Author Archives: thinkbannedthoughts

About thinkbannedthoughts

Sexual health educator and advocate. Political and social Ranty Pants. Word nerd and book slut.

Some Thoughts on Ferguson and Race in America

So…

It seems there are two types of people in America right now – those who know that what is happening in Ferguson, MO is fecking awful and has EVERYTHING to do with race relations in America, and those who think that some *ahem, black* 18 year olds “deserve” to be executed on the street for jaywalking. (Please remember that EVERYTHING else about Michael Brown – the alleged robbery, the potential marijuana in the bloodstream, etc. ALL of that came out after the teen was dead on the street and NONE of it was known or even suspected by the officer who shot and killed an unarmed youth. In fact, none of it is KNOWN now, these are still just allegations from a police department desperately trying to cover its own ass.)

This ties in to the promised – and not yet delivered – posts on gun culture in America, the need to reform the “justice” system and the “correctional” system in America – starting with addressing racial disparity in judicial outcomes and demilitarizing our police forces…

But in the meantime, while I take care of myself for a few days and collect my thoughts and try not to get swallowed by the GRRRRRR… A friend of mine, Jessica McDonald, wrote this and I think it’s worth a read. (Note, emphasis was added by me, as was the link at the bottom to a site for people who want to support Mike Brown’s family or offer aid or support to the people of Ferguson, MO.)

I know my regular readers are awesome and thoughtful commenters. If you’re new here, play nice in my sandbox – you are free to disagree, we like intelligent conversation that challenges our assumptions. However, asshats, trolls and rude people will be nuked. I have no tolerance right now for that kind of shenanigan.

A Quick Word About Mike Brown, Ferguson & Race in America:

By Jessica McDonald

I haven’t said much about Mike Brown and Ferguson. Partially because I just haven’t been online much, and partially because I have had a hard time collecting my thoughts. But I’ve been watching, and reading, and the things I’ve seen and read have made me by turns enraged, ashamed, shocked, and so depressed I want to crawl in a hole.

I’ve heard people say things like, “I wouldn’t want to be a cop in the inner-city.” I’ve heard people call the victim a thug, and all but flat-out say he deserved to be killed. I’ve heard these things from otherwise intelligent and progressive people. It leaves me reeling and deeply misanthropic.

I don’t care if he stole cigars. I don’t care if he lipped off at the cop. It doesn’t matter. IT. DOESN’T. MATTER. He was 18-years-old, and nothing he did warranted being shot. Consider for a moment that the Aurora theater shooter–who KILLED twelve people, injured 70, and rigged his apartment with the intention of harming both civilians and officers–is alive to stand trial. Police took him down without killing him, without roughing him up afterward, without beating him. Consider that this is common when a shooter is white–if they end up dead, most of the time it’s by their own hand.

Consider also we live in a country that instituted a media blackout in Ferguson, that barricaded the city, that has officers removing their IDs and badges so that they can’t be identified. Consider that the United States has now been condemned by Amnesty International. Consider that if this were happening in another country, we’d call it a gross violation of freedom and democracy.

Consider that there are only two real positions here. Either you think the police were justified, in which case, if you’re arguing there was no racial angle, you have to believe that lethal force is a tenable solution to teenage stupidity, or you don’t. If you honestly believe the police are justified in all of their actions since August 9th, consider what that says about the kind of country you’d like America to be. Consider that we have fought *wars* to prevent that kind of behavior abroad.

Consider also that if you are white, you will never experience this world the way people of color do. That’s not an attack; it’s the truth. An uncomfortable truth, maybe, but that doesn’t change its nature.

So when I say that it doesn’t matter what Mike Brown did or did not do, those are my reasons why. He wasn’t an isolated victim. We have a problem with race in this country that festers beneath the surface, because we Americans have never been good at facing the ugly side of our culture and history. This is the outcome of that willful ignorance. It’s dead teenagers in the street and people blaming the victims for their own deaths. It has to stop. We, as a country, have to stop pretending that everyone is equal, that everyone is treated the same, that privilege doesn’t exist and that somehow racism just disappeared with the election of Barack Obama.

