September 15, 2006

RACE RELATIONS

I've been thinking more about my post from yesterday, and I can't help but think that this simple act of buying a greeting card has encapsulated my view of race relations.

My college roommate (whom I've written about before) was afraid to walk across campus alone because she thought she'd be lynched. I am not making that up. I invited her to a party one night with some of my friends, and she kept asking me if it would be OK and if my friends would think it was weird. The next day, she said how much fun she had had and how accepted she felt. Well, duh. But she said that there was no way on earth that she would've taken me to one of her friends' parties, because none of them would've accepted me. But we white people are supposed to be the racist ones.

I always end up depressed when I watch Dave Chapelle, Chris Rock, or other black comedians. I hope it's just schtick, but they seem to roll with the idea that all white people have an inner klansman. That we all secretly hate black people and can't stand to be around them. Well, if we've given any vibes that we don't want to be around them, I believe it's usually because we're scared to death that we'll offend them. In my reality, most white people bend over backwards to never ever ever do anything that could mildly be construed as offensive or racist when there's a Person Of Color in the room. We walk on eggshells to make sure we don't say anything rude. That is what's happening today between the races: white people are scared to death of hurting black people's feelings. That's how two French kids ended up as African-Americans.

You know what the conclusion to my card buying experience was? After I walked away from the rack, I thought that I might like to get another copy of the same card. Good cards are hard to come by, and I always like to have nice ones on hand. I went back to the rack and found a black lady perusing the cards. And I walked away. I was too nervous to walk my sour cream ass up to the Mahogany section and stand side by side with her to pick out cards. I was afraid of what she'd think of me. I was afraid that, rather than having her think "Cool, this white girl thinks it's OK to send a card with a black face on the front", she would wonder why in the hell some white girl has to come into her card section when there's two whole aisles of cards for white people. I think that's what a lot of white people fear these days. I wanted her to think I was cool and hip, but I was afraid that it would backfire and make her dislike white people even more. That's why white people switch off the rap music when they stop at a red light next to a black person. That's why we don't put the collard greens back. We're afraid that the things that could possibly bring us together -- the fact that this woman and I both liked the same greeting cards -- might be used to make us look bad. And so we don't bother to reach out in the first place.

I don't have any idea what it's like to be black, but I know that being white isn't always a piece of cake. We've got a lot of crap floating through our heads every time we encounter a black person, crap that I hope someday we won't have to waste time worrying about.

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September 14, 2006

HESITATION

I love stationery and cards, so I always spend time looking for just the right thing to send. As I was looking at cards today, I came across one that was really nice. The photo was classy, the words were not schmaltzy, and it was the card I wanted to buy. But I hesitated...and then shrugged it off...and then hesitated again...and then finally bought it. I decided my hesitation would make an interesting question to pose on my blog: Would you think it was weird if your white friend sent you a Mahogany card? Or would you even notice? If you're white, would you buy a Mahogany card? And if you're black, would you send a Mahogany card to a white friend? If I send it, will I look like I'm "trying too hard to not be racist"? And if I don't send it, will I look racist?

So much social commentary surrounding one little card!

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September 12, 2006

THE BEST 5 MINUTES I SPENT ALL MORNING

LGF found a MEMRI production narrated by Ron Silver called "The Arab & Iranian Reaction to 9/11" that Johnson calls "eye-opening." If you don't have time to sit through 42 depressing minutes of Jew bashing and America hating, let me summarize the first 37 minutes for you: They hate us. But please go over there and at least fast forward to the end of the film. At 36:47, there's a final segment called Reformists. These are the people we want to hear about; these are the Muslim people condemning the conspiracy theories and lamenting that their people were involved in 9/11. Go watch them, and hope there are more of them out there and that they continue to get a voice on Arab television. Be sad that there are 37 minutes of hate-filled voices and only five minutes of sanity, but go listen to those five minutes. They're our only hope.

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COMMEMORATE

My husband suggested that we commemorate 9/11 by "doing things that would piss bin Laden off." So we had bourbon glazed pork chops for dinner and watched Team America. I drew the line at "wearing a really slutty outfit all day" though.

The internet and television were sad places yesterday. A week ago when I heard some networks were going to rerun their 9/11 coverage, I thought the idea seemed a bit weird. But I must admit that I was glued to MSNBC for hours yesterday morning. First of all, I never saw the real-time coverage five years ago (getting to class on time and all...) Watching the coverage with hindsight was extremely interesting; it was strange to know the exact minute a tower would fall and then wait for Lauer and Couric to notice it. When the second plane hit, all CNN could think was that there must have been a major problem with navigational equipment; no one could even fathom that someone had done this intentionally. So an idea I originally thought was silly turned out to be the best way to mark the anniversary, in my opinion.

