My Disgraceful History: KKK

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Racism, Hate, Hate Groups, Black History all discussed.

The horrific events in Charlottesville August 12, 2017, where the beautiful Heather Heyer was killed, were despicable acts of domestic terrorism. An outspoken beacon for ending racial and xenophobic behaviors, she will be honored always for her sacrifice to the cause of equality and peace.

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Hero, Heather Heyer

My Sordid Family Legacy

These clashes between the “right/alt-right/white supremacists/white nationalists/Nazis/etc. brings out, once again, the shame I hold in my heart because of my family’s history in the Ku Klux Klan.

My great-grandfather, Eddie Johnston, came from Sweden when he was young. His family (whose name was Johnson) had been bigoted before they even got to Ellis Island. When my great-great grandfather was asked his name, he added a T to his last name… because far too many blacks in America had the last name Johnson.

Memories of Racism

  • I remember when my family moved from northern California to Orlando, Florida in 1966; I was 5 years old. As we drove deeper and deeper into the south, I saw more and more segregation. I had no concept or context, of course, but absolutely remember the different water fountains and different bathrooms. Today, I am horrified at those memories.
  • In 5th grade, Mrs. Moore made it clear where she stood on the race issue. We still had no blacks in the school… the first and only black person came the next year… but as she taught American History, she lingered on the south’s views in the Civil War segment.
  • A friend of mine, Angel, brought in something that she wouldn’t even show me, but went to Mrs. Moore to ask if she could share with the class. I was near the desk so could hear it all, still not putting it into context for several more years. Angel had brought in some Civil War memorabilia, all southern in origin. I can still hear Mrs. Moore saying, “I believe the same as you do, but we aren’t allowed to talk about those things.” I went to sharpen my pencil and saw a photo of the white hoods and a burning cross. It was the first time I had ever seen the KKK.
  • My Nana, whom I was named after, was married to my Johnston great-grandfather. I distinctly remember her seeing black children, pinching their cheeks and telling them what cute “pickaninnies” they were. How I wish I could remember the faces of those children’s mothers; they had to have been disgusted.
  • When we spent weekends with my great-grandparents, watching television became an adventure in racism. The Flip Wilson Show, one of the first TV shows that starred a black person, was popular, but my great-grandfather would holler epithets at the blacks on his show and kvetched the entire hour it was on.
  • You know the child’s game of Eeny Meeny Miny Moe, yes?

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When we played the game it was “catch a n-word by the toe.” I had zero clue what I was saying. When I had kids, they would play the game and sing “catch a tiger by the toe,” but there was not one time I didn’t flinch when they began singing the song, fearing they would say that horrible word. They’d never even heard that version of the rhyming game; I still braced myself.

  • Peppered around the south are Brazil nut trees. We called them “n-word toes.”

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heavy sigh

Add the KKK to My History

I was about 10-years old when my racist great-grandfather lay dying in a hospital from emphysema. The stories began being told about his life, one of which was his history with the KKK. Apparently, he had been an active member in the 1930s and 1940s when my family lived outside New York City and then again when my great-grandparents retired to Florida in the early 1960s. Hints that he might have been a grand wizard wafted about as well.  I have no idea either how to find out if that is true nor do I have any desire to learn more about his/my shameful history.

How I Was Raised

My father, a Cuban, was called the n-word in high school (in Miami) and my mom’s family became apoplectic when they became engaged. Not sure if my mom had some inherent understanding of racial issues, but she was a supporter of civil rights issues in the 60’s. Not that she could march or anything having 3 kids one right after the other, but she said she did speak up as much as possible with friends and family.

For whatever reason, we just didn’t say the n-word at home. Except for what I mentioned above, I cannot recall ever using that word to describe anyone or use as an epithet.

It took until junior high, which bused in blacks, before I heard the word used regularly. I didn’t connect the word with racism until long after I graduated from high school. I remember, in high school, hanging out with band members who “joked” about being in the KKK, how they were looking for local meetings and even talked about burning crosses. I sat mute, confused and lost. How much more oblivious could I have been? I’m baffled at my inability to see the graphic evil stewing around me.

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Somewhere along the line, my mom gave me the book, Black Like Me… a not so subtle teaching of stepping into another’s shoes… black shoes. I remember reading it as if it was yesterday.

After my parent’s divorce, my dad married a deep south-thinking bitch. When she met my Dominican husband, her face pinched tight and she asked, “Are you black?!” the word “black” spit out like a bitter pill. Somewhere in me, I sat up straighter and mentally stuck my tongue out at her.

In fact, his grandmother was black, 2 of my children being brown, the last white like me.

Confronting My Own Racism

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It took (too) many years coalescing all that I’d seen and heard into some semblance of understanding.

