The Nitty Gritty: A Remotely Intellectual Review of Where Peachtree Meets Sweet Auburn

Where Peachtree Meets Sweet Auburn lays out a meandering history of two prominent Atlanta families: the Allens and the Dobbs.  

Both instrumental in guiding Atlanta toward living into its promise. Both local royalty in their own right. Both produced Mayors of the City Too Busy to Hate. 

One was white. One was black. 

Through this whopping 550 page narrative, Gary M. Pomerantz masterfully wove storytelling and history. Each page was a delight.  

Reading this tome beefed up my understanding of Atlanta history. And it laid bare the wounds of racism that, at times, have almost torn the city apart. But it also uncovered brave acts by members of each family-that lead Atlanta toward a more egalitarian footing. But the little glimpses of the BIG names in Atlanta being so utterly human—for better and for worse—are what really immersed me in the saga.   

I was completely taken with both these families. I admire Ivan Allen, Jr. wholeheartedly for the way he shifted his views on race through his life. The quiet ways he did the right thing resonated with me.  

And Maynard Jackson, Jr…. Let me tell you, I would give almost anything to zip back in time to be at his first inaugural address—to see him do what the old school white establishment said he could not. To see him win. 

But I’ll have to settle for sending my daughter to the Southeast Atlanta High School that bears his name. And that feels pretty good, too.  

Gay Isn’t an Insult.

Some kid at school “insulted” my baby by calling her “gay.” And I swear, it lit me up… like I wanted to march down to that school and give that damn kid (and every adult in the vicinity of his life) a tongue-lashing he wouldn’t likely forget.

But instead, I took a few deep breaths to calm myself (being an adult involves so much RESPONSIBILITY and a thousand measured responses, when all you really wanna do is call some kid an asshat–but I digress). And then Jane and I started talking.

First up on the agenda: gently reminding Jane that “gay” isn’t an insult. Oh, I don’t doubt for a minute that this kid called her gay to hurt her feelings and to get under her skin. But … hello…. we go to Pride every year, where we celebrate being an LGBTQ family. Some of her very, very favorite adults in the world are two women MARRIED TO EACH OTHER. I swear, I didn’t yell at Jane. I wasn’t mad at her. But I was enraged that, despite all our living into our true selves, all our conversations about being who you are and celebrating that person fully, society has somehow managed to convince her that “gay” can be an insult.

I was mad because my heart was broken.

Statistically, at least one kid in Jane’s class is likely to be gay (even if they don’t know it yet). And, lately, gay kids are killing themselves at alarming rates. I could barely hold back tears when I thought about that gay kid–whoever they might be–pondering coming out one day, then flashing back to second grade when “gay” was hurled around as an insult.

What does that kind of memory do to a kid in crisis?

But what shook me most of all is that in our little liberal alcove of Atlanta, in Jane’s school where diversity is really celebrated, a homophobic “insult” was tossed at our kid–our kid who watched her Bobby transition, who has never seen either of her parents shy away from claiming a queer identity, who loves so many people who are gay–and it cut her to the core.

Because if it impacted her that deeply, what happens to the kids who don’t have adults that tell them being gay is okay? That it’s MORE than okay. That it’s something to celebrate.

What happens to those kids?

Toxic Masculinity Can Kiss My…

I try to approach life with gratitude. I think Oprah told me to do that once, and I listen to Ms. O. Also, the AAers may have mentioned it…. So, yeah, Attitude of Gratitude over here.

The gratitude portion of today’s programming goes something like this:

I am grateful that my body is healthy and strong enough to run. Also super grateful that my foot healed–and that my incredible massage guy taught me how to properly care for my body before & after a run. Running brings my mental, emotional, and spiritual life into balance. For that, I have much gratitude. And for Spring in Atlanta… it’s beauty far outweighs the threat of impending death by pollen.

See me? So grateful. Legitimately.

Gratitude gets me get out of my own head–and helps me stop creating my own problems and my own suffering–long enough to take stock of the world around me.

As I was running through my neighborhood, full of gratitude, nose running from crazy amounts of pollen, taking in the Spring morning, here’s an ugly truth I ran right up against: toxic masculinity SUCKS.

This is not news. I get that. But there’s a direct way that it’s impacting me lately–and it has to do with my ass.

