why “blackface” is a problem,… but only black?

When kids dress up for Halloween, sure, they’ll paint their faces to become an animal, wear a mask, or add appendages like tails or antennae that they don’t have.  They’re dressing like other species.  When kids dress up to be human-like characters, say from a movie or cartoon, or even a celebrity, they adopt the clothes and accessories necessary to be recognized as that character or person.  They are already a human being, so they can alter things that are socially acceptable to alter: clothing, hairstyle/wigs, jewelry, etc.

NOT their racial identity.

I’m sure I don’t have to go through the history of the United States to explain why the color of someone’s skin has been used to single them out or embrace them with open arms as an equal.  Racial tension still exists in this country and throughout the world.  Furthermore, light-skinned Americans are shoveling over dollars to go to tanning beds or laying out on beaches weekly to risk cancer for darker skin.  On the other side of the world, like in India, women are paying to bleach their skin to a Caucasian white.  Skin color still equates to social status, no matter how jumbled the message is getting.

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Above: In the United States, L’Oreal sells the tan Caucasian look; in India, the same company pushes the appeal for Asian women to look “white”.

Skin tones have historically been a way to segregate people, and, as a result, they can be ways to unite people who struggle the same struggles.  However, civilized society should strive to move away from these racial stereotypes and identifiers and instead focus on the individual and his/her identity.  Identity shouldn’t come with a Behr’s color palette.

Ever since I was a little girl, I used to argue with older generations that skin color wasn’t black, white, yellow, brown, and red (if those are even accurate groupings anyway).  I would always argue that skin color is a spectrum, and even certain colors don’t mix the same way those on an artist’s palette mix. Genetics can come with surprises.  But when we see the world in very restrictive color palettes and racial labels, ones that don’t take into account ethnicity, social-economic statuses, citizenship, and actual culture, we are once again emphasizing an outdated viewpoint on identity.

So, back to Halloween: The skin color of a Trick-or-Treater shouldn’t have to be an identifier for what “costume” he or she is choosing.  Part of that is because race is not a costume.  Also, at what point do we decide “Oh, that character is like, half a shade darker than me – I need make-up!”  Sure, Avatar Blue is one thing because that’s not “human”.  But should a person have to paint his or herself black to be Obama?  On the flip-side, should a white person feel he or she can’t dress as Obama because he or she isn’t black?  (HELLO, Obama is ALSO white…Why can’t we see that part of him too?)  And, finally, does that mean a woman cannot dress as a Obama without a sex change? ————– No, I don’t think it’s any different.  “Race” is something you can’t change, something society (include police forces) currently identifies by a visual assessment.  Likewise, sex is predominantly identified biologically.

So about Blackface.

What is it?  Well, what it sounds like.  “Blackface” is when a non-black/lighter-skinned person paints his or herself dark (and possibly with stereotypical “black features” like large red or pink lips) to pretend to be…”black”.  There is no concrete date for the origin of “blackface”, but it was notorious for its use in theater starting in the 19th century.  Ah, yes, the Jim Crow era, the times when blacks were gaining more and more rights (albeit snail-slow) as human beings.  Slavery, lynching, segregation…and, in theater, blacks were the center stage.  Except, not actual blacks.

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Blackface in theater was an excellent way for white people to mock blacks for black stereotypes.  Imagine all the dehumanizing things white society could have possibly done or said to black people during these eras and you can imagine the foul things that showed up in white-ruled comedy.  However, to make this work effortlessly, white people were hired to paint themselves as black people.  Otherwise, how could we identify the “less-than-human” as he or she fell victim to the splendid white cracks at these oppressed racial categories?

Knowing the history of blackface and the atrocities that accompanied it will probably help you understand why it was once a horrible practice.  However, the foundation that “blackface” was built on still exists.  Just because we would like to view our society as “free” does not mean “blackface” is a freedom of speech.  It is founded in literally the same segregation principles as in decades and centuries before, and it is a means of segregation.  While wearing “blackface”, or being racist, or demonstrating in the KKK may not be illegal, because of freedom of speech, that does not mean they belong in civilized society.