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I’m sitting looking at the blinking cursor, not even sure where to go from here.

pausing some more

I need to amend a sentence I wrote above.

“I cannot recall ever using that word (the n-word) to describe anyone or use as an epithet.”

Amendment: Out loud.

After not using that word in my life, how did it jump into my mind when I was frustrated or angry with a Black person (usually in the car)? Where did that (disgusting) habit come from?

The 1980s were a really introspective time for me. I tackled issues like boycotting, feminism, inner-homophobia, non-violent communication & childrearing… and began exploring my beliefs (and lies) about racism and xenophobia.

(This is much harder to write than I expected.)

I am the embodiment of white privilege. I might have Cuban blood and a Latinx surname, but I have been indoctrinated in the ways of the white culture.

Despite working with Latinx migrant and immigrant women for a couple of decades, learning Spanish, and being able to make platanos maduros, I remain steeped in whiteness.

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My Apology

I acknowledge there is very little I can say to alleviate the damage done by me and my family, but I have to apologize, nevertheless. I am deeply sorry to everyone affected by those in my family… and perpetrated by myself, even inside my mind. I do not want forgiveness, would never ask for it because I do not think forgiveness is in order. I want blacks to know, in my heart, I do apologize every day. I try to use the privilege I have to rectify, support and lift up the blacks I see and interact with. I am so, so sorry. There are not enough words to express myself.

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Some Things I’ve Learned

“For a black American, a black inhabitant in this country, the Statue is simply a very bitter joke… Meaning nothing to us.”

James Baldwin, Ken Burns‘ America: Statue of Liberty

Black Lives Matter is an amazing group that holds black people in the esteem they deserve. I love their goals of ending the country’s systematic incarceration, ending police violence with regards to black folks and being “unapologetically black,” fighting for reform of the justice system that is overwhelmingly against blacks and standing tall in their shared problems and successes. I’m listening.

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It makes my heart ache seeing what’s happening with this country because of 45. Each of us has a role to take in ending the pain and growing chasms tearing our country apart. I cannot march, but I can write. I need to write more.

“What’s different, he said, is that the world now has a history of what Nazism is and what it led to, which it didn’t have 75 years ago.

“We don’t have the ability to pretend like it’s not happening,”

Listening Hard

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Fat Girl Whining

I’m fat. Really fat. Over 300 pounds fat.

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I also have Diabetes and have to see an Endocrinologist every few months. Endocrinologists take care of fat people. A lot of fat people. There has not been a time when I’ve sat in an Endo’s office that there were no less than 4 really fat people. I just left the Endo’s office (and I love the people there) and need to vent for a second.

Chairs

How can an office that caters to fat people not have chairs without arms on them? How?! The first time in there, I asked for a chair without arms and they brought out one of the bench chairs (that still had arms on it). Fine. They brought it in the exam room with me, too. Nice.

Today, the bench was there… with someone already in it. So I had to cram my fat butt into one of the tiny chairs… with the arms going INWARD instead of out! What the crap?

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I spoke with the office manager who said she’d already put a work order in for more benches and asked me to answer to survey I’ll get in my email with a comment about the chairs.

We’ll see how long that takes.

Blood Pressure Cuffs

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For fuck’s sake, I thought I had finished complaining about medical people taking my blood pressure incorrectly/painfully 2 decades ago.

  • Dealing with a stupid ER nurse using medical tape to try and keep the wrong size cuff on my arm, the tape splitting and the nurse huffing off to get his supervisor
  • Having too small cuffs bruising me dozens of times
  • Having large cuffs bruising me because I have really big upper arms with batwings

I thought I’d come up with a solution by insisting they use the cuff on my forearm. Techs and nurses balked at first, but for the last 5 years, it has been a matter-of-course to take my BP that way.

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Then today, the nurse came at me with a thigh cuff, easily twice as large as the large-sized cuff. I asked her to please take it on my lower arm and she said they had just had training saying it was required to take it on the upper arm because doing it on the forearm is “quite inaccurate.” I grudgingly said she could try, but if it hurt, I would cry.

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The cuff goes on and begins tightening. And tightening. And tightening even more. I said, “It hurts, take it off,” and it stopped pumping up so I said I’d sit still. Then it began tightening again and I nearly hollered, “GET IT OFF.” She did, charting, “Patient refuses BP.” I corrected her: I am more than glad to have my BP done, but on my forearm. She shrugged and left the room.

After my appointment with the Endo (which went really well), I asked how we were going to resolve this BP issue and she said it was “policy” and she would ask what to do. I said, “Patient requests forearm blood pressure,” please put that in my chart. She did.

Fat Anger

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We (our country) is fat… and getting fatter. What is wrong with healthcare providers that they do not make concessions for us? I’ve been writing about this since 1987!!! This is ridiculous.