You read that right. No reason to read it again. My ass is the issue here. Okay, not really my ass… the comments about my ass while I’m running are the issue.

Right now, you’re probably thinking “You’ve GOT to be kidding me.” Nope. Wish I was.

In the past two weeks, every time I’ve run some wanker finds it necessary to comment on my ass, turn around to stare at my ass, ask me if I can run back by so he can see my ass again, make his whole group of wanker friends laugh at some lewd comment about my ass, or whistle or shout at me (always after approaching me from behind–no pun intended).

Some of these guys probably genuinely think they are paying me a compliment. Fuck that. Objectifying someone is never a compliment.

Some of them like to sexualize random situations and intimidate women. Fuck that doubly hard. Because it DOES scare me when someone catcalls me out the window of his van as he drives slowly by. And what I want to do is flick him off or tell him to fuck himself. But I don’t. Because I can’t. Not without putting myself at risk for physical violence. Men have killed women for telling them no. So what does that leave me with? Impotent rage. A need to grit my teeth and fight my way through it.

Men, you have to do better.

It is absurd that I can’t run in my own damn neighborhood without fending off lewd comments. Not one but two men today found it appropriate to comment on my body. That is fucking infuriating.

Guys, my body is not yours to comment on. Not ever. It’s not yours to ogle as I walk by. My ass is none of your business. I don’t care if you like it or if you don’t. I don’t want to hear it. At all. Ever again.

If all the events of the last 4 years hadn’t shaped me into a much more indomitable spirit than I used to be, I’d probably consider just not running.

Let’s stop there: at a different point in my life, I would have considered giving up something that brings me joy and balance, that enhances my mental health, because toxic masculinity taught guys that it’s fine to make comments about a girl’s ass as she runs by.

I will spare you the litany of profanity that this inspires.

But I will say this: If you are a guy, you have a moral imperative to do something about this. And don’t even tell me that you’d never act like this. I don’t give a shit. I know not all guys catcall women. But you have a responsibility to call out your friends, your coworkers, your brother, your dad when THEY do it. Tell them to STFU. Tell them they are assholes. And, while you’re at it, go on and tell them that what women feel when they are catcalled is likely not flattery at all but an intense desire to take a baseball bat to their car.

Or maybe that’s just me.

The Nitty Gritty: A Remotely Intellectual Review of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

I pulled this novel out of a stack being cleaned, sorted, and packaged for the bookstore. I try not to do that very often. If I did, we’d be inundated with books  (we already are, truthfully). But I’ve heard about this book since high school, and somehow managed not to have read it yet. So, out it came.

I guess I expected fireworks. The book is pretty famous, after all. But it took me a minute (or a few chapters) to get into it. And then, I was in.

It’s not a page-turning, wait with baited-breath kind of story. It is honest. And uncomfortable. It’s sweet and rough, gut-punching and tender. It’s human. Painfully and beautifully so.

What makes A Tree Grows in Brooklyn so brilliant–and powerful–is the unflinching deconstruction of deeply held notions about poverty, simply by describing daily life for the working poor. Smith constructs a compassionate (but still relatively neutral) narrator to traverse class customs and behaviors, breaking down stereotypes and offering the reader insight.

Francie, the child of an alcoholic father and a work weary mother, feels injustices deeply. She can also get “drunk” on a flower or a perfect night sky. My favorite line in the book is Francie’s: “The last time of anything has the poignancy of death itself.”

Yes! I’ve felt this my whole life, but I’ve never known anyone else to give voice to that feeling. Until now. And that might be one of the best gifts of a good book.

The Nitty Gritty: A Remotely Intellectual Review of The Wednesday Wars

Sometimes, my stubbornness pays off. This book is one of those times.

I got through one chapter of The Wednesday Wars– and I wanted to quit.

My passion is middle grades fiction. I adore it. And this book had a Newberry Honor Medal right on the cover. But I was bored. I didn’t take to Holling Hoodhood, the protagonist, right away. He kept prattling on about Treasure Island, which I’d never read & didn’t give a flying fig about. Plus, he seemed kind of whiny.

