A Letter to Lena Nyman

A Letter to Lena Nyman

 

Dear Lena,

Hello.  My name is Leslie.  I’m from America.  I’m 37 years old and I’m employed as a part-time bookseller.  I fancy myself as an amateur filmmaker, although I use a digital camera and probably shouldn’t refer to my end product as “film” since I don’t incorporate any into my “filmmaking.”  In the bookstore in which I work, we also sell videos.  One day while performing a stock count, I happened upon your film titled I Am Curious.  After watching both the yellow and the blue film, I have decided to write you a letter.

I’d like to answer the questions which you asked of Swedish citizens within the film, starting with “Do we have a class system?”  Yes, we most certainly do have a class system in America, just as is in existence in Sweden.  We have our haves and have-nots, our aristocracy-bourgeoisie-proletariat, our plutocrats and democrats, our “Huxtables” and “Evanses.”  You also asked: “Should a person be paid more, simply because their parents encouraged them to go to college, and become a doctor or a lawyer?”  I would say no.  Not all parents are education enthusiasts.  Furthermore, not all parents have the means to send their children to colleges with annually escalating tuitions.  However, I don’t think it’s wrong for a doctor or a lawyer to earn a higher salary than say, a bookseller, provided that a bookseller is paid a livable wage.

I was raised as a Pentecostal.  Your brass yet banal encounter with a Pentecostal youth after a benediction hit close to home.  I remember my futile attempt to practice abstinence until marriage.  I recall my dogmatic allegiance to a system of perceived justice that would sentence all those who rejected Jesus Christ as savior to an eternal hell.  Your commentary on that issue should serve as a lightning rod for all fundamentalist beliefs that would further derisively divide our already seemingly fatally fractured human family. So I would say yes, resoundingly, that church and state should be separated.

Back to futile attempts at abstinence.  Should a woman wait until she is married before she has sex?  I believe only if she chooses to do so, should she abstain.  Whose responsibility is it to use contraceptives?  I believe it is the responsibility of both parties to use protection when having sexual relations.  If a man gets a woman pregnant, should he marry her?  I don’t think a man should marry a woman just because he impregnates a woman.  However, I do believe he has a duty to provide for his child.

Although I fancy myself as an amateur filmmaker, I’ve mostly had one foot perennially in corporate America.  Common practice in the business world is to submit a resume of no more than one page when seeking a position.  Well, I certainly hold you in higher esteem than any potential employer.  Your business is that of ending business as usual as opposed to quickening the status quo.  And despite your heartfelt apology to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in my humble opinion, you are the epitome of activism, and certainly a glorious cinematic realization of the slogan: “Make love, not war!”  Warmongers may well have their apotheosis in the eyes of bloodthirsty imperialists.  But you Lena, would be my reward.  Your “fat” would be the fat of the land in which I would hope to live on, in that day when our world is occupied by the armies of hell, defying us to defend her.

Nonviolently yours,

Leslie

© 2015

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Kim Kardashian, Makeup and All Men Are Dogs: What Do Women Think?

“Kim Kardashian with no makeup?  Oh no!”  The words dropped from her lips like bombshells hitting the floor and unearthing truths kept secret from eons ago.  Yes ladies and gentlemen, once again, Kim Kardashian and a host of other celebrities have been sighted out in public without wearing any makeup.  As I scanned this woman’s items and processed her credit card transaction, I focused on the absolute horror on her face after she encountered the latest Entertainment magazine on the newsstand.  Normally when I’m working at the cash register in the store where I am employed part time, I pick up on the chitter-chatter of customers as they discuss the day’s news and highlights.  Over the last couple of weeks, all the talk has been about the striking contrast between what celebrities look like with makeup and without.  As a man, I know I may be traversing into dangerous territory here, but these are reactions coming from women that I’m reporting on, not men.