Not accommodating fat people is yet another way to discriminate and intimidate fat folks. Healthcare providers not doing so prevents far too many people from obtaining care at all, care that can keep them healthier… and for you fat haters, even help fat folks lose some weight (if they want to or are able to).

Over the years, in the courts, this accommodating for “morbidly obese” people has been argued. The general consensus is now that fat falls under the American With Disabilities Act. One more thing on our side.

Please Speak Up!

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Many fat people in our society sit in these tiny chairs, put up with exam tables that do not go up and down and never ask for accomodations for their size. I speak up whenever I can, but I cannot do it alone.

Thinner/Smaller friends and family, please “see” things how we do. If you see people squished into chairs, quietly talk to the office manager, explaining how difficult the chairs are for fat people. Say you have a family member or friend (which I am!) or partner that won’t say anything, but that they get bruises every visit. If you work in an office, restaurant or anywhere people need to sit, please advocate for us to get the proper seating for fat folks.

Special mention to servers: PLEASE STOP SEATING FAT PEOPLE IN BOOTHS (unless they ask to be put in one specifically). It is humiliating to try and squish ourselves into the tight tight space at a booth.

And if anyone thinks the small chairs and small spaces are going to force us to lose weight, you are woefully incorrect. Fat-Haters, rue the day this issue is yours or someone’s you love.

Thanks for listening. Rant over.

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painter: Igor-Grabar

Life Lesson: Circling the Beauty

Boudoir Beauty

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A friend of mine had boudoir pictures done. She’d had a difficult few years, including a double mastectomy because of breast cancer. It took every ounce of (emotional) strength to agree to the photo shoot, wanting it as a surprise to her several-decade-long partner. When the proofs came, she was shyly pleased at how she looked. Most were fairly modest, but others did show her precious scars that saved her life.

Timidly, she showed her husband.

His response was: Nice lighting.

Broken-hearted and filled with unnecessary shame, she came into our secret group and shared a couple of the more modest photos asking if they were that bad that he didn’t even comment on what she looked like.

My friend’s pictures are stunning. When I opened the first one, I had shivers from the beauty of seeing this woman, literally, laying bare the fears she’s harbored for so, so long. (As many of us in this society do.) Of course we all held her close and loved on her, and told her what a doofus he was for not “seeing” her, but all of our approval was a drop compared to what she’d needed from him.

I’ve thought of this for several days now, asking the couple of guys in my life why a husband would do that? Why he couldn’t even muster a “You’re beautiful,” even if was fake. My male friends said about the same thing: Men suck.

Ye Olde Body Image

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We women struggle with our body images, many of us since childhood.

I remember when I first began having sex, I never wanted to get on top because my breasts drooped off my chest, not remaining in pretty round orbs like the girls in Playboy. Then after having one giant baby after another, I didn’t want to get on top because my entire mid-section sagged down with gravity. Suddenly, my breasts were the least of the flopping about.

Just sitting here writing this, I remember the shame acutely. I have tears dripping from the corner of my eyes because I find myself so repulsively ugly. I feign not being embarrassed at all these doctor appointments, but the reality is I cringe every time someone needs to touch my body.

Sexy Shame

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When I go to Sex Parties, there is no shame from anyone. Bodies are bodies are bodies. Most of us there are old enough to know life before Internet porn, so, I believe, have a more realistic view of growing-older bodies and sex. Besides under the covers, the only place I am free to be naked is with my kinky and swinging friends. (Even still, I am always nervous about taking my clothes off at the beginning of the evening. NO ONE EVEN CARES! Yet, I still do.)

Our Bodies Turning On Us

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Fat, folds, scars, sags, creases, hair where we don’t want it, no hair where we do want it, adult acne (what the fuck are we doing still getting acne in our 60’s?!), leaking when we sneeze, farting at inopportune times… belching, using your inhaler before having sex, having not one, but two pillboxes to fill every week… having to eat by the clock so your blood glucose doesn’t go too high, or goddess forbid, too low! (One of the not-so-funny funny things is you have to shoot insulin into a roll of fat. Every. Single. Time I have to give myself a shot, I roll my eyes at the luck of so many gooshie sites to choose from.)

And let’s not even begin in the genital area.

“Rejuvenation”

People with means might be thinking, “Not me!” and so many begin having plastic/reconstructive surgeries as early as 16. That girls under 20 are asking for labiaplasty because they think their vulvas are ugly makes my heart hurt. Can an entire generation of women feel even more body shame than I have about mine? It seems so.

It’s sad to me that so many girls and women… and men! think our bodies should be porn-perfect or fantasy-ready.

I have no easy answers.

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