new characters, was the first Star Wars episode I found particularly relatable. For the first time in the live action films (yes, I know we had Ahsoka in Clone Wars), we finally had a female force-sensitive character (Rey) who is portrayed as a hero rather than a sex object. While I loved some things about Leia in the original films, her character was so tainted by the male gaze that it was sometimes difficult to relate to her as a woman. She was portrayed as a sex object half the time. But there’s none of that with Rey. And knowing how I felt watching Rey kick ass in episode VII, and get taken seriously by all parties, I can’t help but think how much MORE incredible it must have been for the young black women watching the original Star Trek series when it first came out in the 1960s to see Uhura working as an equal to the other main characters. Uhura was a crew member on the bridge of the enterprise at a time when black women on the screen (and often in real life) were servants and could be nothing more. The series first aired in the 1960s, right around the time that Jim Crow was coming to an end. Decades later, maybe this moment with Sulu is Star Trek carrying on its tradition of progressiveness. Somewhere in the audience of Star Trek Beyond, there may be a gay man thinking, wow. Finally. Someone I can relate to.

Perhaps the most important thing about the scene in Star Trek though, is the fact that the characters didn’t talk about it. No one makes a big deal out of it. No one makes a joke about Sulu being gay. There are no awkward moments, just acceptance that this is part of Sulu’s life. We need more entertainment media like this. Where something as natural as people’s sexuality isn’t a joke or something to obsess over. It’s just part of life.

Since seeing the film, I kept waiting for my parents to say something about this brief moment showing Sulu’s sexuality, which was very obvious to me. My whole life, my parents have been the sort of people to say “is that really necessary?” out loud in response to everything from sex scenes that are a big part of the plot to characters being open about their sexualities–basically anything remotely related to “icky” sex. They didn’t say anything this time though. Which means either they didn’t notice at all, OR they did notice but don’t want to talk about it with me. I’m trying hard not to bring it up, but I’m curious which one it is.

Do you have thoughts about diversity in film, or about Star Trek Beyond? Feel free to leave a comment. All opinions are welcome. Just be respectful and think things through before posting.

Happy thinking!

Nancy

 

Recognizing Police Brutality and Mass Incarceration

fence, macro, barbed wire

In light of the many events in the past few years that have brought police brutality and mass incarceration to the attention of the American public, I’d like to share my experiences with coming to the realization that these are indeed problems, and add my voice to the many that are discussing how we can address this. Too many people in my country are still denying these issues, saying black people are provoking the police, claiming that it’s just a few bad apples, or that black people are breaking the law more than white people. As with many things in life, there’s way more to this issue than meets the eye.

I’m a short white girl, so unsurprisingly, I have never experienced police brutality in my own life. I have, however, seen the results of police brutality and mass incarceration on a community I lived in, where I served as a volunteer throughout college.

I went to college in a city with a majority black population. A poor city where a good education is nearly impossible to attain. The city used to thrive, until the day came when its many factory jobs were outsourced to places where labor is cheap. As the jobs dried up, the people who could afford to leave packed their bags and moved somewhere better. Everyone else would stay on, getting jobs as janitors. As food service people. As cashiers at Walmart. Legitimate jobs to be sure, but jobs that usually cannot support a family, or even a single individual, without some other source of income. When those jobs failed to provide the people in that city with what they needed, they turned to other means.

I can’t fault someone as much for selling drugs when that’s the only valuable thing in their city. Yes, there are cruel people in the world, but crime isn’t always as simple as the Saturday morning cartoons I grew up watching. Sometimes people join gangs to have a family. To have support, or protection from violence. To feel like they belong somewhere, when nothing in their life feels like a home should. People die that way. People go to prison. But no one stops to address the route causes of these crimes.

When I was in college, I volunteered as a tutor at an after-school program near campus, helping local kids with their homework. While I was there, I watched a girl in second grade deal with the fact that her mother had just been arrested. She came in with tears in her eyes several weeks in a row, and the adults there had to take her aside to help her cope. She was a very bright child, with a reading level well above her grade level–so much so that even in her poor school district, she was being given more challenging reading assignments from 3rd and even 4th grade. I sometimes wonder where she is now. If all’s well with her, she’ll have finished 6th grade by now. Was she doing work for 7th or 8th that whole time last school year, or have the traumas of life in her city ripped the love of learning out of her? Her younger sister by a year or two had no idea what was happening at the time. Why mommy was gone. That was perhaps the saddest thing for the older sister, because in many ways I think she felt very alone through all this. Her sister was too young to understand what had happened.

Another day, when I was tutoring at the same place, a police siren went off in the distance, and one of the other children–not one of the aforementioned sisters, but yet another child–immediately started to cry. That was when the reality hit me. For some people, especially in cities like that one, the police aren’t the good guys who protect us. They take mommy and daddy away. And, as I would later learn, they beat or even kill parents in front of their children. A four year old was in the car when Philando Castile was shot and killed. Imagine the life that child may have going forward. It’s hard to focus on your school work when you’ve seen someone get killed right in front of your eyes in close quarters. Especially someone you know. A four year old shouldn’t be dealing with death, much less murder.

