Olympians

We watched the Olympics avidly this year. My son is a sports nut so we are definitely interested in watching the best athletes in the world compete at the top of their games in these games.

Those Olympics were full of stories about athletes that had come from bad childhoods, poor neighborhoods, struggling countries to somehow overcome it to make it to the Olympics. We love the story of the underdog winning in the end. At the Olympics we take a little time out from being spoonfed our daily ration of sensationalized news and reality TV. For just a little while we get to watch some really sensational reality on TV. People who work hard, train hard, and dedicate their lives improving themselves. This is the reality I want on my TV. The first ever double amputee to run in the Olympics? How many times did we hear that story? We loved it. We love it still.

We watched athlete after athlete swim faster, run harder, win more medals than ever before. When it was all over I looked ahead to the Paralympic Games to show my son what overcoming adversity and triumphing against long odds really means. We want to celebrate these athletes just as much, if not more, than the first bunch. But we won’t be given the opportunity. The sad fact is that someone, somewhere decided that we really don’t want to see much more inspiration. That we’re just not that interested in the Paralympic Games.

I read this article ,and a few others, about how little coverage that the US is getting of the Paralympics.

I am saddened and shamed by this.

The coverage of the Olympics was extremely extensive. I had 9 hour and 5 hour long recordings on my DVR every single day and we still didn’t get to see everything.  According to the article, ” NBC announced its U.S. coverage would only include video content on the U.S. Paralympics YouTube channel and five and a half hours of pre-recorded coverage airing on broadcast television.”

Five and a half hours total.

I saw nearly three times as much every day of the Olympics as will be aired for the entire Paralympics.

For shame, NBC. What are you telling these athletes, these people about their worth? What are you telling them, and us, about their place in society? You are telling them that they are less than. That they are not deserving of the same attention as “regular” athletes.

You are telling my son that his dad who is a disabled veteran who struggles everyday just to do regular things is not enough. Please don’t use any more disabled people or wounded warriors in your commercials to sell your products if you can’t offer them the decency of your attention in return.

Thanks for making it harder to teach my son that we are all equal.

Thanks for making it easier to explain what discrimination is.

We can

and should

do better than this.

UPDATE: I got mad enough to send an angry email to NBC Sports. Here it is:

To Whom It May Concern,
I am writing this letter to find out why we are being so limited in coverage of the London Paralympics. I was dismayed to read that there is only going to be 5.5 hours of coverage offered here in the US. In total. I think the disparity between the coverage for the “regular” Olympics and the Paralympics is truly unconscionable. 
Are we so accustomed to our sensationalized reality TV that we aren’t able to recognize sensational TV in reality? I like to think that that is not the case, but somewhere, someone in your hierarchy decided that we aren’t interested. That America’s Got Talent trumps talented Americans. I am ashamed of this discrimination against these athletes.
I am so angry right now.
What are you telling these athletes, these people, about their worth? What are you telling them about their place in society? You are telling them that they aren’t worthy of your, and our, attention. You are telling them that they are Less Than. You are telling them that they are not enough.
Broadcasting companies are quick to use a wounded soldier or triumphant disabled person to sell their products by tugging on our heartstrings to reach our purse strings. Please, put your coverage where your mouth is. 
I am trying to show my son that we are all equal. I am trying to teach him that his dad, a disabled veteran who struggles everyday just to do regular activities is not less than. I am angry that you are undermining those teachings.
Thank you for making it easier for me to teach my son about discrimination.
Sincerely,
Brook Hewitt
and a petition on change.org that you can sign if you’re interested and angry like I am.
http://www.change.org/petitions/nbc-give-the-same-news-coverage-to-the-paralympics-as-the-olympics

Fat. and other bad words.

People are obsessed with being skinny. This is not surprising given our unrealistic, media driven culture. I don’t want to be skinny. Personally I find very skinny people look unhealthy and wish that they would eat a bit more. The other part of wanting to be skinny is driven by the health industry. We all know how much more healthy it is not to carry too much weight. Honestly, you’d have to live in a cave not to have heard of all the dangers of being heavy. I in no way dispute that. That’s why my goal is to become more fit and strong and get down to a more healthy weight.