Some of the women seemed to accent their comments about the less than flattering photos published in the magazine of these celebrities with a tinge of satisfaction.  Others didn’t hide their delight in remarking about how awful the celebrities appeared in print.  And some seemed to emote empathy.  To make the distinction clear, these were not photos of celebrities who made a conscious decision to pose for a photo shoot without wearing any makeup.  On the contrary, they were photographed without their consent, without prior knowledge, going about their daily routine.  That, to me, seems to be a little unfair.  Yes, these women are celebrities, and they have to know that every time they step out of their doors, the paparazzi are waiting for them with cameras in hand, drooling at the opportunity to catch them in awkward situations.  Yet these are also people who market their brand name and build their images, in addition to their talent, with the help of airbrushed imaging and digital photo enhancement.  And as women across the world flip page after page in beauty/style magazines, they are constantly bombarded with these images and often succumb to the pressure of feeling like they must conform to this carefully crafted, hyper-glamorous, wholly unattainable standard of beauty.

I often hear women complaining about how all men are dogs, or about how all they care about is sex.  I hear them asking: “Why can’t I find a man who values my mind as much as my body,” and “why don’t men pay attention to my personality as much as they do my physical appearance?”  I guess my retort would be to ask: do you spend as much time on developing your personality as you do on applying your makeup?  And I only say that because, as men, we can be totally overwhelmed when first meeting a woman by smokey eyes, infallible lipstick, sparkling, shimmering, candy-like glitter, rosy-rouged cheeks, eye-liner, foundation, voluminous mascara, longer, thicker eye-lashes…etc.  (Please excuse me for thinking about sex slightly before I think about your personality).  Now that doesn’t excuse men who may treat you like a piece of meat rather than a human being with thoughts, emotions, desires and opinions.  But it does create quite a challenge for us men to shut off all of our physical sensors and concentrate solely on “the inner you” when we are equally bombarded, as you are when you flip magazine pages.

At the end of the day, what a woman does to her face, whether she’s a celebrity or not, is her business.  Regardless of her social status and use or non-use of beauty products, she should be treated with dignity and respect.  And regardless of what men think (or other women for that matter), a woman should always realize her own worth and beauty, inside and out.  I’m of the opinion that we can do without a world in which magazines publish pictures of people without their prior consent, for the purpose of either fueling gossip, embarrassing them or tarnishing their image.  But I also think we can do without a world in which our teenage girls contemplate suicide because they’re picked on in school for not being “pretty enough,” or feel that they just can’t measure up to what they see in magazines.  Then maybe we can build a world in which people are accepted for who they are, no matter what they look like.  What do you think?

© 2012

 

African-Americans and Prisons: Prison Labor Vs Slave Labor

Thus far, one of the most valuable benefits of my participation in the Occupy Wall Street movement has been the opportunity to make the acquaintance of people from my community that I had not previously met and the conversations I’ve had with them.  There is a wealth of knowledge and experience that some of these people possess, and I feel as if my social justice IQ has spiked tremendously because of them over the last month.  For example, I met a woman who is an art curator specializing in showcasing the work of prisoners.

Some may ask why the art of a convicted felon is worth paying any attention to.  This curator’s passion for her profession lies in the fact that a disproportionate percentage of African-Americans, Native-Americans and Latino-Americans are imprisoned in comparison with the greater U.S. population.  While the statistics given regarding minority prison rates and what they conclude can vary, and should always be given in their proper context, no one can logically disagree with the fact that something must be done to reverse this trend of disparity.  Exhibiting the art of these prisoners, some of whom are even perhaps wrongly convicted, is her way of working on this problem.

Another conversation I had with a fellow protester raised my awareness to the growing concern of the ethical dilemma of privatizing the prison system.  Companies like Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) operate correctional facilities and detention centers (some designed for immigrants) for profits of billions of dollars annually.  The question arises; is it ethical to profit from locking up human beings?  The issue becomes even more complicated when for profit businesses like Starbucks employ prisoners.

Let me just say that if businesses employ prisoners at a fair minimum wage for their work, I’m all for it, as long as they do not use employing prisoners as an excuse to not create jobs outside of penitentiaries and/or cut back on employee benefits to increase their profits.  However, paying prisoners .25 or .30 cents an hour for something someone could be doing on the outside for $10.00/hr and up seems exploitative and unethical.  And targeting poor minority neighborhoods in order to meet prison quotas and cover costs of private businesses is not only unethical; it should be illegal.

