After the Election of 2016: Disappointed, But Not Discouraged!

We live in a world and in a country that has been deeply compromised by violence, inequity and injustice. And, there are many reasons for that – not just one. I cannot and will not think that I have arrived, or that I am better than others just because I can pay my bills, and enjoy a fairly decent “good life” because of my accomplishments or because I am not white. I am not a good person merely because of the things that I have accumulated in life or due to the fact that I am black. Black is not synonymous with being good or better than white. It is not the binary opposite of white. I do not need white people or whiteness to be or know blackness. I am good because I believe that goodness is an essential part of being and becoming human. And, I happen to be both black and woman, yet neither one of these identities gives me the right or the privilege of saying that I am good. I am good because good is who I am.

 

Some humans, however, do not believe that they are good. They believe that to be human is to live in depravity or in what many have identified as “sinfulness,” or “wickedness.” For many to be human is to be cursed, damned and without redemption that can be obtained or gained on one’s own terms. For many, only a god – something or someone outside of themselves – can bring them true goodness or liberation. Indeed, I used to think this way because of the religious indoctrination of my childhood and youth, but I have spent the last decade or so trying to undo that destructive, self-sabotaging, anti-human way of thinking and being. I suspect that I will continue to unlearn those teachings and any others like them until the day that I die, which is fine with me. This is what it means to me to become human: to evolve, grow, and change.

 

The reality is that we live in a world that is very complicated and very monied. For most of us, if we lost the ability to pay our bills, or if we experienced a life-changing event like a terrible car accident (and I saw a couple today out on the road), or if we were given the terrible news of an unwanted diagnosis, our whole reality would change instantly. Being aware of that common problem – of the fragility and temporality of life – should bring us together, not divide us.

 

After the 2016 Presidential election, I was disappointed. I was disappointed in the people and in the systems that have made it possible for Donald Trump to be in the highest leadership position in the United States. I was also very disappointed in so many women, predominantly white women, who voted for a man who is unabashedly patriarchal, abusive and sexist. Apparently, Trump’s obscene behaviors did not matter to them. Their votes for him condone his contempt and offensive treatment of women, including many white women. Yet, because of the world in which we live, I can understand why this many white women would vote for a man like Trump. I can understand what it means to participate in one’s own oppression, because I too have done it; many black people have done it. And, these white women are not totally to blame for Donald Trump’s election; we live in a world of systems that teaches peoples to deny and oppress themselves and their truths, rewards them for doing it, and then sits back as if it were innocent when those very people are isolated, hurt or destroyed.

 

I have difficulty imagining Donald Trump as “The President” because of his many hateful behaviors and opinions, which he himself made vocal during the presidential campaign of 2016. President-Elect Trump has judgments for many people, he calls them many derogatory and awful names, and he bases his opinions on inaccurate and incomplete information, especially when it comes to black and brown peoples. He dehumanizes and demonizes brown immigrants, but he does not do the same for white immigrants, which would implicate his many wives and their children. Was Hillary Clinton much better when it came to her behaviors during the campaign? For me, yes she was, because I believe that at the end of the day she is conscientious and that at the least she has the ability to show regret and remorse. I also believe that she is pro-human, which is more than I can say for Donald Trump. I have not understood any U.S. President as perfect or as a redemptive figure, and that includes President Barack Obama, but I do believe that when the lights are off and the cameras have stopped rolling, the person who is President of the United States should not be anti-human. I don’t believe that Donald Trump is good for the country because his behaviors and his opinions demonstrate that he is arrogant, uninformed and so very, very anti-human. And, unfortunately, what this election revealed to many is that there are many Americans who think and act just like him, which is very, very disappointing.

 

On the other hand, I am not discouraged. Yes, it is going to be rough, and yes, many people will suffer under this new administration, but it will not be without a struggle, and it will certainly not be the first time that the American people and immigrants have suffered under a governmental regime that is working against them. With the exception of those who were stolen from Africa and other countries across the Atlantic and put on plantations, and the First Peoples of this land who were forced from their ancestral lands and placed on another form of plantations – called reservations – this country of immigrants has always been at odds with the idea of immigration. And, since the arrival of this country’s first European immigrants at Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607, many of these immigrants and their descendants have apparently been engaged in a vicious cycle of inclusion and exclusion, competing for social space (as in Ernest Burgess and Robert Park). It’s a damn shame that it is like this, but this is the truth: over time a good majority of the American people have become hateful and resentful of “others” who are not like them.