But I kept reading…

The Wednesday Wars turned out to be one of the most moving, gut-punch real feelings books I’ve read in a while. I will cop to being enamored that much of the book works its way around and through Shakespeare’s plays (the Shakespearian curses–and the big themes, too). It’s set in 1967-68, so the book also reckons with the Vietnam war and the tense political climate (A+.for being historical without feeling preachy or teachy).

I loved all those things… but  most loved that Gary D. Schmidt creates a seventh grade protagonist who likes Shakespeare AND baseball, who says stupid things AND cares deeply that he said them, who is learning AND feeling AND making the reader laugh. (And maybe cry, too.) Schmidt’s artful turns of plot and his ability to narrate with stark honesty and beauty made this book a stand-out.

We need more protagonists like Holling: boys who are sensitive, kind, brave, and real. And seventh graders need more adults who take them seriously, who listen, and who remember how hard seventh grade can be.

The Nitty Gritty: A Remotely Intellectual Review of Grant Park (Leonard Pitts, Jr)

I didn’t immediately get swept away in Grant Park’s narrative. The cover promised a lot: a thriller that critically examines race in America. The thriller part never quite delivered for me. But the nuanced look at race in America, that rang a lot truer. I’m glad I hung in for it.

Leonard Pitts, Jr. wrote columns for the Miami Herald for years. And it shows. He’s able to write characters that grapple with racial issues (internally & externally)–as well as expose the less noble parts of folks exasperated by the national conversation about race (or lack thereof). He lets you inside the heads of a successful black journalist and a kind-of-successful, white newspaper editor–both of whom are fed up with the racial tableau in America. But, because this is a good piece of writing, nothing about the two men is quite as straight forward as it seems.

As a white reader, I never felt preached at. But I also didn’t feel pandered to. Pitts showed dogged determination in giving his readers an honest look at what it’s like to be black in America. Pitts creates a narrative that demonstrates that no group exists as a monolith–not black folks, not white folks–and that we can still be redeemed. But redemption means wrestling with our own selves first, conquering our own demons. And then listening to each other. One by one. Redemption isn’t wholesale. According to Pitts, the fight might be won one soul at a time.

I Went to Demand that Georgia Count Every Vote. And I (re)Learned an Important Lesson about America.

I went to the Capitol to demand that Georgia Count Every Vote. I left with a much deeper understanding of race in America.

When this came across my Facebook feed earlier this week, I immediately cleared my schedule to go:

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I believe that protest DOES matter, that it can change things. And I’ve also come to believe that it is time for white women to shoulder a far more significant share of the burden of protest. Women of color have carried us for far too long. It’s time to step up and do work that benefits ALL women and all people (white feminism is notorious for it’s disregard for the plight of WOC, trans women, poor women).

Protests also connect me with other folks waging an internal war against the injustices in America. They make me feel like I am DOING something. Something tangible. Something real.

I marched through the streets of Atlanta during the summer of 2016 to protest the murder of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. And I believe it mattered. Seeing white faces protesting black deaths changes the narrative. This is not a “black problem.’ It is an American problem. It is a race problem. And white folks must play a role–a significant role–in solving it.

At every big march I’ve attended, with thousands of people protesting impending fascism, blatant racism, & police brutality, I’ve been aware of the potential for violence from the police. When I walked into the Capitol on Tuesday, the thought never crossed my mind. Why would it? We were there to demand that the state of Georgia count every vote. That is a concept SO BASIC to democracy that there couldn’t possibly be an issue.

Right?

The rally/protest began with a prepared statement about why we were there & what we wanted:

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I wish I knew all the social justice activists in these photos. I don’t. They’re doing the hard work on the ground, and they deserve recognition for it.

From there, we headed to the Secretary of State’s office with a demand to, you guessed it, count every vote. That looked a lot like a bunch of folks trying to crowd in an itty bitty room:

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Don’t think my claustrophobia wasn’t in high gear in this situation.

Are you bored yet? Good. Because that’s the thing… NOTHING wild was happening. People weren’t shouting obscenities. Or zip-tying themselves to furniture. But, one of the Georgia State Patrol officers was NOT feeling us being there. He muscled his way through the crowd, insisting that we couldn’t sing or chant because there was BUSINESS going on in the Capitol. (He’s right. Legally, it seems, singing & chanting is a no-go. But the defense of basic democracy is pretty serious business, too)

At that point, the officer said if there was singing or chanting, we’d be removed from the Capitol. Now, maybe it’s my white girl naiveté, but I thought “removed from the Capitol” meant kicked out. What else could it mean?

