Wednesday, September 27, 2017

An Open Letter

To my brothers and sisters in Christ-

I feel compelled by some things I've seen on Facebook this weekend to share some thoughts.

This country has a long history of taking issue with how black people protest & ask for their rights.

Frederick Douglass, an escaped slave who went on to become a powerful orator & abolitionist, wrote about it. Douglass’s detractors asked him to “persuade more and rebuke less” when discussing the evils of slavery. Douglass had called slavery the “great sin and shame” of America, and they wanted him to be less passionate and forthright; they felt his anti-slavery message would be more palatable to moderates if he would avoid calling it what it was.

He responded to detractors by pointing out that only struggle will bring change, saying “If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing the ground.” Agitation is never pleasant, convenient or wholly positive; think about the agitator in your washing machine or on your vacuum cleaner. It shakes everything up, yet without it, nothing would get clean. Without agitators like Douglass, slavery might still exist. Thank God for men and women who weren’t afraid to speak out. Read the rest of Douglass’s remarks here and here.

Martin Luther King Jr. also dealt with the uniquely American idea that, while peaceful protests are acknowledged to be a right, it is never a “good” time for black people to stage them (although white people can in fact stage armed protests, heck, even armed takeovers of government buildings- and get acquitted.

Martin Luther King had to address myriad complaints about the protests and sit-ins and marches that eventually changed Jim Crow laws and desegregated schools. His words to his detractors are pointed: “You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But...[you fail] to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations.” In other words, he’s calling people out for being more concerned with the agitation and inconvenience of the protests than by the injustice that spurred the protests. King says they are wrong.

He goes on, calling out moderate white church leaders. He says that they have become more of an enemy to him than the KKK and white supremacist groups, because at least the KKK and the White Citizens Bureau reject him outright, instead of feigning support that never fully materializes. He says the church leaders are “more devoted to "order" than to justice; [and they prefer] a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.” Peace, he is saying, isn’t merely pretending that everything is fine, but actually MAKING things fine. Justice, not comfort, is the source of peace. (And if you want Biblical support, do a quick Bible search for the word “justice”- you’ll find that exhortations to create and seek justice come far more frequently than those that tell Christians to stand up for an anthem or fight over a Starbucks cup).

We look back now and revere MLK for his peaceful protests and yet, at the time he was organizing them, people were saying much the same things as they are saying to black people who protest today. “Why are you so angry?” “It’s not like things are that bad”, etc. And that passage I quoted above is from “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” Full text here.

King was jailed for the protests we now look back on misty eyed, believing that we would have stood up for him, believing we wouldn’t have been like those OTHER white people, believing we wouldn’t have called him an agitator, believing we wouldn’t have been “sick of the all the drama” he was creating by endlessly beating the drum about racism and injustice.

Our black brothers and sisters in Christ and our fellow black Americans need to know that we have their backs and will stand united with them against hate and racism. If we are going out of our way to be offended by and speak out against peaceful kneeling, how are we demonstrating the compassion that they need, particularly if we said nothing regarding the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville Virginia?

If you don’t support this weekend’s NFL demonstrations, maybe have some conversations with people who do, and ask them why; have a conversation. Ask people to talk about the experiences that drive them; ask them why they feel the way they do.

Maybe do some research on Colin Kaepernick, who was the first to take a knee, and who the President called a “son of a bitch” this weekend. News articles abound explaining why he protested and what it has cost him professionally; read some and know the situation thoroughly. If you still think he should stand for the anthem, then fine, but at least you can address the situation with the empathy born understanding instead of the anger born of ignorance.

Finally, remember to love one another deeply, for as Peter said, love covers over a multitude of sins. It’s by our love for ONE ANOTHER that all people will know that we are God’s.

With much love and respect,

Sarah Ford

Friday, December 16, 2016


I have to say that hearing my students intelligently discuss literature, leadership and the legacy of American slavery was such a lovely way to end the semester. My juniors discussed Frederick Douglass's Narrative Life of a Slave, Huckleberry Finn, and a self-selected book about racism/racial identity in America. My 10th graders discussed Animal Farm, Lord of the Flies, and a dystopia of their own choosing.

I was so proud of the maturity and spirit they brought into the room and the kindness and respect they displayed in talking about some sensitive (for 11th grade in particular) material.

My heart swelled when I heard them talk (with me listening but pretending to ignore them) about the impact of seeing Kunta Kinte suffer in Roots, and of how their perspective on the evils of slavery changed after hearing Frederick Douglass's vivid description of the first whipping he ever witnessed.

