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Thursday Thirteen #111: Thirteen Ways I Learned About Racism

September 19th, 2007

Hullo, hullo, 13ers and Usual Suspects,

For my Thursday Thirteen, I am talking about skin. Its color, specifically. It all feels the same, skin, doesn’t it? When you touch it? Stroke it? Caress it? Burn it? Jab it and make it bleed? It bleeds the same. It hurts the same. We all have skin. It’s just that mine is white. Maybe yours is, maybe it isn’t. It doesn’t matter. But some people think it does.

How did I learn about racism? Oh, lots of ways. I’ll work backwards, from this week, as things come to mind:

1) From Cynthia Harris, the principal (African-American) of our neighborhood high school, Jefferson High School, here in beautiful, open-minded Portland, Oregon, USA. (Here are four links, because no one can agree on what one thing Jefferson should be). Harris told a group of parents and community members that “Black kids are different” and “Almost one in four black students at my school is in special education. Something is wrong there.” So they’re “different” and “really different,” apparently.

Harris refused to answer questions posed by a woman (white) who, like me, is an advocate for kids and a community activist. Why wouldn’t she answer her questions? Harris told the woman “(I) don’t understand why people who aren’t African-American think they should have any say in what happens at Jefferson.”

I say: Ms. Harris, be inclusive. If you can’t be, then you need to not work with students or any communities. I’m a community member, and I want to help make things better. Don’t say no to anyone who is trying to help — say yes. Your word should be yes. Yes, yes, yes. Yes, let’s talk. You don’t have to agree to everything everyone wants, that wouldn’t work. But I am asking that you listen to what people have to say, have a conversation, answer the questions that you are able to answer. Communication. Yes.

(This subject is also being discussed by Terry Olson, Hockey God, Willamette Week and KGW-8, Portland’s NBC affiliate. (And over at The Mercury, they’re talking about race as it relates to drug- and prostitution-free zones.) If you see discussions elsewhere, please e me.)

2) I was being a smart-aleck when I said “beautiful, open-minded Portland.” Because, while the scenery is quite beautiful in Portland, the people can be quite ugly. We have a long, hideous history of racism in Portland. I just lit a candle for Mulugeta Seraw and another one for the Coon Chicken Inn and another one for Tony Stephenson and another one for Jose Meija Poot and another one for everyone. And I lit one, too, for the Portland Police officers who thought they should “decorate” the doorstep of a business (black-owned) with dead possums. Maybe I ought to light two for them.

This isn’t all of it — these are just a few “situations” that came to mind.

I am not proud of my city’s heritage, you should be aware of this.

3) I learned about racism when my friends had their house firebombed, windows broken, furniture on their front porch burned, in the early ’90s, by the Skins who lived the next street over. They are an interracial couple — a woman (African-American), her husband (white), and their female roommate (African-American). They chose to leave Portland.

4) When I was in third grade, my girlfriend Teri and I sat down with a table of kids (African-American), at lunch. She proceeded to talk at length about the following: watermelon, and her love of it; her grandparents, and their house in North Portland; did she mention she really loved watermelon?; and how she was always at her grandparents’ house, in North Portland.

I felt really weird, but didn’t know why. I didn’t say anything.

The kids all took their trays and moved to another table. When I asked my mom why, later, she said, “Jesus H. Christ, I cannot believe what an idiot that kid is” and swore for awhile before she explained.

5) In fourth grade, after my dad died, I spent most lunch hours alone on the playground, hoping no one would notice me, and trying not to cry. A pair of twins (African-American) found me. They were a year older than I was, and well-known for their fistfights, which they always won.

“Did your daddy kill hisself?” they asked me.

That’s when I started thinking that black people were mean, and would beat me up if they saw any weaknesses.

6) Then there was fifth grade, when I heard one of the older girls, an eighth-grader (African-American), tell another eight-grader, boy (African-American), “Boy, you are fucking with my nerves.” We did not talk like that at my house and that’s when I learned, sometimes black girls can be mean, but they totally fucking rock. Fuck yeah.

7) Then there was sixth grade, when Paula (African-American) beat me up. I deserved it, I was being a jerk to Dina (bi-racial — African-American and white) and really, I totally deserved it. But they were both friends with me, after that. Dina used to come into the pharmacy where I worked, and the restaurant where I waited tables, just to say hi. Her mom did, too. She’d say, “Dina says hi.”