Can you understand why dress up as a shot Trayvon Martin – in blackface – is so many levels of wrong, racist, and disrespectful?  Because this totally happened:

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Maybe, just MAYBE if racial segregation by skin color hadn’t been a historical and systematic way of trampling other people to get ahead, then just MAYBE “blackface” and whatever-else-face wouldn’t be wrong.  But skin color has been and continues to be too connected to social status, so painting your face as another “race” IS wrong.

EXCEPT.

Except
except
except
except
except
except….

If you’re a sports fan.  #TELLMEWHY

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Or if you don’t even have that excuse, but call yourself a…”hipster”???  (Below: seen at Bonaroo)

indian

“Red” stands for blood.  “Red” stands for the “pelts” of slaughtered indigenous peoples, peoples who were labeled as merely “Indian”, and “pelts” that gave white colonists cash rewards from the government.

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This is wrong because it is REDFACE.  This is even more wrong because  of its historical context (“pelts” = GENOCIDE).

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Tell me why this is “socially acceptable”?

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Do me a favor, and if you ever see, call it out.  The only way it should be “tolerated” (I say that LOOSELY) is if the person flat out admits to being an informed racist…

language and the “tradition” dichotomy.

Words are powerful.  If they weren’t, we wouldn’t have so many of them to fit so many nearly-the-same-but-distinctly-different definitions.  If word choice didn’t matter, we wouldn’t strive so hard to land the perfect language for a speech, for mediating a situation, for writing an essay, or for nailing an interview.  Can you deny that the importance of selecting our words in these situations is of utmost important?  I sure can’t.

I think about the importance of word choice in everything I do.  Even if I sit down to this blog to write about a mundane topic or the environment or what have you – I am still constantly aware of generalizations, the words I choose, and how the combination of these things affects the way my message is delivered and subsequently received.

Language is so undeniably important, and yet it is also disrespected to prove petty points.  When I wade through law to pull apart issues of land desecration and environmental rights, language means everything because of the interpretations it may or may not elicit.  When I write about indigenous rights, language also has a powerful impact – from topics regarding traditions, to mascots, and especially to cultural appropriation.  It seems like you can’t write about these topics without taking care for the language you use.  And yet language is often slandered for being overtly “PC”, as a mechanism to walk on eggshells without “offending the weak and fragile”.

That, to me, is pure hypocrisy

Are we selective with our selective word choices?  Do we only use caution to assure personal gain, like in an interview, then act rash to defend things we don’t want taken away from us regardless of what rights we have to protect it?

Those of us who recognize how something can so unfortunately symbolize a damaging remnant of American history can see the power of the”rebel flag” to those affected by its history.  Perhaps these same people can see the dehumanizing elements of Native mascots used by predominantly non-Native society.  Surely we grasp that using certain words, like “retarded” or “redslur” or “n-word” are easily avoidable, unnecessary labels that cause more damage that good from their uses.  Yeah, being politically correct is a pain, but since when was being “PC” derogatory rather than simply respectful.

I see how my Facebook community lights up at acts of courtesy, like holding a door open or paying for the next person’s order.  I see how they spread the word of what they may call “Christian deeds” and post memes about “the old days” and having “no hope for the future”.

Newsflash: The “old days” weren’t very inclusive, and political correctness is one way to overcome this.  So, by bashing political correctness, you’re creating a kind of hypocrisy, aren’t you?

Language certainly has an enormous impact on how we interpret, perceive, and understand something.  And I have see how crucial this is in human rights battles, including those to remove race-based mascots.  It seems like the most vehement arguments for keeping them pertain to “tradition” and “culture”.  But whose traditions and cultures are they, really?

The Merriman-Webster dictionary – or course, I’m going there – defines tradition in two ways.  The first is as an inherited religious or social custom passed down through actions and behaviors.  The second is the oral tradition do passing down beliefs and customs.

The dictionary also defines culture as customs, beliefs, arts, – sure, even sport and athletic forms, that a particular society makes as a way of life, thinking, behaving, or even working.