My favorite comment was from one of my most influential, popular students, who had read Malcolm X's biography on his own. "Before this unit," he said, "I was the typical suburban white kid who didn't understand why people were angry about racism, or Black Lives Matter and things like that. I didn't understand where they were coming from. But now after hearing about how horrible things were for so long, I get it."

I nearly cried hearing him say that, and the best part is that he wasn't parroting me or telling me what he thought I wanted to hear; he was just sharing about books with his peers.

No More FB

Oh, hi there (spins around on swivel chair).

Why am I not posting anything on Facebook anymore? Well, I'm glad you asked that Billy.

You see, Facebook is terrible.

First of all there are WAY too many people on there from WAY too many walks of life. I don't need to see my co-worker's Instagram Christmas cards, a fellow soccer mom's pathos-drenched chain posts (which "99.99% of people won't share") and my high school acquaintance's alt-right memes all in the same place (or all?).

Second, Facebook is way too easy for all of the above to leave their thoughts publicly in a way that reflects on me. That empty field with a convenient "comment" button just begs people to leave their (unsolicited) opinions. Watching my high school best friend have a public meltdown during which she accused me of being homophobic and then rage quit Facebook was about my limit.

However, I still want to swap news and links and have my finger on the pulse of current events so I asked Kyle to disconnect my Twitter feed from my Facebook account so I can do so without all the drama.

So if you're interested, you can follow me on Twitter, if not, don't. That's the great thing about Twitter. If you don't like what I share, no need to drop your opinion into that receptive comment field. Just silently unfollow. Trust me, I won't even notice. No one reads my Twitter anyway; it's great!

Friday, December 09, 2016

Down the Rabbit Hole

So I have really gone down the rabbit hole these last few weeks. I have followed crazy links and memes shared by friends and relatives on FB and read thousands and thousands of words written by alt-right personalities, like Milo Yannoupolis and Mike Cernovich, conservatives who've disavowed the alt-right like Ben Shapiro and David French, and angry liberals like Charles Blow of the NYT, and Joy Reid of MSNBC.

Reading this stuff, particularly the alt-right stuff, was a revelation for me. As I scrolled through articles mocking the idea of consent and dismissing victims of rape as liars who don't understand human sexuality, articles that claim that racism no longer exists while claiming that OBAMA (yes, OBAMA, our first black President) "created" racism, and articles chock full of derogatory terms for a "left" I didn't even consider myself part of, things all clicked into place.

"I've heard this stuff before," I realized. From people I know. Relatives. Friends. Acquaintances. Online. I just hadn't known where it was coming from. When my brother told me that "affirmative action is the cause of racism" (an idea so ridiculous it doesn't even need to be countered) and "liberals are perpetuating racism to win elections", I had assumed he was a crazy, lone-wolf. When I shared a particularly strongly worded post-election piece, and was told, gently, that "systemic racism doesn't exist anymore, it's just the media blowing things out of proportion", I thought I was just hearing one person's opinion. But once I went down the alt-right rabbit hole, I realized I'd found the well-spring.

So THIS was the source of it all; I had wondered why so many seemingly rational and compassionate people are so convinced that racism doesn't exist, and that if it does, it is to the advantage of people of color and at the expense of whites. The answer is simple: because they have spent the last x number of years imbibing the words of a neo-Nazi agenda so close to the rhetoric of the religious right as to have become nearly indistinguishable from it.

Think about it; the alt-right and the religious right share views on abortion (wrong), Islam (wrong and dangerous), Hillary (evil and wrong), women in power (threatening and un-Biblical), gays and transgenders (perverted), environmentalism and climate change (scientists support evolution and are therefore untrustworthy).

The alt-right knew they could find common ground with the religious right, especially if they downplayed their more outrageous, racist views and emphasized their religiosity and disgust with liberalism and its slide toward Sodom-like hedonism.

And so with cleverly crafted memes, diversionary scare tactics like the "war on Christmas" (look around any mall in America and you can see that there is no war on Christmas...not anywhere...not even close, unless you count the token Hanukkah tree on the fringes of the food court as a "war"), and the subtle message that political correctness is not the antithesis of cruelty but of truth (and why should we pander to the feelings of a bunch of LIBERALS anyway?), the alt-right "stole the hearts" of the religious right, as Absolom stole the hearts of the men of Israel from his father David.