I ran into Paula a few years ago — it was so good to see her. I told her I had heard that Dina was killed in a car accident, when we were all in our early 20s. It was her husband, I heard. He wanted her dead, there was domestic violence. (I didn’t tell Paula that part; her daughters were there.) Paula told her daughters, “We were all friends.” And I told them, “You just never know how things are going to turn out, so we need to all be good to each other.”

I should light a candle for Dina, too, don’t you think?

9) We had race riots at my school — “Black versus white! Black versus white!” a few kids would scream. They’d all spill out to the park. Some guys (African-American) would break out cake-cutters. They were metal and sharp. Some guys (white) would threaten to have knives, but they only occasionally did. I would watch from the playground next to the park, then I would walk home. Then my mom would ask, “Why are you home early?” and I would say, “Fight.” Where were the grown-ups? I have no idea. Smoking in the teachers’ lounge, I imagine, and complaining about us.

10) I found out that some kids (white) from my neighborhood were being bussed to schools (black), far, far away, in North Portland. (I went to school in Northeast, ten minutes from North). And some kids (black) were being bussed from schools (black) in their neighborhood (North) to my school. Everyone getting on and off the busses seemed to be in a bad mood. There were a lot of fights on that end of the building. I learned to keep my distance. I learned that a lot of times when people got sick of talking they used their fists.

11) Then there was my maternal grandma (white) from Dakota (North) who called Brazil nuts “nigger toes.” Then there were my mom’s relatives (white) from the south who said, “You want some good barbecue, you go get some of that nigger barbecue.”

12) I learned about racism when I fell in love with a man (black) and another man (brown). I learned about racism when I was on jury duty and they asked us, one by one, if we’d ever been involved in an interracial relationship. If you had been, you were disqualified.

“Did you notice that people stared at you when you walked down the street?” the lawyer asked.
“Yes,” I said, “But I just thought it was because we were so good looking.”

13) I learned about racism while we were planning our 20th high school reunion in 2002 and the former cheerleaders (white) insisted on having the reunion and picnic in ritzy areas of town (white) where I told them that a lot of my old friends (African-American and Asian) wouldn’t “feel comfortable” going.

Is that the most stupid expression ever? “Feel comfortable”? “It makes me uncomfortable”? But I didn’t know how to put it. I suggested Peninsula Park, in North Portland. I had talked with Paula, who had talked with some of the other alums. They had asked for Peninsula Park. Cheerleader frowns all around. “It’s too dangerous there.”

It made them “uncomfortable.”

How many guests of color at my reunion? Three (Asian, African-American, African-American.) There were close to 400 kids in my graduating class, which was maybe 60 percent white, 20-25 percent Asian, maybe 15-20 percent African-American and a few Hispanic kids.

Three people.

Tuesday Recipe Club: How to Make Ladybugs

September 18th, 2007

By Wacky Boy, age 5

First you get lettuce, then you put an apple on there (that’s split in half).

Then you dip raisins into peanut butter (like it’s the glue), then you put the raisins onto the apple — those are the ladybug’s spots.

Then you put his head on — that’s the green grape.

Then you put his eyes on — they’re dots (smaller raisins).

Then you’re done!

Then you eat it!

(Thank you, Wacky Boy. WM)

Live Nude Girls Unite!

September 16th, 2007

I just wanted to be able to type that. I don’t get enough junk mail around here. No kidding, that’s the name of the film Hockey God and I watched last night — Live Nude Girls Unite! It’s a documentary about the strippers who unionized at the Lusty Lady club in San Francisco.

We like boobs around here, and unions. So it was the perfect film for us, no? (Their organizing efforts took place in ’96-’97 — the film is from 2000.) Here are their suggestions for how to unionize your sex shop, fyi.

Happy Sunday!


Excellent Photos of Boobs (and a nice commentary)

September 15th, 2007

You’ll find excellent photos of breasts right here.

Can She Bake a Cherry Pie, Billy Boy, Billy Boy?

September 14th, 2007

Reviewed today:

It pains me to say this, Internet. But until I picked up a copy of “When French Women Cook,” Madeleine Kamman’s “gastronomic memoir” from 1976, I did not know how to make a pie crust. I longed to make blueberry pie. Apple. Chocolate. Lemon meringue! (That would have been a dazzling feat, requiring both the pie crust and the meringue, which I also didn’t know how to make.) Now, I can make a pie crust. No, I won’t tell you the tricks — you just have to buy a copy of this book or get it at the library.