Stop and *listen* to the people who deal with this every day. Consider what you would do if the tables were turned. Consider *why* you are so eager to place the blame on the victim, why the issue of race makes you so uncomfortable, why you are so willing to relegate an entire group of your fellow citizens to a second-class life.

It doesn’t matter what Mike Brown did.

It matters how we respond to his death.

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Retreating toward happiness

It’s been a fuck of a summer.

Globally, locally, domestically, it’s been – well, let’s just say the last few days I’ve cranked up my tunes, hid in the garden and kitchen and “fiddled while ‘Rome’ burned.”

lindsey sterling elements

Lindsey Sterling knows.

It seemed like the right thing to do. Or, rather, it seemed like the only thing I could do if I wanted to live and remain even close to sane.

I’ve checked in on the world here and there – twitter, news programs online and on the radio… And, the  world is still burning.

It was seriously bumming me out and making me a not so good mom or wife or friend or person… So I did a little experiment, I stopped caring for a couple of days. Not all the way, because, well, I’m me and not caring isn’t really how I roll, but I took a few GIANT steps back and took some time to breathe and take care of myself and… I stumbled into happiness.

See, it turns out that most of what I was all worked up about was stuff I couldn’t change, stuff so far away and so big and so not about me that all I could do was watch and wring my hands and rage in vain. Nothing I did, no action I took, no petition I signed, no march I joined was going to push the needle even a little.

Some things really are outside of our control and getting all worked up about them doesn’t help anyone. And it really, really doesn’t help us.

*Waves and winks at my friend who is reading this and nodding and thinking, “I told you so.” VERY loudly. Hi Mike.*

self-care

Rule #1.

Anyway, today I celebrated the first day of school by taking the dorkalope for a hike and going to the library and getting some books to help me sort out how to preserve my summer garden bounty. Those of you who follow me on twitter or facebook have seen the daily harvest pictures. It’s, um, a lot.

harvest time

One Week’s Harvest.
Help!

Tomorrow I’ve got big plans to heat up the kitchen and turn a few hours of sweat into months of great eating.

And… I’m breathing again. It’s a nice feeling.

The world is still spinning, and the people who can help in places like Ferguson, Gaza, Ukraine, Iraq, and everywhere else that is on fucking fire right now – they’re there, they’re doing what they can. And yeah, there are some assholes who are making it harder than it needs to be, and who might just fuck everything up irreparably, but me getting angry about it won’t change that.

A couple of months ago it all came to a head for me when I read an article about the roads in Yellowstone National Park melting from the geothermal heat. There was speculation that it was a sign that the super-volcano under the park was getting ready to blow. There was further speculation that if it happened, we were looking at an extinction level event.

My first thought was, “That could be a good thing.”

So you know, I was in a dark place. My brain traveled down all the other non-man-made ways that we might all go out – and while this sounds like a morbid and depressing exercise, I’m not normal, and so for me it was actually kind of empowering and uplifting because it brought me back around to that Buddhist truth of impermanence.

I don’t know when, or how, or by what means – but I do know that some day we will all be gone. Not just everyone alive today, but people.

Yes, we could all kill ourselves with global warming, or nuclear war, or a million other stupid, preventable, dumb fuck things. Or, Yellowstone could erupt.

In the end, it won’t matter.

In the end – all we have is RIGHT NOW.

And I was wasting it. I was wasting my right now by being angry and frustrated with things I couldn’t change.

Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m not giving up on the world entirely. There are LOTS of things that I CAN make a difference in.

Tomorrow I can spend *another* day in the garden and the kitchen preserving 10 pounds of yellow squash, 10 pounds of cucumbers, 2 pounds of beans, 5 pounds of zucchini, a metric shit ton of tomatoes, etc. and make sure that my family has awesome food (and low grocery bills) all winter long!

good eats

Good food = love.

On Wednesday I can go down to the local sexual & reproductive health center and help them with their “Get out the word” campaign to make sure that people in my area know of this awesome place and the incredible services they offer. So that’s rad – and doable – and helpful.

I can keep working on my governor and state to regulate fracking and work on separating the organization that is tasked with promoting oil and gas development from the organization tasked with regulating the industry…

I can work to make sure that all students in my district receive age appropriate sexual health education, as required by Colorado law.