And what kills me is that I wasn't paying any attention. Oh, sure, I read the news here and there. I followed the primary and Presidential debates; I planned lessons on Huckleberry Finn and discussed the N-word with my students; I was surprised when a few of them wrote papers on on how "black people just want handouts" and "black people are more racist against white people", but assumed they were aberrations. I had students who wrote comments on articles they were supposed to annotate, like "I don't trust anything this author said, because I looked them up online and they're LIBERAL", but I embraced it because they at least had an opinion, a rarity at times in an 11th grade classroom. I didn't know.

I didn't know what dark current nourished these comments and thoughts, but I do now. I can't unknow it. The Christian right and a good portion of mainstream America has suckled at the beating heart of white supremacy. The motive may have been to repeal Roe vs. Wade, or to establish a "righteous" government, or any number of noble goals. But the road to those ends led through the boudoir of hate and many Christians are there now, either willfully blind and protesting their innocence, or insolently aware, jutting out their chins and asking the rest of us, "so what? I'm tired of this enforced, nanny-state femininity and want to be a MAN of GOD", even though they KNOW full-well who they've joined hands with in their pursuit.

As a Christian, I am ashamed.

I do understand that this logic can go both ways. I understand that just as I see the white supremacy undergirding the religious right's new preoccupation with "ending identity politics", I also know that some of my brothers and sisters in Christ believe that the "liberal media" has seduced me with its anti-Trump fear appeals. To them I would say that the liberal media doesn't scare me half as much as the writings of the alt-right. I also hear the argument that God ordains rulers and therefore I should fall in line. To that I would say the Bible doesn't say that all ordained leaders are good leaders, nor does it say that you aren't allowed to question them, so long as you are respectful. Still another argument is the fatalistic one in which America "deserves" whatever it gets because we have pushed God out of our country. But to that I would ask who you are to decide who "deserves" anything?

I can't unknow what I now know. I can't unsee what I now see. And I can't stop speaking.

Wow! (written on 11/14)

Wow. I honestly thought that Trump was a fool not to denounce the KKK and white supremacists, believing this stubbornness of his would cost him the election. "People don't like Hillary for sure," I thought, "but if there's one thing Americans are unified on, it's that white supremacy and Nazism are bad."

As for all the talk about middle America being uneducated/backward/racist, I never really credited it much. Americans, I believed, truly want to make this land a land of opportunity for all. Americans, I believed, know the difference between sensationalism and news. Americans, I believed, can see how transparently Trump lies; I mean, the guy says "I never said that!" reflexively about stuff that is still on his Twitter feed, or that we have videotape of him saying. Americans, I believed, are savvy enough to tell the lies from the truth.

Sure my Facebook feed is crawling with memes of Hillary as the devil, posts that claim to have the "smoking gun" about Hillary's involvement with "insert wild, controversial and unproven claim here", and a couple of people have seriously told me they believe she's at the center of a global conspiracy involving the media, several branches of law enforcement, and George Soros in which her crimes included murdering some 14 people, running the entire U.S. mainstream media (that includes like, every major newspaper and is she powerful, why even RUN for Pres?), but still, I thought, people KNOW that anyone can make a meme, anyone can post ANYTHING on the internet and make it look real, people know... Oh God Almighty!

I really believed that! Oh, sweet little Sarah of six days ago! You were so naive.

Saturday, November 05, 2016

Being a Trump supporter doesn't make you a racist, being a racist makes you a racist

"I'm not racist, I just love my country and I want to see Americans put first!" - How many times have we some variation of this from Trump supporters? Or what about the defensive/sarcastic "oh, I suppose I'm a racist now?!?" in response to a challenge about some incendiary comment from Trump's twitter feed? I have heard that one more than a few times.

And I do want to believe that many Trump supporters do not in fact espouse a virulently racist or sexist worldview. Who would want to believe otherwise? The alternative is to believe that your brother, or your coworker, or that sweet old guy down the block with the TRUMP/PENCE sticker on his truck is at core a seething, angry bigot.

But I am curious as to why more Trump supporters are not making an effort to speak out against racism and sexism and distance themselves from the white supremacist fringe groups that have publicly endorsed their candidate.

So I am sitting here asking myself why? Why not just roundly denounce racism?

Especially since Trump supporters often answer the charges of racism/misogyny by getting either wildly defensive (lambasting Hillary, Obama, and "the liberals") or clamming up with clenched teeth as if their honor was impugned by the mere mention such labels. Why not defend themselves of the charge of racism and sexism?