I couldn't even begin to read all 2996 tributes; the ones I did read made me too sad to go on. The best part of a tribute I read yesterday? From Uncle Sam Ate My Baby, the blog where I learned about the 2996 project in the first place:

While Mercery Molina hopes that her father’s body will some day be found on the ground, I prefer to think that Manuel didn’t fall to the ground with the World Trade Center but rather that he just stepped up to Heaven from the 110th floor since he was so close anyway and just reached out and took hold of the hand of God.

What a comforting image that is. Also Angie's statement that the color of the sky in New York is "red, white and blue."

But the best 9/11 article ever written still continues to be the one James Lileks wrote in 2002.

And thus as it turns to September 12th, we can forget about 9/11 for another year. Last night my husband remarked how sad it is that people are only patriotic on the 4th of July, in love on Valentine's Day, and mad at terrorists on September 11th. He's right: we should be all of those things every day of the year.

Let's piss Osama off every day.

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September 11, 2006

THE COLOR OF THE SKY

My high school English teacher burned the first sentence of the Stephen Crane story "The Open Boat" into our brains: "None of them knew the color of the sky." I always think of this story whenever I think of 9/11 because everyone knows the color of the sky on September 11, 2001. It's usually one of the first things a New Yorker will mention.

For many Americans, 9/11 was immediate. But for some of us, busy with grad school 825 miles west of the World Trade Center, 9/11 took a while to sink in. The lessons were slow in coming for someone who had never been to NYC. I'm ashamed now of how self-centered my life seemed back then, when nothing mattered except getting to class on time.

For most Americans, 9/11 is still not over. For some families, the loss of a loved one will never stop hurting. For those who walk around NYC, the empty sky where the WTC stood will always be obvious. For some, the consequences of 9/11 are subtle but very real: the volunteers who are slowly dying from the death they inhaled that day, the children who are growing up without a parent, and the people who survived the WTC, only to be filled with guilt and anguish over living. My cousin survived the fall of the Towers, waking up in a coma weeks later. She's only now starting to put the pieces of her life back together. The effects are subtle indeed.

And for those of us who only knew about 9/11 from the TV or papers, those of us who woke up to The Way The World Is after those attacks, life will never again be about just getting to class on time.

Today, five years later, I wonder what the color of the sky is over New York City.

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FRANK PALOMBO

The hole left in the earth at the foot of Manhattan is nothing compared to the hole left in our hearts by Frank Palombo's departure from this earth.
--Steve Kennedy

When you sign up for the 2996 Project, you get an out-of-a-hat name and a photo. I stared at that photo a long time before I started my research, trying to get a feel for Frank Palombo.

PalomboFrank.jpg

All I could think about was how old-timey he looked, how he looked like a man from another era. And when I started reading about him, I realized he was a man from another era.

Frank Palombo met his wife when she was nine and he was 14 [1]. Nine years later they went on a date, and there went Frank's plans of joining the priesthood [2]. Their marriage brought ten children.

Ten children.

My heart dropped when I realized how "famous" Frank Palombo is among 9/11 victims. Major Giuliani himself attended Palombo's funeral and told his children, "Nobody can take your daddy away from you, you know that you are the son and daughter of a great man, a hero, a fallen warrior" [3]. New York Giants coach Jim Fassel has given both his money and his time to help raise the ten Palombo children, inviting them to games and eating dinner at their home [4]. But Frank's wife, Jean, doesn't want to be the famous 9/11 family; she turned down an invitation to be on Oprah [5].

I've been so impressed reading about Jean Palombo. She woke up on 9/11 thinking she was pregnant again. But God didn't bring her another baby that day; instead He took her husband. Through it all, she seems to have remained an incredibly strong woman. I want to weep when she describes her family's new life: "The children are happy because of the father they have, but they miss not being able to play with him, not being able to pray with him, not being able to learn with him, and not being able to be with him" [6].

Oh, and I haven't even mentioned yet that he was a firefighter. He was set to retire in January 2002 but instead was one of six firefighters lost from his Ladder.

Look at his photo again. Frank Palombo was a devoted Catholic and public servent. He organized youth group trips to see the Pope [7]. He loved being a father and even wanted more children. He seems more like a Greatest Generation than a Baby Boomer, doesn't he? He was like a man from a simpler time, an older generation that took pride in a strong family and a life of service to others. It's not common to find men like this these days, and I think the world is worse off for losing a man like Frank Palombo.

Remember Frank Palombo today for the simple but full life he led, a life devoted to his faith, family, and fellow men. And remember Jean Palombo and Anthony, Frank Jr., Joseph, Maria, Thomas, John, Patrick, Daniel, Steven, and Margaret Mary.