 

Nevertheless, in the wake of such a disappointing election, we owe it to ourselves and to the people around us, even those in far away countries, to believe in the good and the power of our humanity. History has shown us, time and time again, that we can and we will fight for ourselves, our dignity and for the right to be free. Indeed, that fight and that freedom never comes without a price; it is a price that every freedom fighter has and will reckon with sooner or later. And just like those who went before me and for those whom I have known in my lifetime, I am more than willing to pay the price for freedom because 1) I believe in the goodness of humanity; 2) I believe in the power of the people to resist; and 3) I refuse to become like human beings who have decided that they are better than the rest of us.
© 2016 annalise fonza, Ph.D.

 

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Cleveland, Baltimore and the Enduring Problem of the Colorline

If the recent protests in Cleveland and Baltimore have anything to say to us, it is that we, citizens and residents of the U.S.A., have a long way to go before we live up to claims of being a democratic society.

A few weeks ago, I was speaking with a group of teenagers and I engaged them in a conversation about racism. “What is racism?” I asked. Most replied with the usual: prejudice, discrimination, hatred, and name-calling. These are common words used to describe racism, but they frequently miss the mark. Each one of these words can stand alone; they don’t accurately capture the nature of racism or what it means to sustain it. For instance, one can express hate for someone or something and not be a racist; one can just be downright hateful and nasty. And, one can engage in name-calling, but not have that name-calling tinged by racism.

Racism is a very complex and systemic social phenomenon, and one that has been very misrepresented and mishandled. Racism was and is constructed on the concept of race, which was developed in the eighteenth century by Euro-scientists who ranked or categorized human beings by physical attributes. In “Race the Power of An Illusion,” which is now a PBS special, Dr. George Fredrickson asserted that, “Eighteenth century ethnologists began to think of human beings as part of the natural world and subdivided them into three to five races, usually considered as varieties of a single human species.” This ordering or ranking of humans in physical and thus in “racialized” terms became the bedrock of developing societal structures and the distribution of resources in the West. Gradually, right here in the U.S., racism became a central organizing framework, one that has been used, systematically, to situate people of European descent (and those who unabashedly support European ways of being and thinking) at the top of nearly every American institution for more than 400 years. With this kind of socio-economic positioning, one based on race that has consistently buttressed notions of white racial superiority and privilege, this nation has, unfortunately, perpetuated a racist way of life.

As a black American woman, a woman of African descent, it is fairly easy for me to understand how we are divided by race and racist practices. I know racism and other oppressions in my day-to-day interactions and from historical texts. But for many, racism is not so easy to perceive. Such widespread blindness to or contempt for racism troubles me, especially when it comes to planning for urban cities. It was Baltimore, not Atlanta or another Southern city that enacted the first racial zoning ordinance in 1910 (Silver, 1997). And, traditional land use zoning, known as Euclidean zoning, had its beginnings in 1926 in the village of Euclid, once a suburb of Cleveland. Zoning, which has been utilized for “organized” development, so to speak, has also enabled many local urban planning officials and residents to exclude unwanted uses and unwanted people in a very racist kind of way.

Recent protests behind the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Freddie Gray in Baltimore, black women, such as Rekia Boyd, who are part of the SayHerName Campaign , and Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams in Cleveland serve to shatter the recalcitrant denial of racism in the American context. This denial is often supported by narratives about religious freedom (initially from British oppression) and North America as the “land of the free and the home of the brave.” However, today’s urban protests to the fatal interactions between white police and black residents bring us face-to-face with the “inconvenient truth” of who we really are as a nation. These protests shatter our claims about democracy, not just about who we are as “Americans.” They indicate that perhaps we are not really who we say we are.

Yes, there have been many noble moments, movements and people, but, nevertheless, the U.S. is not a nation of equals; we are not free from the threat of arbitrary state-sponsored violence against non-white bodies or those who do not bow down to this “American” way of life, and, when we see protesters demonstrate their bravery in the streets, they are often demonized by those who would not dare to put themselves on the line in the name of freedom and justice. These organized protests to the senseless loss of life at the hands of local and wanna-be police officers (like George Zimmerman) dispel our delusions about the collective American identity. The anger and resistance of the protesters bring us back to the reality that there are still wide and terrifying disparities between the American people(s), and we experience these disparities in spite of the many marches, struggles and the losses of life and limb that some have sustained in the name of freedom and democracy. Furthermore, that we have a black president and black middle class family living in the White House will not and has not fixed one of this nation’s greatest and enduring problems: “the problem of the colorline,” a phrase coined by the great W.E.B. DuBois more than a century ago in 1903.