I can make sure that people know that Colorado’s Amendment 67 is a horrible, horrible idea and to vote against it in November, at the same time they vote against Cory Gardner for Senator (He’s been my district’s representative since I moved here, so I am not saying this based on ads or political BS, but on actual interactions with him and based on his voting record on issues I care about.)

I can work every day to make my life, my family, my neighborhood, my town, my school district, my state a little better.

And… I can get back to that novel I finished 2 years ago and finally finish those revisions, and work on some picture books I’ve been talking about for ages, and tell stories that open hearts and minds and create more room for more people to find their path to happiness.

But it starts with remembering to breathe. Remembering to take care of myself. Remembering to tickle my kids and kiss my one in particular every chance I get. It starts with walking the dorkalope so he stops eating my damn shoes. It starts with turning off the news, and disconnecting from the rage filled people on twitter – not that there isn’t plenty to be outraged about, it’s just that… It’s too easy to get caught up in the GRRRR and forget to check in with the things that make us smile.

And at the end of the day, if I’m just another rage-bot – I’m not helping the problem, I’m adding to it.

What if tomorrow we all woke up and acted as if it was our last day on earth? What would we do differently? I know I would spend more time hugging and laughing and saying thank you – and a whole lot less time being mad at people.

What if tomorrow we all woke up and practiced compassion and forgiveness. Cut off in traffic? Maybe that person really does have somewhere more important to be… Someone is rude to you? Maybe they’re having a shitty day too… We can’t know where other people are coming from, so what if for one day, we tried giving them the benefit of the doubt first.

What if, for one day, we only saw the good in the world…

I know it seems like the world is burning, and some of us are in places where we can help put those fires out, but for the rest of us, maybe the best thing we can do is stop adding fuel to the fires, maybe the best thing we can do is practice peace.

My peace is in the garden, in the tipi, in the kitchen, and in the stories that are sighing impatiently in the back of my mind, waiting for me to stop raging and start listening…

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Challenging the Roots of Violence

Just a quickie before I dash out the door -

I’m on my way to an interview that has me thinking about violence – a lot. (Again.)

So often in our society we react to violence – we pick up the pieces, we console the victims, we incarcerate the perpetrators. But we rarely talk about or implement policy, or take action to really address the root causes of violence – to actually work to bring the number of violent crimes down.

When I think about the conversations I’ve had on this topic, so often I’m told that there are just violent people in the world, there’s nothing I, or anyone else, can do. This is why so often the onus for prevention falls to the victims themselves. Or why we are told that if we are scared we should get a gun so we can escalate the violence in our favor

But, while I was getting ready for this interview I was thinking about what I understand are the root causes of most violence – a desire for control coupled with a fear of loss of that control. (Read that advice about getting a gun in order to escalate violence in your favor again – it is driven by a desire to control the situation and a fear of what will happen if control is lost.)

That’s a really simplified break down, clearly – but if you look at most conflicts – that’s what it boils down to. Hamas vs Israel – both want control of land and the people in it – both fear the loss of that control, and the subsequent loss of their people.

My kids arguing in the backyard – both of them want control over the same swing, both fear that losing control will mean they won’t get to do their trick before I call them in for dinner.

Then I think back to my childhood. During my early childhood my dad has some serious anger management issues. He had what you might call an explosive temper – most often taken out on toys, pillows and the occasional wall. We spent tax season tiptoeing on eggshells. We learned to feel the energy in the air and tiptoe away when it started getting volatile.

One day my dad crossed the line, he got physical with my sister. It scared her more than it hurt her, but my mom drew a hard-line in the sand – he had exactly zero seconds to figure his shit out or she was done. If he couldn’t learn to control and/or express his anger in healthier ways he would NEVER see her or us again.

You kinda don’t want to fuck with my mom.

But here’s the thing – it worked. My dad realized that he was letting his anger win, and that by doing so he was risking losing the people he cared most about.

He took a long walk, and he got his shit together.

He learned to sense when he was getting “hot” and to take a step back, to go for a walk, to go for a bike ride, to go work in the garden… He also learned that sometimes the best thing to do with his anger was to point and laugh, to see the crazy humorous side of whatever was making him mad. He learned that it was okay to cry. There was no shame in that.