OTHERS TO REMEMBER TODAY:
Manuel Molina
Vincent Morello
Ramzi Doany
Father Mychal Judge
Mark McGinly
Scott Johnson
Robert Frank Tipaldi
Battalion 1 Chief Matthew Ryan
Chow Kwan Lam
Brian McDonnell
Zhanetta Tsoy
Chip Chan

(If I haven't found your tribute today, please leave me a comment so I can add it.)

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September 04, 2006

TALES AND LEGENDS

Yes, Jack Bauer is a fictional character. But what is the purpose of our modern day tales and legends if not moral instruction? Don't we invent heroes because we wish to emulate them in some way, because their exaggerated traits are our ideal? We don't watch 24 because we want Jack to wimp out and take the easy way to appease the enemy; we watch it because we want our inner heroes to strive to measure up to our fictional heroes.

I wrote this a year and a half ago, and I still firmly believe it:

I'm also convinced that Flight 93 would've crashed into the White House or whatever its destination if the passengers on board hadn't been raised on good old fashioned Hollywood movies. If these men and women had never seen Passenger 57 or Air Force One, they might never have thought that they could've overpower the hijackers. One of the men on board even had a Superman tatoo; they were steeped in American culture and taught from day one that they can do anything they put their minds to. I honestly believe this is what brought Flight 93 down in a field instead of in D.C., and I'm ever grateful for the bravery those passengers showed.

But would they have had the guts to do it if they hadn't seen Wesley Snipes do it first?

I'm well aware that life isn't a movie and we don't always get a happy ending. But Fabrizio Quattrocchi had a fiancee and family too, and he still had the courage to defy the enemy. I'm saying I hope I'd do the same. You don't have to agree with me, but don't insult my intelligence by reducing my very serious and heartfelt post into pretending I don't understand the difference between TV death and real death.

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VALUE

From Mark Steyn's newest on Centanni and Wiig:

[F]or the Fox journalists and the Western media who reported their release, what's the big deal? Wear robes, change your name to Khaled, go on camera and drop Allah's name hither and yon: If that's your ticket out, seize it. Everyone'll know it's just a sham.

But that's not how the al-Jazeera audience sees it. If you're a Muslim, the video is anything but meaningless. Not even the dumbest jihadist believes these infidels are suddenly true believers. Rather, it confirms the central truth Osama and the mullahs have been peddling -- that the West is weak, that there's nothing -- no core, no bedrock -- nothing it's not willing to trade.

We saw Jill Carroll on TV yesterday talking about how like totally weird it was to play along with terrorists for three months. How she was introduced to a woman whose goal was to be a suicide bomber, how she constantly reminded her captors that they were such good, wholesome people that they would never hurt her, and how she played their game until she was released.

As we watched, I grew frustrated. I told my husband that I really don't know what the survival instinct is like. Maybe the will to live can make you do things that you swear you wouldn't do when you're sitting comfortably on your sofa. But my husband and I share a thought that comes up every time someone is abducted by jihadists: "I love you more than anything in the world, but we don't negotiate with terrorists." I don't know how Carroll kept a straight face when a pregnant mother of three said she can't wait to give birth so she can become a suicide bomber. Could I play along with that, or would the look of disgust rise on my face and give me away? And is that something I would ever want to play along with even if I could suppress the disgust?

I have never forgotten Fabrizio Quattrocchi, and I keep him as an example of how I hope I would react if I ever found myself in this situation. I hope I'd stand up for what I believe in and show the enemy how an American dies. I'm saddened that Quattrocchi's family wishes he would've played along instead of giving his life for what he believed in. I know it would be far easier for me to give my own life than my husband's; I wept when Ken Bigley's family pleaded for his life because I knew I would not do the same. I wouldn't be invited on TV because they couldn't air the foul things I would have to say to my husband's captors.

I've really gotten into watching the show 24. I can't get enough of Jack Bauer, and I think I've recently come to understand why. Jack Bauer sees the big picture. He is willing to sacrifice anything -- his life or the lives of those he loves -- to do what he thinks is right to protect the US. He does what it takes to stop the enemy because he constantly keeps his eye on that 24th hour. His country matters more to him than anything else, and he's a character I have really grown fond of.

We in the West can't understand how a Muslim woman can hide explosives in her baby's bottle, but I'm starting to understand. They value their religion and way of life over any individual person, the same way Jack Bauer values his country. I hope we have many Jack Bauer Americans out there, because we in the West have to decide if there's anything worth dying for. We need to ask ourselves what we value, and how much. What is our way of life worth to us? Because I don't think we're going to get anywhere in this War on Terror if we can't find a good answer to that question.

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