Tag Archives: racism

When All is Said and Done

Bruce2

When the Michael Vick controversy heated up, I listened to the claims of racism and laughed. We’d always been here, we animal rescuers. We yelled about Amish people and horses for slaughter and Michael Vick with equal ferocity. Don’t try that racist card on us, I thought.

I still think that’s true, but with caveats. When I joined a group working on boycotting the companies sponsoring Vick for NFL honors and endorsing him, well, suddenly there were a bunch of people there I didn’t recognize. People using slurs and suggesting punishments containing racial overtones.

The moderator of the group held the line; he threw off people who referred to Vick’s skin color as part of his crimes. In every sense of those words. And he banned people who referenced political parties or the protests where black athletes knelt during the national anthem. The moderator worked hard to remind us we were there for the dogs.

Still, in the end I had to leave that group. Vick deserves no honors – and don’t tell me America won’t forgive a black man. Forgiveness is between Vick and God. HONORS is between the NFL and all the people who will boycott them because he is being honored. Vick also deserves no racial ugliness, and it is disappointing that the two have gotten mixed up.

Because when the freeloaders and the users and the fast-action racists have gone, we animal rights activists will still be here, fighting for those who cannot speak for themselves. I’m sorry it seems racial. For those of us who were here before Vick and will be here after him, it isn’t.

And then there are people saying that if we care about X but not Y, we’re doing it wrong. Two white evangelical males asked why I didn’t invest this amount of energy into fighting abortion. Because God made me an animal lover, so that’s what I do.

Animal activists get this a lot. A friend gave me $3000 to save the life of a kitten with a corrective surgery. I thanked her on Facebook. And suddenly I was on a list of people being hit up for donations for kids with cancer, and told that if I cared more about cats than children, I was a bad woman. Not a bad person. A bad woman.

Nice try. Outrage belongs to those who hold it. Maybe some of us rescue animals because we think the human race is doomed. Maybe because we feel innocence from animals we don’t from people. Or maybe because that’s our decision. It doesn’t matter, in this divided America.

I am sorry, sorry, sorry, that friends with black skin could interpret our decisions on fighting animal abuse as racist. That evangelical white friends might see it as putting animal life above humans.

When all is said and done, I help the animals because that’s where my strengths are, this is how God made me, and they deserve it.

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Filed under animal rescue, Life reflections, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

Where it Hurts and where it Heals

Medicine wheel 075The place where I made Jack sleep in a tent was about a mile and a half from a Japanese internment camp from World War II. Lightly advertised, the place, and if Rod our Air B&B host hadn’t said something about what it was, we might have misunderstood and dismissed the Heart Mountain Historic Site sign.

But he did, and we went. We are used to touring painful places in American history. We went to the Minuteman Missile site. I’ve backpacked through Dresden. Jack went to Vietnam. We get that the “never again” resolve coincides with tourism and there’s something a little too soothing, too white privilege in the mix. Sometimes I think that George Satanyana guy got it wrong. History doesn’t repeat itself when it’s forgotten, but when it’s spun into information overload that numbs and soothes. If you see it enough, you become inured.

photography was at first forbidden in the camp, but as the time stretched, the regulation went lax. Which is why some of what happened and how it looked is now documented. Fear the camera, fear the journalist. Good.

photography was at first forbidden in the camp, but as the time stretched, the regulation went lax. Which is why some of what happened and how it looked is now documented. Fear the camera, fear the journalist. Good.

I don’t do politics publicly, so I’m only going to say that reading the information, written by people who were in the camp, was surreal in today’s American political climate of economic fear hidden behind anything we can think of to hide it behind. Creepy is a childish word. The edge of terror? Sick to the stomach? Too much drama. Surreal will have to do.

After we toured the Camp, we drove on to the Medicine Wheel in the pass off Highway 14a. The Medicine Wheel is still used, and  several signs at the beginning of the mile-and-a-half hike to it said, in essence, if someone of indigenous heritage is using the site, you’re going to wait, respectfully, without taking pictures. Accept this before you walk up there, because some of the prayers and ceremonies may take awhile.Medicine wheel 125

Medicine wheel 132 Medicine wheel 127 Medicine wheel 139No one was, so we walked widdershins around the circle, looking at objects left.

