Friday, April 22, 2011


Because I had just spent three hours in the company of some of the most motivating people that I know, because the wine was sweet and the talk light and chittering, because I thought that I’d just seen the face of a distant friend, I was smiling. I was smiling at someone that I’d mistaken for Derek Churchill, this stranger’s mohawked silhouette mildly reminiscent of a form which my muted eyesight came to recognize through nights black as pitch and punctuated by shrieks, some months ago. Though completely out of context, I, smiling, took a double take at this individual, intent on greeting him.
Perhaps I should have noticed the lack of a chainsaw. No sooner did I look back than this person, gesturing his coxcombed head at the door I’d just exited, shouted out, “What, is Garth in there?”
“Excuse me?” I responded.
“Garth Brooks,” came the snide retort.
I then began to take in the surroundings, the features distinguishing this person from anyone I knew, and the fact that I had been insulted. My crystal castle of a pleasant evening cracked. And I, breaking along with it, said the most sensible thing that came to mind, “I could out-punk you.” He yelled after me, and I repeated myself. Then, as he cursed and screamed at me like a lonely child, I walked the remaining 50 feet out of the building. I did as I said I could do. I exited his merry, violent frame of existence, never to impart on him any of my own wisdom or worth. I out-punked him.
I skip over songs by KMFDM, Skinny Puppy and the Sex Pistols on my mp3 player during my hour’s commute back to the sticks. No Garth Brooks, and apparently, no friends in low places. I detour from my normal route to verify, out of love and concern, that my boyfriend’s wallet is, in fact, in a lost and found box at a closed convenience store. Still, I couldn’t pass up the chance to hear that track by the Dead Weather. They are unloading a new shipment of cedar coffins at the local funeral home when Allison Mosshart starts singing “Hang You Up from the Heavens” for the third time. “I wanna grab you buy the hair and sell you off to the devil.” I must really like that song.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Love and Bullying and Love Again

It was a gentle night that February the 14th. I had pulled ripped painting jeans over fishnet stockings to pick up from the local Cantonese plagiarist establishment for myself, the boyfriend and baby. I don’t tend towards wearing fishnet stockings as a statement accessory, but keep them on hand, rather, for their functionality. A sturdy pair of hose will confuse a body into the illusion of warmth when the striated nylon tendons press into the skin, and this was my goal in the late winter evening.
‘Dragon Wok’ is a half a mile from my apartment, a distance which is perilous to travel except by car, should the ground hold even the thinnest film of snow. Even without the icy slick, a biting cold blows across the river, trenchant enough to render a warm person incoherent with expletives in a matter of seconds. And so I ran full tilt across the parking lot, and entered the glass- enclosed establishment kicking and cursing.
I mention the glass enclosure because the interior of the dining area more closely resembles a backwoods conservatory or a lumberjack tea room than a purveyor of fortune cookies. It is a thin ten feet of hallway bordered by only two rows of booths, and the plate glass windows bend overhead, exposing all of the customers’ frustrations with chopsticks to the light of day. Wood accents that line every inch of exposed wall hearken less to a Zen monastery in the Himalayas and more to a Buddhist retreat camp in the Pacific Northwest.
An order was placed to a distinctly American woman in a stained maroon sweatshirt. An uncomfortable vinyl chair was occupied in the waiting area of this restaurant- in- miniature. Thankfully, no one was staring at the angry punk girl craving pot stickers. Well, almost no one.
A mother cast immodest protective glances at me over the shoulder of her teenaged son, the back of whose head looked appropriately bedraggled with shame at his not being asked on any dates this Valentine’s evening. She was a mother in every sense of the word; comfortable sneakers for chasing the wayward child or mess, jeans which zipped over her stretch marks, a Mickey Mouse jacket to make her a walking monolith of wholesomeness.
She glowered at my swinging leg, certain that my harlot eye had fallen on her son. Her son, whose Technicolor plaid trousers were tighter than any pants in my closet, the hues of which matched his hair. Her son, whose thin- brimmed fedora was tilted on his head just as delicately as his utensils were balanced on his left hand. With only a few years of experience, he could have easily outdone me on any dance floor, could have turned more men’s heads in any cocktail bar, could have been the belle of any ball and left me weeping into the window dressings in defeat. Still, his mother glared at me.
While waiting for my wontons, I began to wonder why she would consider me any sort of a threat to her son, whose sexual orientation was roughly as subtle as a fog horn. To start, I pondered the occasion. This mother had taken her son out on Eros’ annual ritual holiday, to a restaurant which is likely not to exist on Google Maps. What cause would she have to take him away from his friends and boyfriends, apart from the drama that infects post- adolescent existence? And, for that matter, why would he agree to her company on this night for any other reason?
This new possibility disturbed me, the possibility that I had reminded her of a character in some school day soliloquy told by her son through a mangled wad of tissues. I started to imagine, or perhaps I only half- imagined, that her eyes were darting from me to him, and her pursed lips were carefully whispering “My God, is that girl one of the ones who did that to you?” The deed itself did not matter, what mattered was that it had caused harm to her own. Bullying can take many forms in the moment of crisis, but takes only one form to the protector, to the Amazon Warrior Mother, and that is a call for retribution and defense. To wit, this mother’s hands grasped her elbows, and she leaned forward over the table with such intensity that it looked as though she were ready to vault the table and tear at my throat with her panther- mother paws, should her son affirm that I was one of the guilty.
And I asked myself; when the time comes, will you be so ready? Will you have prepared your little girl, and yourself, for the vicious attacks of the misunderstanding or the deliberately cruel? Will you have taught her to value herself for herself? Will you have memorized her list of emergency contacts such that she need only dial ‘M’ for mom? Will you have risen above the standard “when I was your age” defense, and come to terms with the circumstance of her generation? Most of all, will you love her for who she is, rather than how her hair is colored or what sort of drama she bemoans and survives?
In that moment, while gathering packets of duck sauce, I issued myself a warning: either be prepared for the sake of the next generation, or be just as out of touch as the last one. And the warning played out in my observations. Either I will become the outmoded mother who doesn’t understand the lifestyle of her own flesh and blood, or I can try to be the worn- out mother who, in spite of gaps in empirical understanding, will protect her offspring come what may. I hope and I aim for the latter: it’s exhaustion that I can live with.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Letters to Authors 2.) Tim Wise, and the basic structure of Letter and Response