But that doesn’t make it okay for people to bandy about words like fat or obese.

I’ve heard Oprah say that it’s one of the last things it’s okay to discriminate against. I agree that many people seem to be harshly judgmental about overweight people and fairly callous in their use of words about it. If you wouldn’t walk up to them and talk about their fatness or obesity, then don’t, please, talk to me about it. Or talk around me about it. If you wouldn’t walk up and talk to me about my weight, then please don’t talk to anyone else about it. If you can engage me (or them) in a respectful dialogue about your concerns about my (their) health, then you’ve done a lot more to promote healthy behaviors than ever will be accomplished by name calling.

And that’s what it is.

Name Calling.

Maybe you say obese because that is a medical term and that makes it okay. Yeah, it really doesn’t.

I’m overweight. I’m heavy. I need to increase my fitness and yes, decrease my fat. But many times weight issues (too little or too much) are about far more than just eating. They are complex topics that are intertwined with emotions and power and control as well as hormones and genetics and lifestyle.

There are beautiful people of every weight, shape and size. So let’s try to be a little more aware of the power of our words. Let’s try to give each other the benefit of the doubt and treat each other with kindness first and foremost.

The Story of Norm

I wrote this essay for my gender and race class. It was difficult to write it in this way because it is in first person. But I took a chance on it and it paid off. I was very excited today when it was chosen as one of the favorites by my instructor and he read it aloud to the class. When I got it back the grade was 100/100. It’s pretty long, but I didn’t want to chop it up.

The Story of Norm

Hello. My name is Norm. I am no different from you. Actually, I am you. I have lived a long time and seen a lot of change. I tend to think I am right and everyone else is wrong. They are probably not as smart as I am either. I am very concerned with comfort and keeping things the way they already are. I am quite set in my ways and think that you should be too. My job is to try to keep “them” out and “us” in. It is very hard to change my habits. Often I will argue and fight with you to maintain my belief system and not change my behavior. But as is the case with most people, new information and a lot of introspection and discomfort later, I will change with the times. Often to the point where I can’t believe I acted the way I did way back then. I live here with you. I also have relatives living all over the world. But they don’t act like I do. They can’t help it; they don’t know any better.

When I was a younger man, I lived in Salem, Massachusetts. At that time I was mightily threatened by free thinking intelligent women. I considered it an acceptable practice to convict these women of the crime of witchcraft and burn them alive to make sure that they comported themselves properly. Of course, I would never do that now.

Before that and for a long time afterward I kept slaves. Black people were savages and not considered to be people by me and most of my friends. We were white, wealthy landowners who needed cheap labor to run our plantations and farms. I didn’t think that they could be allowed to be free. I even convinced myself that they were a danger to themselves if they weren’t protected by me and my kind. Really, it was for their own safety. And mine, of course. They couldn’t be trusted. Not only would they rise up in rebellion if given physical freedoms, they would do so if given intellectual freedoms. So I didn’t let them read, either. They had to be controlled so that their savage desires wouldn’t be allowed to wreak havoc on civilized society. It took hundreds of years and a devastating war to change my mind. Of course, I would never do that now.

Women have always needed protecting as well. They are so emotional and fragile. We never let them think for themselves. We couldn’t let them own property or make any decisions of any real consequence. They wouldn’t have been able to handle it. Their sensibilities are too delicate. They wouldn’t want any responsibilities any way. They are concerned with the bearing and rearing of children. They are so good at that and the upkeep of the home. They needn’t concern themselves with the bigger picture. It’s really beyond them. The suffragettes rallied and made those opinions almost obsolete in the 1920’s when women were given the right to vote. Of course, I would never think that way now.

It took another hundred years after the Civil War to convince me that I still wasn’t treating black people well enough. Segregation was in place until the 1960’s when Dr. King and his contemporaries were able to raise enough of a ruckus to instigate change on that front. The Civil Rights Movement finally convinced me to allow black people to integrate socially and legally with people like me. We let them, after much persuasion and argument, go to our schools and live in our neighborhoods and mingle with us freely. We even let them play on our sports teams with us. That turned out to be a good idea because they are so good at them. I’m surprised we didn’t do this earlier. I can’t believe I thought that way before. Thank goodness, I will never act that way again.