On the one hand, I am very grateful for the sacrifices made by those who have courageously stared American racism(s) in the face, but “the problem of the colorline” will not begin to fade until we become a nation that is truly built on concepts and practices of equity, ones that value human and non-human life over material quantity and profit. And, it is with deep sorrow and regret that I must say that as long as a central organizing American framework is inequity via racism, there will always be a protest waiting to happen.

*For more on racial zoning in the U.S., I recommend: Christopher Silver, “The Racial Origins of Zoning in American Cities,” in Urban Planning and the African American Community, eds. June Manning Thomas & Marsha Ritzdorf, Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1997.

© 2015 annalise fonza, Ph.D.

It’s Called PlanB for a Reason: Emergency Contraception and the Supreme Mess of Corporate Sexual Politics

When I was young, I learned to be petrified of getting pregnant. Getting pregnant as a teenager was one of the things that my father was totally against. By the time that I had graduated high school, I was taking birth control pills, mainly to address the excruciating menstrual cramps that I was having, but also as a way to ensure (prompted by my family’s concerns – mainly my father) that I would not get pregnant before I had a chance to reach my adolescent dreams of going to college. In all actuality, my dad, and my mom for that matter, had very little to worry about. I had such a fear of getting pregnant and disappointing my parents (and I really wanted to go to college) that having sex was the last thing on my mind in high school. Even when my female friends were sneaking or having guys over to spend the night, I was often the “nerdy” one who did not participate or who retreated alone to the bedroom. Though I had several “boyfriends” before I graduated high school, I didn’t actually “do it” until I was nearly out the door and on my way to college.

On the other hand, I did not get over my fear of getting pregnant, and thus my fear of having sex, until many, many, many years later. And, I wouldn’t say that I truly gained a sense of personal empowerment about the whole act of sex until recently, in the last two decades or so. Really – and I am forty-five years old. Hear me when I say that it was not until the mid to late 1990s that I started to feel good or okay with the act of sex with a man.

One of the other reasons that it took me so long to let go of the fear of having sex and getting pregnant was because I grew up Roman Catholic. All throughout grade school and high school, I was taught that sex outside of marriage was a sin; that it was fornication and something that the god of my childhood and of my family would only approve of in marriage (and of course that meant marriage between a man and a woman…the same man and woman…for life). My deep-seated fears about sex (and thus my relationship to my religion) didn’t begin to dissipate until the late 1990s, when I was a preacher (go figure that!) and I experienced love (not necessarily sex) with a man who I really cared about, and I believed that vice versa that he really cared about me. I have written about that man and that experience in other blogs. Anyhow, even then, when I desired to be sexual with him and thereafter, when I was finally willing to break a very long period of sexual abstinence (at least four or five years, I practiced what I preached when I was a preacher), did I begin to break down decades of indoctrination that taught me to fear sex and to only think of it in terms of confinement and punishment. I was so afraid of having sex and expressing myself sexually that when I tried it, I obsessed over getting pregnant ad nauseam, even when I used a condom successfully with my partner. On the other hand, I suppose that having an enduring sense of love from a man who loved me helped me to feel safe enough to reconsider my sexual practices and consequently, at one point, to break my commitment to sexual abstinence. I was able to set aside a lot of my fears about sex because I gained a better understanding of love and of the human reproductive system. To do the latter, I had to seriously educate myself, for the first time in my life, about the process and the facts of the human female reproductive system. I resolved to take responsibility for knowing about this process for myself, and it freed me from the fear and guilt around the matter of sex upon which I had grown up.

I am back down memory lane today for a reason. This morning, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it is okay for Hobby Lobby, and other similarly situated companies, to deny certain types of birth control methods to its women employees. It is my understanding that while Hobby Lobby may offer birth control options, it is now perfectly legal for Hobby Lobby and other private companies like it to refuse emergency contraception coverage, which is otherwise known as PlanB, and, which is also known as “the morning after pill.”