I have some things in common with my dad. I feel my anger in a very physical, visceral way. My blood rages, my vision clouds, my ears thrum with static, my breath catches, my fists clench…

I too had to learn more productive ways of managing those feelings that seemed too strong for my body to contain.

Yes, I’m making Hulk analogies because they are apt.

Like the Hulk, my dad and I – and many people like us – have the ability to go full rage machine, and to do real damage in the process.

But, like Bruce Banner, we spent time away with our anger and our emotions and we learned how to feel them coming, we learned how to sense when our triggers were being pulled, we learned how to blow off steam in healthier ways than with fists or knives or guns – or even explosively hurtful words (most of the time).

We had help doing this. My dad had my mom, who after informing him of the consequences of his actions, stood by him while he learned new ways to process and express his emotions. I had both my mom and my dad who helped by validating my emotions while steering me toward non-destructive, or at least non-harmful outlets. (Destroying bubble wrap, balloons and other things that make good loud noises can be super cathartic while also being non-harmful. Sometimes we “need” to squeeze/hit/scream – there are healthy ways to do that.)

I think about the violent criminals who are in jail right now – and yes, some of them are psychotic, sociopathic, sadistic individuals – but many more, I think, just didn’t know how to handle what they were feeling in that critical moment.

I think if we want to prevent violence, instead of just cleaning up the pieces after someone loses it, we need to start by teaching kids how to name and express their emotions. I know that a lot of this work is being done in some schools, many of the preschools my daughters went to worked on this sort of thing. But it needs to continue beyond pre-school and keep going through high school.

I was at a training this past week for Askable Adults, the last segment of the training came from two groups working to stop teen dating violence. They had some really powerful educational tools that helped break down what violence looks like, what the warning signs are and what the triggers are, so that victims and potential victims could identify if they were in a harmful or potentially harmful relationship and create a safety plan to get out – but that still leaves the onus of prevention on the victim.

Those same tools could be used to educate perpetrators and potential perpetrators – people at high risk of becoming violent. They could start a conversation about that need to control, and those fears of what will happen if they lose control. They could lead into great conversations about alternatives to violence, ways of calming that rush of RED HOT energy that starts pumping through you.

I know that education won’t reach all people, I know that some people have genuine psychological and mental disorders that genuinely make them resistant to non-violence. But I truly believe that there are far more people out there like my dad who just need to be taught better, healthier, safer ways of managing those crazy strong emotions. And I think if we can reach people when they are young, and teach them early and give them opportunities to practice, we’d see a whole lot less people “losing it” and hurting people they love. I got lucky, I learned these skills in my youth, I still consciously practice them today.

I think too often we write off violent offenders as “monsters” or paint them as hopeless. We lock them up, but we don’t ever really help them address what caused their violence. Then, a few years down the road, we let them out and… somehow we’re surprised when they bounce right back into the system. But the system hasn’t given them any tools for change. Our prison system isn’t about rehabilitation, it’s about punishment – doing your time to pay for your crime.

I listened to this news piece on NPR this morning about a liberal and a Republican coming together in Alabama to reform the prison system and reduce the prison population. The Republican Senator Cam Ward mentioned that many of the prisoners in Alabama have mental illnesses and drug addiction going in to the system, and that prison is not set up to address those issues, so when those people are released, those underlying issues are still there and, as he says, the public is no safer than before.

I would say that reforming our justice system to address mental illness, drug addiction, poverty, lack of education and other underlying causes of crime would do wonders not just to lower prison populations, but to make society stronger. As part of this, every prison should have a violence prevention and education program to address those root causes of violence and teach real alternatives.

But then again, I’m a naive idealist. I really do think that most people want to be “good” people, most people don’t want to hurt others – but there’s that fear and that feeling of being out of control and needing control, of something, anything. And too often violence feels like control, even if only for that second.

I think we can change that conversation though. I’ve seen it work. I’ve lived that change. I know it’s possible. I’m hoping to begin working toward creating that change on a larger scale. I’d love it if some of you wanted to join that conversation.

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