Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Works in Progress

“We are all works in progress,” Leslie Feinberg

Tuesday’s reading for Anne Balay’s Gender Studies class was from Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.”  In the Foreword Cornel West called the book the secular bible for a new social movement.  Let’s hope so.  The statistics concerning blacks in prison are staggering and shameful.  Alexander, West argues, has awakened people to a “dark and ugly reality” – “the massive use of state power to incarcerate hundreds of thousands of precious poor, black, male (and, increasingly female) young people in the name of a bogus ‘War on Drugs.’”  Class discussion was lively. Several black women knew someone victimized by the drug laws; one works at Michigan City prison and has come to view convicts differently as a result of her experiences.  Everyone seems comfortable with each other, and I seem to have been accepted as simply Jimbo, albeit with deference to my age and title.  I offered historical perspective on how, 90 years ago, Prohibition was also implemented unfairly and used as a means of social control over groups that those in power believed to be undesirable and threatening to the social order.

Discussing unconscious bias, we broke into pairs and played a bingo game involving scenarios where women in the workplace fell victim to practices that punished them for doing things expected, tolerated or even praised if done by men.  Alyssa and I yelled out “Bingo!” when we filled a row, but the idea was not to compete but to emphasize the point that both sexes often perpetuate stereotypes about behavioral norms and personality traits expected from boys and girls.  As an aside, she brought out the fact that almost all the victims of “shaking baby syndrome” are boys.  When girl babies cry, the unconscious response is comfort them while adults are less patient with males. During a discussion of how to reduce unconscious bias I mentioned that it was probably less frequent in places such as Hawaii where racial intermarriage is common.  Someone asked whether Take Our Daughters To Work Day was sexist. The idea originated 20 years ago with Ms. magazine as a way of introducing girls to career possibilities they may not have thought about and, Anne explained, evolved into a more inclusive practice involving both parents and sons. 

Thursday’s assignment is to read articles about incarcerated women, including one by three women who taught at a women’s prison.   Anne also asked that we examine the Ce Ce McDonald case on Google sites.  Shortly after midnight on June 6, 2011, Ce Ce, a transgendered African American, and some friends walked past Schooner Tavern in Minneapolis.  A group of whites began hurling racist and homophobic insults at them.  During the altercation Ce Ce was hit in the face with a bottle, opening a cut that later required 11 stitches.  When a man approached her, she fatally stabbed the imagined assailant with a pair of scissors.  Charged initially with second-degree murder, she plea bargained to manslaughter and received a sentence of 41 months.  She is presently at a men’s prison.  Transgender activist Leslie Feinberg organized a protest outside it walls prior to visiting Ce Ce to offer her moral support.  Thanks to Feinberg, it has become a cause celebre. 
 Ce Ce and Leslie make contact spiritually 

Leslie Feinberg’s novel “Stone Butch Blues” won the 1994 Lamda Award.  Main character Jess Goldberg, according to the back page blurb, came out as a butch during the pre-feminist, pre-Stonewall 1960s and after weathering personal and political storms, learned to accept “the complexities of being a transgendered person in a world demanding simple explanations.”  In the acknowledgements Leslie thanks “the butches, passing women, drag kings and drag queens, FTM brothers and MTF sisters – transsexual and transvestite – who urged me to keep writing, even if one sketch can’t illustrate every life.  In loving memory to you, Marsha “Pay it No Mind” Johnson – found floating in the Hudson River on July 4, 1992 – and the other Stonewall combatants who gave birth to the modern lesbian and gay movement, and to the many other transgendered human beings whose lives ended in violence.”