At the vary least, I’m of the opinion that we should all become more socially conscious of where and how we spend our dollars as consumers, and of what those businesses are doing with the money we give them.  I also do not believe it is in the best interest of our democracy for private prison businesses to spend millions of dollars lobbying (directly or indirectly) our government for stricter laws; they have too much to gain for increased incarceration rates.

© 2011

“Get a Job Hippie!”

While it may be true that when you pass by the Occupy Wall Street site in your city, what you see and hear usually associated with hippies might be present: long haired protesters, Djembe drums and acoustic guitars, tie dye shirts, peace signs, tents and Woody Guthrie songs.  But what you will not find is an occupation site without people who are employed.  So when cars pass by our occupy site in downtown West Palm Beach, FL, and drivers stick their head out their windows screaming “Get a Job Hippie!’ with their middle fingers pointed skyward, I take offense.

Many of the protesters I’ve met in the last few weeks that I’ve been a participant in this movement have jobs.  So do I.  We are hard working, law abiding, and tax paying citizens exercising our constitutional right to peacefully assemble.  I’m able to overlook such ignorant insults as these because I know not everyone thinks we are a bunch of lazy, pot smoking (50% of Americans now agree that marijuana should be legalized according to a Gallup poll just released this past October) freeloaders; evident from the many other drivers in cars who pass by our occupation site and cheer us on by honking their horns; sometimes even stopping by to ask us how we’re doing and drop off supplies like food, water, ice, tents, etc.

Some of the opponents of the Occupy Wall Street movement have criticized us for being too loosely organized and not having clearly stated goals.  I wonder if they have even taken the time to read our mission statement?  I wonder if they even know we have a mission statement?  They have criticized us for not having a spokesperson.  Perhaps they are just frustrated that our movement does not resemble the movements of the past, specifically from their generation.  I would counter their objections by stating that these are new times filled with new challenges.  Rarely does the younger generation wish to mirror the older generation.  Although we have been inspired by the past generation, and  have grown wiser because of them, we now have the opportunity to create our own platforms, our own agendas, and our own course of action.

The same reason our parents listened to Rock and Roll is the same reason why we listened to Hip Hop; to annoy the hell out of the status quo, and to express ourselves on our own terms.  And that is what the Occupy Wall Street movement has become; a protest movement that does not exactly mirror the past, but hopes to be just as progressive, if not more, in the interest of social justice.  And by the way, some of these “hippies” you’re insulting were around in the 1960’s and fought hard for Civil Rights and Women’s Rights.  And guess what; they’re still here fighting hard, alongside the high school kids, college kids, and thirty-somethings.  Sticks and stones…sticks and stones!

© 2011

Should I Protest? (A Response to Codename Geronimo)

My great grandfather’s name was Harry Frazier.  That was not his real name.  Harry Frazier was the name he took for himself in order to pass for Caucasian in an environment which was hostile toward Native Americans.  He was a full blood Native American.  This was a common survival strategy used by many people during his time in order to conceal their true identity.  He lived in Tennessee and one day he wrote his true Native name down in a family Bible.  No one in my family knows where that Bible is now, and so we do not know what his real name was.  Our family believes that he was either from the Cherokee or Choctaw tribe, but without knowing his original name it is nearly impossible to determine this information.

When I heard that a protest movement on Facebook had been initiated in response to the United States Government’s use of the codename Geronimo for Osama Bin Laden in their operation to capture and kill him, I was conflicted.  Native Americans were asked to change their profile picture to Geronimo.  Besides my great-grandfather, I have other ancestors who were also Native Americans.  However, because it was unpopular to discuss and/or disclose Native American ancestry in their day, this information was either kept secret or downplayed in some manner.  I cannot apply for tribal membership because I cannot prove my ancestors were Native Americans.  I don’t have their original names and they were not recorded in any census or official documents.  It’s the same dilemma that African Americans face when desiring to trace their genealogy because our ancestors’ names were changed from their original names to their slave master’s name.  For this reason there are often branches missing in our so-called family tree.