This is the reality for some people at a very early age, but if you’re white, and you’re growing up in a wealthy school district, this is not your reality. I didn’t attend public school, but my homeschooling community set up a field trip where we visited our local police station. The police joked with us, told us stories, and talked about crime fighting in a positive way. I looked up to the officers who spoke with us. It was one of my favorite “homeschool field trip” experiences. They showed us my town’s jail cells and jokingly let us walk in and pretend to be arrested. They showed us the restraint they use for unruly, dangerous arrests, and I didn’t imagine someone getting abused in it. I imagined the police using it to restrain someone who was a genuine danger to others. I had full and complete trust in the men in blue who protected my town, because they’d never given me a reason to think otherwise. But in the next state over, in the city where I went to college, there was probably a child walking into one such jail with a parent in tow, coming to bail out mom or dad after a routine traffic stop. The jail cells in my affluent town were empty the day we visited. I promise you, in some places, they are always full.

We need to indict the officers responsible for these shootings. They need to be tried, and steps need to be taken to stop this from happening again. I have some ideas. I’m not the first person to say this, but I think it bears repeating:

  1. TRAINING. So many of these terrible scenarios could have been avoided if the police officers had been able to take control of the situation in a way that works on calming people down, not riling people up. It’s human nature to amp up your volume and increase your forcefulness in a stressful situation when you’re an authority figure, but people in a job like theirs need to realize this, and to know how to calm themselves and others. They also need to assess the situation realistically. Training should include teaching them to be sensitive to the different experiences of people of different backgrounds. Also, and this is a big one for me, they need training regarding how to handle mentally unstable people. When the police are called to help the mentally ill, it often doesn’t end well.
  2. Police should look like the communities they’re policing. A mostly black neighborhood with a mostly white police force is doing something wrong. The police should be invested in the communities they’re serving. They shouldn’t feel like the people they’re interacting with on a daily basis are part of an “other” outside group.
  3. We need to make it easier, not harder, for people to film the police. Police officers should wear body cameras, and there should never be any question of legality when it comes to filming the police. It’s beginning to seem like that’s the only way they’re being held accountable: the court of public opinion. That shouldn’t be the case though. We also need to take the next step once footage of a police officer misbehaving surfaces. They need to face reasonable consequences for the severity of the misdeed. I’m not saying every mistake they could make is worthy of termination or charges, but if you’re killing people on the job then yeah, I’d like to see both.
  4. We need to address mass incarceration, and the way in which the United States criminal justice system is being used to oppress minorities. I only wish I were imagining this, but unfortunately investigations of police forces known to be involved in cases of police brutality have turned up a widespread pattern of abuse and racial profiling. In other words, contrary to what we’d all like to believe, it’s not just a few bad apple cops. It’s often an entire police force. The roots of mass incarceration are three fold: the behavior of the people enforcing the law, the laws that are being written without regard for minorities, and the situations that lead people to choose crime in the first place. Poverty is a massive factor. With poverty comes a major deficit in opportunity. We need to address all of this, not just one part of it, if we want this issue to go away completely.
  5. We need to talk about race, but in a more nuanced way. Racism isn’t always overt. It’s not just people knowingly making judgments based on race. It’s not just about hiring discrimination, housing discrimination, wage discrimination, and dropping the N word around. It’s not just about lynchings, and people having a problem with biracial couples. It’s not just when people knowingly say or do cruel things because of someone’s race. Racism is in the assumptions we make unconsciously too, and those assumptions are some of the most pervasive ones because we tend to not notice them when they’re happening.

Even with all the things I just said, I am very aware that I HAVE RACIST TENDENCIES. I tense up when an unfamiliar black man walks by, far more so than with a large white man.  I shouldn’t be afraid of these people I’ve never met, but I am. I’m trying not to be this way. I’ll be the first to admit that it’s hard, but I do think that with time I can unlearn at least some of this negative conditioning. I think the first step to fixing a problem is realizing you have one. My hope is that others will come to the same realization and begin to take the steps to change.

If we want racism to end, we need to catch ourselves making that snide remark. We need to stop judging people who speak differently from us, whose hair is a little bit different, whose skin is a different color. We need to walk past the black man on the park bench calmly, comfortably, without clutching our purses in a panic. We need to recognize that unfortunately the police may not always handle an emergency involving diverse people very well, and if they fail to behave appropriately, we need to stand up for the people being abused. We need to find it in us to question authority when necessary, especially for those of us who are coming from a place of white privilege. It’s fucking tragic that I have to say it, but if they won’t listen to the black voices, the voices of the victims and their families, maybe they’ll listen to us.

If you have thoughts or experiences related to this issue, feel free to share them. Please be respectful of others and think things through before posting.

Happy thinking.

Nancy