Around that same time, the Feminist Movement was on the rise. Women felt that we weren’t treating them fairly. We had given them the vote, but, apparently that wasn’t good enough for them. They thought they should be allowed to go to college and have careers. They ought to be able to choose whether or not they had children. They burned their bras as symbols of our restriction of them. I have to admit that I agreed that women’s breasts should be unfettered. I was slower to jump on board with the rest of it. Women are nurturers by nature. They are predisposed by biology and God to be less aggressive and more tender in their thoughts and feelings. They still need to be protected from themselves and the harsh world. Eventually, I was made to see that perhaps they should be allowed to make their own choices as to how protected they wanted to be. That it might be okay for them to be allowed into the workforce in greater numbers. That it would not bring about the ruination of civilized society if mother weren’t only relegated to the home. They could go out and have a career and a life outside of the home without it damaging the children of the world unduly. I know better now. I’ll never think like that again.

In the course of Northern European/American history, it has really been a good idea to look like me. As a heterosexual, Christian, white male I can’t see any reason why anyone would choose to live their life any other way. If you can be white, you should. In the past we have not tended to treat people of color very well. When we immigrated to this country, as the saying goes: we prayed first upon our knees and then upon the Indians. They of course had no idea what hit them. They were a bunch of godless heathens who didn’t even have the sense to own the land they lived on. Really, we had to pity them and help them to make a new life on the land that we gave them, one where they should try to be more like us. We outlawed their religious practices and languages in order to help them assimilate. It was for their own good. At least, that’s what I believed then. Praise God, I no longer think like that.

It takes a while for anyone new or “other” to be allowed into my society. I have a history of discriminating against Italians, the Irish, Asians-really, anybody who might look or talk different had better look out when they come here. That comedian George Carlin had a funny skit about me. He said that brown people should look out for us white Americans. He said that we mostly like to bomb countries that are full of brown people. I hadn’t looked at it that way before, but I guess he’s right. Unless you’re talking about the Japanese. They’re not brown. But I don’t do that kind of stuff anymore. I’ve really evolved a lot.

I want to take a moment to mention my relative, Norm, who lived in Germany in the 30’s and 40’s. There it became the cultural norm to practice genocide on anyone who didn’t fit within the criteria for genetic and societal perfection. The Norm there was also a white male who felt he deserved certain privileges as a result of his superior genetic makeup. He rose to power by playing on peoples’ sense of pride in their culture and also on their fear of differences. Ten million people were exterminated because they did not fit within the ideals of the cultural Norm. My ideals. Well, not mine. I would never do anything as atrocious as that. Thank goodness, we are better than that here.

We rushed to the aid of those in need and showed them that their way was not the right way. We convinced them to change their ways by use of force. This often works for us. We are powerful, strong, and will make you see things from our point of view or else. Of course, we try not to do that very often because we believe in peace. Fighting is no way to solve disputes. Everybody knows that.

I am a Christian white male. I shape the words that are used to describe the words that describe the foundation upon which our country is built. In God we Do trust. You should, too. Because even though we have separation of church and state on paper, it’s very hard to deny the permeation of our society with Christian themes and preferences. Recently, the Veterans Administration started to allow the religious symbol for Wicca to be placed on the headstones at the graves of deceased soldiers. I don’t really understand why that was such a big deal, but as long as it doesn’t affect my religious freedom I suppose it’s okay.

I am a heterosexual, Christian, white male. I am all for freedom and equality for everyone. As long as that freedom doesn’t oppose my own sense of morality. If a person chooses to be gay, then that is okay for them. However, I don’t want to see it. Those people should try to pass as the Norm that we all aspire to be. As long as we all pretend that it isn’t going on, then I can ignore any inequality that might exist. Since, after all, I can only see things from my position of power and privilege as a straight, white, Christian male.