Bon appetit!

Anna Jane Hays (author) and Linda Davick (illustrator) have put together the sweetest little book, “Kindergarten Countdown.” (Ms. Hays spent 29 years with Sesame Street and the Children’s Television Workshop.)

Wacky Boy’s review: “I don’t want to read any more of those books.”

So I read it by myself. It’s a rhyme book, and goes over everything a kindergartener-to-be might be thinking about: backpacks, lunches, saying the ABC’s, sneezing, games and writing. The illustrations are adorable. Don’t be put-off by my son — he is just not interested in anything that is unrelated to dinosaurs or snakes. The book came with a little sheet of stickers — I think he’ll like those.

Who’s Rumi? Not Raffi! Rumi! The Sufi mystic Rumi is what is getting me through this first month of school. I really appreciate his works.

“Move Within”

Keep walking, though there’s no place to get to.
Don’t try to see through the distances.
That’s not for human beings. Move within,
but don’t move the way fear makes you move.



Kindergartners Are Kooky

September 14th, 2007

This morning I tell my daughter, “Get up, daughter, and get dressed.”

She tells me, “You do not need to pick out my clothes.”

Me: “As if I would.”

I then tell my son, “Get up, son, and get dressed.”

He is now upstairs shouting, “It’s not rocket science! Big bacon! Big, big, big, fire bacon! Bacon on fire!” Then bursts into a rousing chorus of “Big, Big, Big, Big Water” from “Land Before Time XXIV.” (Or whatever one it’s from. There are so many sequels, all with singing dinosaurs.)

Thursday Thirteen #110: Thirteen Reasons You Should Show People Your Breasts

September 12th, 2007

Hey Thirteeners and Usual Suspects,

Will you show me your breasts? Pretty please? C’mon. I just want to see them for a second. Hey! There ya go! Excellent.

Now I’ll show you mine — whooooooo! See how much fun that was? This week, I’m giving you Thirteen Reasons You Should Show People Your Breasts…

by Wacky Mommy, Inc.

13. I’ve been spending a lot of time with my somewhat out-of-hand friend. One of the mommies from school. Let’s call her Little Miss Honey Butt, because that’s her name. OK, it’s not. But it should be. ‘Cause her butt? Oh, honey. She really, really likes to flash the ta-ta’s around. Granted, she’s nursing, but the kid is, I dunno, four or something now? I’m kidding, she’s only 3. Ha! Gotcha! She’s actually 18 months or so. I lose track. Well, since the baby has gotten bigger, she likes to nurse sitting on mom’s lap, facing her. She also likes to do that simultaneously adorable and annoying thing that babies do (both mine did this, too) where they nurse on one side and stroke the other side. Comfort and joy, who can’t relate? But as a nursing mother I was like, damn, baby, it’s not bad enough we’re flashing one side — you want both of them on display? Babies think this is a fun game and everyone should join in.

12. Babies are right. Boobs are a lot of fun. At first I was thinking, Miss Honey Butt, how many times are you going to show my husband your tits? (We spend a fair amount of time together, our two families, at school and play). Then Hockey God, excuse me, Steve, grouses, “You keep talking about her tits, but I’ve never seen ’em” and I’m all, “How can you miss them?” and I’m thinking, “I hate her and her nice tits.” (Not for real hate, just a little jealousy bitchy thing.) (My tits are very nice, in their own right, in case you were wondering.) (Her husband? The man is just so mellow. He’s like, eh, there she goes with the tits again. I love that girl.)

11. Boobs can be a show-stopper.

10. A traffic-stopper.

9. A mood-lightener.

8. A real pick-me-up, even when they’re not all that perky. I mean, think about it…

7. Someone yells, “Show me your tits!” and you just raise your shirt, flash ’em, and go on your way. That’s stunning in its simplicity.

6. Everyone’s running around competing with each other, being catty with each other (women) being curious and dogs (men). Wearing their boob shirts, their decolletage calling out all woo-hoo, here I am! Think of it — you just cut to the chase. “Hi, here are my boobs. Now you know what’s under my sweater.” In a job interview? Someone’s staring at your tits and not listening to your answers to their questions? Flash! All good.

Johnny Cash: “I like to watch you talk.”
June Carter: “I’m talking with my mouth; it’s way up here!”