Marsha “Pay It No Mind” Johnson was born Malcolm Michaels in postwar Elizabeth, New Jersey, a small black kid conflicted about his gender identity. Becoming an outspoken drag queen took amazing courage.  She modeled for Andy Warhols “Ladies and Gentlemen” series and with Sylvia Rivera founded STAR (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries and STAR House, which took in homeless transwomen.  She loved punk music and through her actions helped others, in the words of a fan nicknamed Shotgun Seamstress, “live our lives authentically.”  As Richard Hell said, “If you just amass the courage that is necessary, you can completely reinvent yourself. You can be your own hero, and once everybody is their own hero, then everybody is gonna be able to communicate with each other on a real basis rather than a hand-me-down set of societal standards.”  Rest in peace Marsha P. Johnson, I wish I'd known ye.
Filmmaker Frederic Cousseau asked if I knew any novels with Gary as the setting.  Some 75 years ago Edward Jay Nichols wrote the coming-of-age tale “Hunky Johnny,” and a recent book by Tracy Coleman about corrupt cops is called “Murder Capital.”  Most interesting, however, for Frederic’s purposes is “Blossom” (1990) by Andrew Vachss (rhymes with tax), a New York attorney representing children and youths, who is a prolific crime fiction writer.  Vachss lived in Northwest Indiana for a few years, and worked for a Saul Alinsky-inspired organization called the Calumet Community Congress.  I sent Frederic this excerpt, which appeared in my Nineties Shavings issue (volume 31, entitled “Shards and Midden Heaps”:
I turned the Lincoln onto Broadway, motored past the Y and W Drive-In Theater.  Glanced at the marquee: first-run flicks, no slasher porn.  Still in Merrillville.  I crossed the line into Gary at Fifty-third.  The stores got closer together, muscling each other for sidewalk room.  Package joints, tire stores, BBQ, brick-fronted bars, shoeshine, and barbershops, auto body shops.  A dozen different dumps with 'Lounge' after some name.  XXX video stores.  Signs: Go-Go Dancers Wanted.  Burlesque.  Poolroom.  Ladies Welcome.  Exotic Dancers.  Hand-painted letters: LIVE GIRLS.

I crossed into Glen Park, where even the billboards turned Afro.  Fast food, ribs and chicken.  Sex shops, private booths, a quarter a play.  Storefront churches. Check cashing.  Pawn shops.  Bible Book Center.  Tattoo Parlor.  A closed-front store advertising Swingers' Supplies and Marital Aids.

They probably got the last word right.

At Twenty-sixth a sign: welcome to Gary.  Sherwood's home ground.

I hung a left at Twenty-fifth.  The Police Community Relations sign hung limply from a bombed-out ruin, rusted metal gates padlocked across its face.

Teenagers once cruised the area Vachss describes, sometimes called the Border, often congregating in strip mall parking lots otherwise abandoned after dark.  During the 1960s Gregg Popovich, now an NBA basketball coach, biked to Glen Park from Merrillville to play hoops with blacks at a court adjacent to old Glen Park School at Thirty-ninth and Broadway.  I told Frederic it would be interesting to revisit Vachss's route 23 years later and see how things have changed.  He agreed.

At a long condo board meeting we discussed landscape issues and repair needs on chimneys, roofs, gutters, shingles, ridge and sewer vents, and cedar wood.  Yawn!  We have two new owners, including in the formerly bank-owned unit.  Court One director Marva Radcliffe agreed to update the Directory.

The Cubs, and in particular Alfonso Soriano, remain hot.  Soriano hit two more HRs (8 in 11 games) in a 7-2 victory, improving Chicago’s record to 40-48, just eight under .500, despite unloading veterans in favor of future prospects.  They would have traded Sorianobut no team wanted to absorb his long-term contract.

Will Radell spent four days re-enacting the Battle of Gettysburg on its one hundred and fifty year anniversary.  He represented the legendary 20th Indiana Volunteer Infantry Regiment.  During the second day of combat the Regiment suffered heavy casualties at the Wheatfield, among them commanding officer Colonel John Wheeler.  They also defended Cemetery Ridge during Pickett’s Charge.  After the battle the regiment was sent to New York City to help quell the Draft Riots.  Will had a great time and reunited with many old comrades, but the 90+ temperatures left everyone badly in need of a bath by battle’s end.

Melissa McCarthy and Sandra Bullock shine in “The Heat” as unlikely law enforcement partners out to bust a drug ring.  McCarthy as Mullins is laugh-out-loud hilarious and loosens up her uptight counterpart Ashburn.  SNL alum Jane Curtin has a cameo as Mullins’s mom, and Marlon Wayans plays a charming officer who I hoped to find with Ashburn at movie’s end.  A couple of scenes were unnecessarily bloody and the anti-albino jokes were lame, but I didn’t mind the crude language, as some moviegoers evidently did.  The soundtrack included “Fight the Power” by the Isley Brothers and “Daft Punk Is Playing at My House” by LCD Soundsystem.  At home I popped a Miller and put on Daft Punk.
Facebook messages from Janet and Michael Bayer

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