One place where the world hurts, one where it heals. Neither about white people like me. Except maybe that white people could have stopped one, and can honor the other. “The Courts Failed Us” interpretive sign was one of the most moving at the Camp. Another was the unexpected Dr. Seuss cartoon, anti-Japanese people. And how very reminiscent it is of certain attitudes in America today. At another site we visited more than a week ago, the Laura Ingalls Wilder birthplace, I remembered “Ma” and her favorite saying “A body makes its own luck.” Do we make our own enemies? Or was that Pogo the cartoon possum comic strip right: the enemy is us.

 

Theodore Geisel's unexpected contribution to the cause

Theodore Geisel’s unexpected contribution to the cause

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One of several artworks on display in the textile storytelling exhibit, from local women who created story quilts based on the camp. All were from Wyoming. None of the camp residents were allowed to remain in Wyoming after the camp closed. Adults were given $25 (equals $330ish today) and a bus or train ticket to the destination of their choosing. Some went back to LA or the Pacific Northwest, where they found their stored items stolen or vandalized. Many went East for work. Medicine wheel 049

There was one white woman at Heart Mountain, Estelle. She was married to a man who had to report to the camp. Estelle made $19 per day sketching scenes for newspapers. After the camp closed the sketches that didn’t make the newspapers began to circulate.Medicine wheel 018

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The question of the century

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One of the stalls in the ladies’ bathroom was fitted with mirrors and a warning sign. It said this stall was set up so you could see what the camp bathrooms were like – the toilets and showers had no doors. Communal or not at all.

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One of the things the museum makes clear is that the Japanese Americans ordered to report were confused, angry, yet compliant. Among all the weird things – including that at least one person was shot and killed at Heart Mountain for getting too close to the barbed wire fence, and some children were arrested when their homemade sled went past it on a back road – were that boys who turned 18 in the camp were required to register for the draft. Some went into the Armed Forces. 68 refused unless granted their freedom first, and they went to federal prison for 3 years.

The camp organized things for the kids to do because family life was chaotic, family units not eating together in the mess halls, children running about bored getting into mischief. Community leaders set up Boy and Girl Scout troups, and every day the Boy Scouts raised and lowered the flag in the camp where they were held prisoner by order of the American government.

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Medicine wheel 114There were many prayers at the Medicine Wheel. I’m not a fey person, but you could feel some of them capturing bad, some of them releasing good. We’re all praying for something.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, Wendy Welch, writing

Someday—-

Jack’s poignant guest blog reflecting on then, now, and someday

Back in the early 1960s, I was a twentysomething hanging out on the Scottish folk scene. We had a number of dedicated folk-song clubs established in cellars, cycle clubs and all sorts of unlikely venues, and they all had one thing in common: singing in harmony together at the end of the evening We Shall Overcome!

Now we did (and still do) have a certain ‘fellow feeling’ in singing it, Scotland being a country that felt put upon by its bigger neighbor, but we had no real understanding of where the song came from or what it meant to the folk who created it. We just knew it made us feel strong and special.

Overcome has haunted me for years. An African American gospel song, it was brought to the famous Highlander Center in Tennessee in the late 1950s by Lucille Simmons and members of the Food and Tobacco Workers’ Union. There they adapted it, and staff member Guy Carawan passed it on to Pete Seeger. The rest is history, including more re-makes and re-shapes than Kumbiya.

Over the years I learned about Highlander’s work, and the place seemed near-mystical. When a mutual friend introduced me to Guy Carawan himself just a couple of years ago, I was able to shake hands with a man as legendary to me as John Lennon might be to someone else.

Knowing that back in Scotland we had a too-easy enthusiasm for identifying with those who had faced down the color bar, I was overjoyed when just last weekend Wendy and I were invited to join a group of Appalachian writers at Highlander Center – the very same place where We shall Overcome was re-born as a folk anthem for social justice.

Oddly enough, all the participants that weekend were white. I watched the day’s activities unfold, examined pictures on the walls celebrating the triumphs of activism, read news clippings and wandered around, feeling out of place. Was it my being from Scotland that made it feel an exclusive rather than inclusive experience? Was it worship from afar meeting the reality that one group can only do so much?

A friend uses the term ‘folk elite’ to describe people who mean well but who don’t ultimately impact the place in which they have decided to practice charity. Perhaps that is what I was: one of the elite, incapable of grasping the legacy spread before me. But I have to admit, at the end of that weekend I felt no closer to being part of the “We” in We Shall Overcome than I did back in the sixties, in Scotland, holding hands with all my fellow middle-class singing friends. And that saddened me.

 

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Filed under blue funks, Life reflections, publishing, reading, Scotland, small town USA, writing