Geronimo’s real name was Goyathlay.  His ancestry was of the Apache tribe.  His mother, wife, and three children were killed by soldiers in the Mexican Army.  In his career as a war chief, Geronimo fought against the Mexican and United States Army and became one of the most revered leaders in Native American history.  To link him with Osama bin Laden is a gross error of association.  Geronimo was defending his home country from the westward invasion of the U.S. Army.  Hundreds of treaties were broken on the part of the U.S. government which allowed them to illegally seize Native American homelands.  This resulted in the creation of reservations where Native Americans were forced to move and live in virtual poverty.  There are still Native Americans living on reservations today.  The U.S. government has yet to address all of the treaties that were broken during those wars.  So to identify Geronimo with Osama bin Laden, liking him to America’s worst enemy, is as President Barack Obama often times suggests, a line of thinking that is on “the wrong side of history.”  No one who defends their people and homeland from an unlawful invading army should be labeled as a terrorist.

One day my great-grandfather Harry Frazier fell from a building’s fire escape.  He had been drinking and the police arrested him and took him to jail.  No medical attention was ever administered to him and he died as a result of his injuries while in jail.  It is our family’s suspicion that the police knew he was a Native American and that was why he didn’t receive medical care.  My mother told me that he once said, “It’s better to be a Black man than an Indian in this country.”

I voted for Barack Obama in the last presidential election and I plan to do so again in the next.  I do hope that he along with all of the tribal councils can work together to rectify this unfortunate association of names.  So again my dilemma was whether or not to change my profile picture and join in on the protest.  Do I have enough Native American blood running in my veins to justify my participation?  Am I authentic enough?  Is this my fight?  When thinking of what happened to my great-grandfather, I know I have the obligation to speak up.  I have done so.  I will continue to do so.  Maybe one day, if things don’t change, you’ll see me cruising around Facebook with the likeness of a true American Hero!

© 2011

Casey Anthony Found Not Guilty of Murder

I’ll admit I was surprised when the jury in the Casey Anthony trial returned “not guilty” verdicts on all of the first 3 counts.  I was also relieved because I am not a proponent of the death penalty.  In my opinion, the disproportionate sentencing of prisoners to die, especially within the African-American and Latino-American communities, by the United States justice system has deeply swayed me in opposition to the death penalty.  In fact, I believe that we should have a moratorium on the death penalty in this country for that reason.

When this trial first began, I felt secure in my mind that she was guilty of the unthinkable crime of murdering her daughter.  As the trial progressed, I began to question myself.  By the time the verdict was scheduled to be read at 2:15 pm yesterday, I had totally given up on judging the situation because the truth was, I didn’t know what to think.  Did she prove herself, admittedly so by the defense, to be a methodical liar?  Yes.  Was it proven beyond a reasonable doubt that she murdered her daughter in a premeditated fashion?  Not exactly.  So the 12 jurors made their best judgment in light of the evidence; due process was followed; the judge confirmed the verdicts; and we are right back at square one, not really knowing what happened to Caylee.  We all wanted justice for Caylee.  It feels like we’ll have to settle for a little less than that.

What is it about these courtroom dramas that command our attention?  I remember when the NBA finals were interrupted suddenly with breaking news about O.J. Simpson’s white Ford Bronco being chased by police in 1994.  I didn’t think anything in this world could have distracted me as a 17 year old kid from watching Patrick Ewing battle Hakeem Olajuwon for the world championship.  It was the NBA’s version of “Clash of the Titans”- Ewing with his patent low-post fade-away jump-shot and Olajuwon with his paint-area soccer style footwork that provoked memories of Pelé.  Yet I did, though initially involuntarily, turn my attention from one court to another.  I remember hearing that verdict read as well.  When O.J. was found innocent of murder, I was in the Student Union at the University of Dayton, and I watched how that controversial ruling totally polarized the African-American and Caucasian students on campus.

That trial had its memorable moments as did this one, most notably the frenzy that escalated into a fistfight over seating outside of the courtroom one morning.  (I would have expected that to happen at a Lady Gaga or Beyoncé concert, or perhaps even a Yankees vs. Red Sox game?)  Be that as it may, I will recall what will, hopefully, prove to be a more enduring memory from this trial; that of a young girl who brought a tribute to the scene of where Caylee Anthony’s body was heinously discarded.  For me, it was that little girl’s heartfelt compassion for Caylee that reminds me of what really mattered in this trial, aside from any disappointment felt in light of the verdict.

© 2011