Unfortunately, there are many misconceptions about PlanB. Some, in error, liken it to abortion, but that it is not. Taking a PlanB pill is not the same as taking an abortion pill, or going to a clinic or a doctor for abortion services (which, of course, I am not against, by the way). It is called PlanB for a reason, and most importantly as a backup birth control method to whatever PlanA is, like using a condom. In other words, if PlanA doesn’t work, if the condom breaks during sex and when and a woman is in the fertile zone (having sex at or near the time of ovulation), then it is possible that she could get pregnant, and if the woman would like to continue the prevention of the pregnancy, which she started with PlanA or the use of the condom (which was a way to prevent the first stage of the fertilization of the egg), then she can legally resort to PlanB thanks to recent legislation. The PlanB pill does not abort a pregnancy, rather, as I have understood it (because obviously I have used it before once or twice), the PlanB pill changes the conditions of the uterine lining so that a fertilized egg, if actually fertilized in the tubes, cannot complete the final stage of fertilization in the uterus: implanting itself upon the wall. Ideally, if one is using PlanA cautiously and wisely, then PlanB, emergency contraception, won’t be necessary. That is the goal: that PlanA will be enough.

At one point, when I considered my sexual history, I realized that I had spent many years being worried about something that I knew very little about: the human reproductive system. Due to a lack of information and my religious training, I thought, falsely, that I could get pregnant each and every time that I had sex. I didn’t have a clue as to when it was the safest for me to have sex without the fear of pregnancy. Most of the men that I knew sexually, some twenty or so years ago, can attest to the degree to which I freaked out when our PlanA method failed. If the condom broke, I was an emotional basket case until my period came. As you can imagine, that was not fun. I obsessed over being pregnant. Finally, when I took the time to educate myself about the steps that would lead me (or not) to pregnancy, I began to feel quite empowered when it came to my sexual politics. And, as it turned out, I felt much more “in charge” of my own destiny.

I think that this is one of the fears that many have about women and the use of birth control. And, regrettably, women as well as men have major fears about women and the discretionary use of birth control. Because most of us lack a coherent understanding of the female reproductive process, and a good deal of that is complicated by religious ideologies, many fear what it would mean for society, and corporations, like Hobby Lobby, to experience women who are totally “in charge” of their everyday sexual practices and politics (the ways in which sex is articulated and negotiated). What’s behind this? Religious bigotry and religious ideologies, which are often informed by patriarchal norms and societal rules about who is the rightful owner of a woman’s sexuality and thus her sexual and social choices. Show me a society where men and women are educated about the facts of the human reproductive process and I will show you a society that is truly empowered and moving forward. Men, women and everyone in between, will experience better lives if we live by the facts of the human reproductive system and not by ancient and patriarchal (serving the interests of powerful men) religious ways of thinking or flawed philosophies about when life or conception begins. It perplexes me that in spite of what we know scientifically about the human body, many, nevertheless, choose to believe that a life is complete at the point that the sperm and the egg meet. Everything that I have read to educate myself about the human reproductive system says that the fertilization process is not complete until the egg has traveled successfully down the tubes and is safely where it needs to be, upon the uterine wall. At that point, it is done and allegedly, PlanB cannot change that if it has occurred. Obviously, when it comes to sexual politics, many use PlanA to prevent the first stage of fertilization – the meeting between the sperm and the egg. If PlanA fails (usually with a condom), and if one does not want pregnancy, then PlanB must be employed. Ideally, the use of PlanB will rarely happen.

In summary, I must say that I am no medical doctor, and nothing that I have written here should be taken as personal or sexual advice, but what I have offered is a part of my story and what I had to do, including what I had to learn about my own body so that I could empower myself sexually and emotionally. The information that I have learned as an adult has helped me to appreciate the human body and the female reproductive process, which I never really learned about before, at least not as a child and adolescent. Was that information deliberately kept from me so that others would feel in control of my sexual politics and my personal destiny? Probably, but, my final thoughts are simply this: every woman should educate herself on the female reproductive process because, more than like, no one else can or will do it for her (and nor should they). Each adolescent who is able to become pregnant and each woman should know what days it is safe for her to have sex, whether she uses protection or not, with a trusted partner or not, so that she can be free from all unnecessary fears that are associated with having sex. And, most importantly, every woman who has sex with a man should have at least one PlanB pill in her medicine cabinet to use at her discretion (since it is available over-the-counter at this time, and perhaps even on Amazon), because nobody, not the Supreme Court justices, not Hobby Lobby, not President Barack Obama, not the Democratic Party or the GOP should be in charge of woman’s everyday sexual politics. There is only person who can muddle through the mess that this case and its attendant religious mores have caused, and that one person is she, each and every woman who is the rightful owner of her body and her own reproductive system, and she should have PlanB on hand for one primary reason: her’s.

© 2014 annalise fonza, Ph.D.

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