A few possible solutions/justifications come to mind immediately:

1- They are, but the media/Facebook ignores it because it doesn't fit the "narrative" surrounding Trump supporters as racist and misogynist. This is certainly very possible. A recent analysis by BuzzFeed found that social media promotes a narrative of division and outrage; in fact, they found that the less truth a story contained, the more "engagement" (clicks, likes, shares, comments, etc.) it created. So why share a story about Trump supporters standing up for the black community? The clicks aren't there for posts that aren't incendiary.

2- They are taking their cues from Trump himself, who never apologizes for anything. And since he doesn't feel the need to swear off the support of groups like the KKK, they figure they don't need to apologize for it either.

3- They feel that we live a post-racist world, one in which contempt for racism/sexism is a foregone conclusion and there's no need to defend themselves.

I am not sure which of the above three is correct, or if it's all three, or if it's some fourth or fifth thing that I haven't thought of. But what I do know is that I can refute #3. We DON'T live in world post-race, as this election has made clear. White supremacist and misogynist groups are still active; they are still running women and minorities out of public spaces (think Leslie Jones and Jessica Valenti), and many of them have unabashedly endorsed Trump.

Which brings me to my second refutation of point #3- any benefit of the doubt Trump and his supporters deserve has been gnawed away by the enthusiasm with which Trump has been embraced by such groups of deplorables.

Is it FAIR that this is the case, considering Trump and his supporters never asked for the support of people like David Duke and the KKK? Maybe not. But since when does fair have anything to do with doing the right thing?

All Trump ever had to do to put the "racist" label to bed is to denounce the white supremacists who support him; but he hasn't even done that, at least not very convincingly. When asked about David Duke's support last spring, Trump did not immediately denounce, and although he later blamed it on a bad earpiece (which, whether true or not, certainly gave the white supremacist camp the idea that he doesn't devalue their support), he didn't correct the misstep with a clear and passionate disavowal. In fact, he seemed more annoyed than anything, getting defensive and saying "I disavow, okay? Do you want me to do it again for the 12th time?" (it was the first). And recent disavowals, though handled much faster and more professionally than last spring's disavowal of Duke, still come from Trump's campaign rather than Trump himself.

A personal and passionate condemnation of racism, or an acknowledgement of the importance of all races, religions and sexes would elevate Trump's standing as a candidate and as a human being. So why doesn't he do it? Or what about asking the followers at his rallies to knock off the sexist and racist langauge? We've all heard the terrible things people have recorded at Trump's rallies, from the man shouting "JEW-S-A" at the press box, to the loud cries of "bitch" lobbied at Hillary, to the n-word and worse.

So why doesn't Trump ask his supporters to knock it off?

Similarly, why don't his supporters stand up against this behavior? In the videos we've seen of unruly racists at Trump rallies, there are usually plenty of "America loving" supporters looking on. Why aren't they saying anything? Some footage of the crowds standing up to racism and sexism in their ranks would certainly help dispel the charge that Trump's supporters are racist. Is it because they're afraid these elements are unhinged?

Probably. I think I might be. But since when is doing the right thing dependent on NOT BEING AFRAID TO DO IT?

Trump supporters: I know we don't agree on everything. But can we all agree that racism is bad? Can we agree that misogyny is bad? Can we agree that David Duke and the KKK are deplorable?

Then let's stand up and SAY SO.

Starting with you, Donald Trump.

Sunday, August 02, 2015

Toy Story 3 vs. The Brave Little Toaster

I think I am the only one in the world who doesn't love Toy Story 3. According to IMDB's movie rankings, Toy Story 3 is actually rated HIGHER than Toy Story and Toy Story 2. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 99%. And multiple people have told me that the conclusion left them sobbing.

The conclusion of Toy Story 3 seemed a shade too The Return of the King for me; the screen time it spent trying to wring emotion from me was more than it had earned. I didn't cry when Buzz, Woody & co. decide to go into the trash compactor together or when Andy bids farewell to his beloved toys and passes them on to Bonnie. I was just left with the hollow feeling that I had seen all this before.

And then I realized it was because I HAD seen it all before!

Toy Story 3 is pretty much a flashier remake of one of my all-time favorite animated movies, The Brave Little Toaster (1987).

The Brave Little Toaster is a wonderful fable about five appliances, a lamp, a radio (John Lovitz), a vacuum (Thurl Ravenscroft), an electric blanket, and a toaster, who are amazingly human.