These are images of the protest in full swing. Clearly, I did not sense any danger lurking. I’m taking goofy pictures of a statue of a dead white guy & my super-cool sign, for God’s sake. Yes, people cheered. And yes, they started to sing. Singing. They were SINGING.

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This woman was the first one SNATCHED up by police. Literally. The photo is blurry because I was shaking.

I could sense the cops, especially the one who’d been on & on about the BUSINESS occurring in the Capitol, getting more tense. And then, suddenly that same Georgia Patrol pushed past me to grab the woman pictured above. I was doing the exact same thing she was. Exactly. Yet, he pushed me out of the way to grab her (roughly. Way too forcefully, since she’d been SINGING and holding a sign just a minute before). She started yelling because her purse had been on the floor next to her, and she was being dragged away from all her personal belongings. He was screaming at her that they’d get her purse to her. Screaming.

I finally pulled my shit together enough to grab her purse for her & start taking pictures. But I was hella freaked out. Hence the burry, shaky pictures.

Knowing, intellectually, that black people are more at risk for arrest is one thing. Seeing that kind of racism play out is another. And, through my head the whole time ran the refrain: What if they kill her? What if they kill her? What if they kill her? And I knew, in that moment, that I didn’t do enough. Because I was scared. But I should’ve put myself between her & the officer. Because he only targeted her because she was black. And I knew it. But I didn’t put myself between him and her. And I regret it.

This is what unfolded as I was processing my own fear & regret:

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This was all happening SO fast. This young man was in the first round of arrests. He’s not resisting.

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And, if he wasn’t resisting, why did it take SO many officers to subdue him? He was upset his glasses got knocked off his face–because he couldn’t see. And he lost his phone. But I’ve seen people behave more intensely in a grocery store checkout line than this young man.

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This is the Georgia State Patrol that manhandled the first black woman arrested (the one he pushed PAST me to get to). He did not like this woman filming/photographing him. So he yelled at her to get back. Then he put his hands on her. For no reason. At all.

None of the arrests that took place yesterday should’ve happened. But the force with which these first arrests were executed by some of the officers was frightening. And illuminating. I know black folks move through a different America than I do. I am privileged simply because of the color of my skin–and that’s some bullshit right there. But KNOWING it and SEEING it are different. And it cannot be unseen.

In the face of all this excessive force and the questionable nature of the arrests themselves, there were 2 officers that I saw trying damn hard to do their jobs with integrity. Both of them are visible in the photo of the young black man being handcuffed above. The black officer made every attempt to de-escalate an incredibly tense and increasingly volatile situation. From where I was standing (and I was close), he appeared to be patting the young man on the back to reassure him and was speaking to him in low tones in an effort to calm the situation. The white officer next to him (with his back to the camera) showed basic humanity by picking up the young man’s glasses and phone and handing them to one of the man’s acquaintances, ensuring that they didn’t get lost or broken.

After the initial round of arrests, the police presence remained tense. They were prepping for more arrests on their walkie-talkies. NOT preparing to ask folks to leave. Preparing arrest them. And arrest them they did. One after one, they paraded out black protesters. And apparently, even being a state senator didn’t offer any protection:

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But whiteness was enough to protect Representative David Dryer, who was standing right next to Senator Nikema Williams, from getting arrested. He knows it. Anyone who was there yesterday has no doubt that it’s true. Listen to him tell the story:

Nothing I experienced yesterday was unique. Not in America. The idea that somehow we live in a post-racial world grows more absurd by the day. And it is only my privilege as a white woman that has kept me from experiencing this type of police aggression and blatant racial targeting before now.

Black folks have been telling us what’s up for years. Good for you if you’ve been listening. But as racism and aggression grows in America, it’s not enough to be intellectually opposed to racism. As white people, we must become virulently anti-racism. We must put our bodies between black bodies and the aggressor that seeks to harm them. And I’ll be the first to tell you that’s going to be scary as hell. But the future of our country depends on it. Be certain of that.