I’m really happy to celebrate the many strides that we have made in the fields of equality and justice for all. We have virtually eliminated discrimination in all it’s forms. Black people are afforded all the same opportunities as us white folk now. I wish that they were better able to understand what to do with all this freedom that they now have. They all seem to be poor unless they are a rapper or an athlete. It seems like they are always shooting each other or doing drugs. You’d think that they would be more appreciative of what they’ve been given.

I am so proud of where we have come to over the life of our Great Nation. It’s so relaxing to be past all of that struggle and strife. Now we, the Norms, are able to settle back into our comfortable lives again. It’s really very nice to be Norm.

“In Germany they came first for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up.”

— by Martin Niemöller

Hello. My name is Norm. I am just like you.

and here I thought we’d come so far

It’s been a while since I’ve encountered blatant racism in real life from a person I know.

I know it exists. I wish it didn’t, but we can see that it does. I see it on TV. I see it occasionally in a broad sense.

Toward the end of spring term last year there were a couple of black men in the parking lot of my school who seemed to fit certain stereotypes people have. They got in their car and left. By some amazing coincidence a patrol car happened to roll through that little corner of the parking lot about a minute later. Just checking, right? The police were not acting in a manner that suggested they were actively pursuing anyone (which I assume would be the case had someone actually witnessed these men perpetrating a crime of some sort). Someone assumed that these men were up to no good and called the police to report it. In this case, I know racial stereotyping happened but do not know by whom or any of the details. It saddens and disappoints me, but I can sweep it under the rug in the back of my mind because there isn’t really anything I can directly do to change it today.

I grew up in Los Angeles. Mostly what I learned from that is that people are people no matter what their skin color. The fact that the melanin in your skin is more concentrated than mine has no effect on whether you are an asshole or not. I remember my mother saying, “I’ve been mugged by a white man, a hispanic man, and a black man. There are bad people in every type.”

I suppose I’m lucky that the people I surround myself with usually either are not racist or are very good at hiding it. I am realistic enough to know that we cannot change the way people think or feel inside if they do not want to change. Ideally we change the way they think, but failing that we can damn sure change the way they act.

It hurts my heart to hear people say the N word. (I cannot even type it out. It’s such a hateful word.)

Words have power. Words have power because we give them it. If I did not believe that I would probably not be typing right now. I don’t want anyone to use that word. I recognize that since this originated in slavery, many black people have taken that it back for their own use. I can see why that would feel liberating and necessary in the process of overcoming the history of slavery in this country. But for me, calling yourself a name before someone else can does not negate the bad undertones of the word. It does take the power from the original intent of the word. But it seems to me that casting off the shackles inherently embedded in that word would be a better use of our word power.

In this day and age I thought we all knew that while I wish no one would use that word, only black people are allowed to use it. It’s theirs now. To use or not use as they see fit. Because white people had the use of it for far too long and we have lost the use of it. I am surprised and appalled and offended when I hear it. It is such a charged word that it’s pretty much impossible to say it in any way that isn’t offensive. (Perhaps in academia, but even then it’s a tricky thing.)

I also know that it’s hard to see discrimination if you aren’t on the receiving end of it. Subtle little things that a person might not notice unless they happen often enough to be a pattern. One little sidelong glance means nothing. One little sidelong glance repeated ad nauseum throughout your day, your week, your life? These little (and not so little) things add up.

I work everyday to improve myself and to try to better the world around me, even if that is only in small ways. I read a lot. I admit to being an information junkie. One of the things I’m always looking for are small ways to facilitate change. I read somewhere that if you do not speak up when you are with a group of people who are doing something you don’t like, you are condoning it with your silence. Even if you do not participate in it, you are not trying to stop it. Criminals often will say that they did not kill someone so they didn’t do anything wrong. But they can be convicted of the crime of going along without trying to stop it. It makes you an accessory. It allows the perpetrator the power to do as he pleases because there is no opposition. No one says, “This is wrong and I won’t sit by and watch this.” It is the very least you should do.

In the case of less murderous situations:

I will not laugh at your racist joke. I hope that you are uncomfortable when your “joke” falls flat. I hope (because I am still not that brave) that you pick up on the message I’m sending. This is wrong and I won’t pretend it isn’t.