The five friends (who feel more like siblings given their bickering, yet loving dynamic) start out in a boarded-up vacation home that hasn't been visited in years, but they still cherish hope that their "Master" will return and they will someday be useful again. They remember The Master fondly as a young boy who "played" with them and we see several flashbacks of him putting toast in the toaster, cuddling with the blanket, etc. The appliances work hard every day to keep the house clean for The Master's return, and go into spasms of ecstasy whenever they hear a car pass by, on the slim chance that it's his.

This is very similar to the beginning of Toy Story 3, where "Andy's Toys" have been boxed up for years, but are still keeping hope alive that someday they will once again be played with.

The wake-up call for the appliances comes when a "FOR SALE" sign is posted out front, forcing them to confront the fact that they've been abandoned. At this point, the appliances decide to take matters into their own hands and seek out their beloved Master.

Sound familiar? Basically the same thing happens to Andy's Toys, who are mistakenly put into a donation pile when Andy is packing up his things to go to college.

The Master is also college-bound, and we learn about two-thirds of the way through the movie that he intends to drive out to his family's old cottage and pick up the old appliances there to take to his dorm. Little does he know that the Brave Little Toaster and her friends are actually on their way to find him.

They are successful in tracking down the Master's address (which shares an address with CalArts, even down to the apartment number A113) and arrive at his apartment. Here they are greeted by an old friend, a TV who also used to furnish the vacation home. Unfortunately, he is the only one who is happy to see them. The new, modern appliances which grace the Master's city apartment are jealous because the Master is taking "some old junk to the dorm, instead of us", and they show off all of their fancy features in a song called "Cutting Edge." It culminates in them throwing the old appliances out the window, while their poor friend "Rabbit Ears" the TV looks on helplessly.

Andy's toys end up in a similarly hostile environment at the daycare. They are abused by hard-playing toddlers and restricted from the more-desired older kids by the long-time toys who have devised a kind of crony system to shut out the newcomers. Eventually, they too are put into the trash.

After being tossed out the window, the Toaster and her pals land in a garbage truck bound for Ernie's Disposal. Ernie's Disposal is a junkyard which features are large magnet whose job it is to place objects on a conveyor belt so they can be crushed and compacted into a small cube. The five appliances manage to avoid the sadistic magnet for some time; meanwhile, the old cars at the junkyard sing a very moving song called "Worthless" where they remember all of the ways they served in their lives; they reminisce about driving people to a wedding, racing in an Indy-500, cruising on the beach, commuting to work, and driving children to school on a reservation. Each verse is punctuated with the reflection that they are now "worthless." Unlike the ending of Toy Story 3, this song actually does bring tears to my eyes.

While the cars are singing their swan song at the dump, the Master has realized that his beloved appliances are no longer at the cottage, and decides to try and pick up something "cheap" to take to college. Here, the Toaster and co.'s friendship with the TV pays off, as the TV is able to give the Master the address for Ernie's disposal.

The Master comes to the junkyard and finds his appliances just as they are being lifted onto the conveyor belt by the giant magnet. He tries to get them free, but ends up getting trapped under something heavy and nearly crushed by the compactor. He is saved by the Toaster who throws herself into the gears of the machine to save his life.

The final scene shows the Master fixing the selfless toaster and tossing her and the other four appliances into the trunk of his car before he departs for college.

The penultimate scene of Toy Story 3 also features a magnet, a conveyor belt, and a trash compactor to a very similar effect. I noticed it when I first saw it in the theater, but until I noticed all the other similarities with The Brave Little Toaster, I chalked it up to Pixar's apparent obsession with giant magnets (see Wall-E).

However, once I noticed how closely the plot of Toy Story 3 mirrors The Brave Little Toaster, I realized why the movie seemed so "eh" to me; it was familiar because I'd basically already seen it. This is not totally surprising, as John Lasseter, who helped write Toy Story 3 was also involved in The Brave Little Toaster, as were many of Pixar's founding members. Wikipedia states that The Brave Little Toaster was Lasseter's first film pitch.

I don't feel like it's bad that Pixar pilfered Toy Story 3 from Brave Little Toaster, because it was essentially stealing from itself, and doing it with a bigger budget and more recognizable characters and an established franchise.

BUT- and I hate to say this, because I absolutely love both Toy Story 1 & 2- I really feel like The Brave Little Toaster is better.

It's got so much heart and soul and innocence, it's so funny, it has great characters and such great music.

If you haven't seen it, I recommend that you watch it, and see if you don't see something really special in The Brave Little Toaster. I realize that if you've seen Toy Story 3 first, you probably are going to see The Brave Little Toaster as sort of a rough draft, but give it a chance.