5. For women who have gone through breast cancer, I think this could be a real empowering thing. Cuz you know — you’ve gone through chemo, maybe radiation, everyone’s wondering, “Did they take one? Both? Was it just a lumpectomy? I can’t remember what Mabel told me. Did she get reconstruction? Is she wearing those jelly-boobs?” And they can’t even concentrate on what you’re saying, because they’re so preoccupied. Show them what you look like. Smile. Move along.

4. Boobs make babies happy. There’s a reason for that.

3. Men get to go around with no shirts — why shouldn’t we?

2. I realize that although showing your tits is not illegal in Oregon (thank you, liberal hippy state! Here, I’m lifting my shirt to you! In Oregon we like to be nekkid) in some states and countries this sort of behavior is illegal. Well, forget that! Let’s make some new rules! Women need to nurse, have some fun, throw the neighbors off their game. I have often been tempted to show the neighbor my boobs. You know why? Just because.

1. Breasts are beautiful.

Happy Thursday to you and yours,


(Edited on Thursday to say — boy. When you use the word “breasts” and “nekkid” and “naked” about 40 times in a blog, you really get the junk mail. Dang.) (PS — Little Miss Honey Butt is fond of her new nickname.)

(Edited later on Thursday to say — I had the perfect chance to flash the neighbor today and missed it. She walks out her door, halts to stare me down, jangles her keys at me, keeps staring, goes to get in her car. Why couldn’t I flash her? I was holding two bags and the recycling bin. She caught me off guard. Dammit. Better luck next time.)

speaking of kindergarten…

September 11th, 2007

Here’s a good one from Anna. (Thanks to Stu from Grasshopper for the link.)

And no, if you’re wondering, I’m not writing about my son, my baby, going off to kindergarten. Things aren’t going as smoothly as hoped for.

But it’s only the second day.

Humboldt Elementary School, thriving in spite of Portland Public Schools

September 11th, 2007

Well, look who was quoted in the Portland Tribune today — that’s right. Hockey God, aka my husband, Steve-o.

I haven’t spent a lot of time at Humboldt, but the times I have been there, I’ve been impressed. (Do you remember that post, you old-timers to this blog? My legs were bruised for weeks. Harsh toke.)

(Now that we’re being interviewed by the media — and by “we” I mean Steve — do I have to stop saying things like “harsh toke”? How about “ride the fucking six pack”? Where do you stand on that? How do you feel about the “f” word? Hmm. Will ponder. Leave me a note in comments if you’d like.)

And Humboldt — excellent work, you guys.

(If you’re interested in more PPS archives, right here is where I started bitching up a storm about a little $5.2 million dollar grant that wasn’t getting spent in the Jefferson Cluster. And right here is where you’ll find a Willamette Week story about all the hard work Lynn Schore has been doing to track said grant money. And right here is where you’ll find one of the money maps my husband has put together.)

Tuesday Recipe Club is Back: Curried Chickpeas and Kale, Curry-Spiced Lentils And Spinach

September 10th, 2007

“It seems to me that our three basic needs for food and security and love are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others.”
– -M.F.K. (Mary Frances Kennedy) Fisher, writer (1908-1992)

For today’s Crockpot Recipes, my lovely Wacky Sister suggests:

Curried Chickpeas and Kale

2 Tbs ghee or vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups chopped onions
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp cumin
3 cups chopped kale or 1 pkg frozen chopped spinach
1 1/2 Tbs curry powder
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground coriander
1 1/2 cups vegetable broth
3 cups cooked chickpeas
1 cup chopped tomatoes
1/4 tsp salt or to taste

Combine all ingredients in your crockpot and let it cook on low 7 to 8 hours, or on high for 4 hours.

Or perhaps you would like this:

Curry-Spiced Lentils And Spinach

1 1/2 tsp curry powder
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp cayenne
1 medium onion — chopped
2 garlic cloves — crushed, minced
1 cup lentils — rinsed
1/4 cup converted rice
1 10-oz package chopped spinach, partially thawed and broken up
2 cups vegetable broth (or chicken broth if desired)
Salt to taste
Chopped tomato and mint for garnish — if desired

Combine first 11 ingredients in the crockpot. Cover and cook on LOW for about 6 hours, or until rice and lentils
are tender but not mushy.

Add salt to taste; serve garnished with chopped tomato and mint if desired. May be doubled.

Serves 2 to 3 main-dish servings.

Bon appetit!


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