In the interest of developing a model for dealing with responses to these letters, I present an email which was sent to Tim Wise (author, radical race relations reframer, and general justice junkie) earlier this year. Below the sent email, I will include his response, uncensored, unedited and unabridged. I prefer to display the author's writing in its received form because it bears out the tone and immediacy of the reply. This particular set of emails is rather tame, but it inspired me to create this blog on the process of writing for justice. Coincidently, the book that he mentions is currently in print, and available at his website,

The Sent Letter:

Dear Tim Wise,

To the end of introduction, I am working on my M.A. in Social Justice at Marygrove College, a new program in an old Detroit school. Our campus worked in coordination with the Michigan Coalition for Human Rights last month to telecast President Obama's Inauguration across the campus. After the broadcast, the organization aired your DVD "On White Privilege." Upon further research, I have noticed that you have responded to racial profiling and police brutality, but you have not written about the influence of media attention upon pending court cases trying these offending officers. Previous examples of harmful media involvement abound, from Rodney King to Malice Green, but, to my knowledge, you have not written on the media's capacity to keep men guilty of homicide out of prison. More importantly, however, though your work on Sean Bell (and Guzman and Benefield) is striking, I see no mention of Oscar Grant, a California case as recent as the first of this year. I urge you to write and speak out for justice in the trial of former officer Johannes Mehserle.



Tim Wise responds:

thanks for getting in touch...indeed i haven't written about media framing of these issues, per se, and how that influences court cases typically in favor of killer cops, nor have i written an essay about Oscar Grant (though I did post several items about Grant and his killing on facebook, where it probably got more notice than an essay would have, in some ways).

Fact is, I haven't written any new essays since the first of the year, having just finished up a new book on racism and privilege in the "age of Obama," and white denial in the current period...I will no doubt start writing again soon, and one of the pieces I intend to write will address not only Grant but similar killings that took place in two other cities around the same time, which are prime exhibits of how the nation is anything but "post racial" (the term given to describe this period, now that Obama is president, by folks who would rather ignore reality...

thanks again for your suggestions!


Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Letters to Authors 1.) Bankole Thompson, Editor of the Michigan Chronicle

I'll be doing a series of letters to authors around the country; writing for justice, writing to justice advocates, writing on unusual topics of human rights and civil rights, and reframing the arguments thereof to speak to an evolving world. As these letters will get pointed, and the responses potentially unpleasant, I felt that I should start it on a positive note.

Most Detroiters cannot name one inspirational person in the local media. I have been given the benefit of the wisdom of at least five. Bankole Thompson tops my list. As senior editor of the Michigan Chronicle, he has been an integral part of an established alternative media voice to Detroit for decades. He hosts "Center Stage" on WADL, tackles multiple news segments and projects for NPR - WDET 101.9, and participates in countless peace and justice efforts around the city and state. He has been offered positions with the Free Press and other local AOL - Time - Warner media outlets, and has refused each of them, choosing to publish diverse perspectives rather than succumb to the mainstream media machine.

Dear Mr. Bankole Thompson,

I had the good fortune to see you on American Black Journal in early November of this year, and have chosen to take this opportunity to express my high esteem and strong gratitude for your perspective as a progressive voice, and your contribution to Detroit via the Michigan Chronicle. Perhaps this choice requires more explanation. I was also fortunate enough to hear you speak to a graduate class on developing media campaigns for social justice at Marygrove College last spring, and heard portions of your contributions to various political media panels prior to that time. When I saw you on American Black Journal, you were discussing the importance of engaging young people in midterm elections, and you gave me inspiration and renewed vigor for my efforts in youth organizations for peace and justice. I updated my Facebook status about how brilliant and well- crafted your contribution was. Only after spending a month discussing your statements with friends did I realize that I ought to express my thanks personally.

Each time I hear you speak, I grow in respect and appreciation for your opinion and your eloquence in its delivery. This effect occasionally surprises me, as your words usually leave me with the impression that I could not admire you or your impact on Detroit any more, an impression which is proven wrong at every turn. It is in this spirit of admiration that I must inquire as to whether you have considered writing a book. I understand that, as a social justice advocate, newspaper editor, and active member on numerous boards and panels throughout the community, your time is precious. However, I feel that your reflections would be invaluable to a new generation of Detroit progressives, and would provide hope and direction to young people throughout the country. If you have written works available, or if you are currently working towards such a project, please let me know. Otherwise, keep hope alive, keep working for justice, and thank you for everything you do!

Happy Holidays,


I'll be sure to post responses to any and all letters, if and when they happen.