When I think of arguments to keep the Cleveland baseball mascot “tradition”, of course this seems illogical to me.  How can you call this tradition?  We actually call baseball the American “pastime”.  Well, by definition, a pastime is merely just that: something pleasurable to pass time.  It has been a part of the very young “American” culture for an even younger amount of time.  It has been racially and gender exclusive for an even smaller amount of time.  Just ask Hank Aaron.

An example, however, of tradition and culture in sports would be the Haudenosaunee and lacrosse.  Yet high schools in New York – Haudenosaunee homeland – play this sport with mascots that are racial slurs against the people who have worshipped this adopted sport as their very tradition and culture.  One that actually meets dictionary standard.

Language is powerful, and to me these arguments are so transparent that I mourn the severe lack of fundamental understanding of the situation that the opposition I face evidently has.  I mourn the resistance of political correctness in a country that boasts about freedom and whose citizens long for the “good ole days” of respect while simultaneously dismissing the way modern society embraces one another lovingly.  I especially mourn the emphasis we put on athletics, particularly National teams.  Because, in the true tradition of this land, sports served as a way to discipline each other and stengthwn ourselves both physically and morally.  Today, in mainstream society – it has become a place where language is not used with discretion, where the individual profits, and where the true meaning of “tradition” gets buried in an uphill struggle to not respect the opinion of another’s defense of his/her actual culture and tradition.

change the name.

The “mascot issue” is a completely tiresome topic.  I feel like I have reiterated, time and time again, the need to change the name and change the mascot.  It baffles me that people continue to not get it, ignore the situation, or, worse, continue to wear gear with Chief Wahoo and “Indians” on it.  When you do that, you’re saying “it’s okay – it doesn’t affect me.”  And sure, it might not affect you to the gross intensity that it affects the people targeted by the racism, but it should still affect you.  You should still be a human being, therefore you should be appalled by inequality.  And if you’re white (or part white) and you feel attacked by issues of racism, then turning a blind eye is only perpetuating the colonized attitude that it’s “not an issue”, perpetuating how the non-indigenous opinion is still considered the only valuable one.

Tomorrow, thousands plan to gather for the Opening Day of the Cleveland MLB team.  Dozens – maybe hundreds, who knows? – are also planning to gather in protest of the continued mascot issue.  But it’s not just an issue about a picture and a name; it’s about the symbolism, the racism it perpetuates, and, in my opinion, the most important thing: the health of our youth.  I could spend a lot of time reiterating the history of the hundreds upon hundreds of indigenous nations who have been victims of genocide and broken treaties, but I don’t want that to be my focus today.  I shouldn’t have to go through that history every time to make my point.  The takeaway from the historical point-of-view is: The US government has a dark history of genocide, the indigenous nations have been continually marginalized, and to this day we are lumped together as a singular dying race, represented by inaccurate, disrespectful, and even blasphemous symbolism.  Today, I want to focus on the most common counterpoints to our cause that folks ignorant of the reality tend to use as justification for their actions.

THE HONOR ARGUMENT: It’s honorable.  We are honoring your people.  We are honoring Sockalexis.  You should be proud.

There’s nothing honorable in being dehumanized, especially when you say “stop” and you’re being blamed for speaking out.  “Our people” are the Dine, the Anishinaabe,…names that you probably don’t even know.  That’s because “our people” are hundreds of peoples, with our own languages, with our own names for who we are.  The tribal names you give us are often not even what we call ourselves, and many of them have dark origins.  The point is, you can’t honor something you don’t understand.  And, if you really want to honor something, don’t make a caricature of it, perpetuate a racial slur as being “okay”, and encourage fans to grotesquely stereotype and misrepresent who an “Indian” is.  Especially don’t do it to make disgusting amounts of money off of a sport and off of alcohol.  Honor the truth, and respect it.  Respect the peoples and their rights.  When they say, “That offends me”, realize they’re hurt and that the only way to fix it is to listen.  THAT is the way to respect.  Telling us what should make us proud is NOT.  That is YOU being prideful, or, at the very least, incredibly misguided.  What honor can we feel when people dress up and “play Indian”, then stand in shock when they meet a “real Indian” and ask to take a picture?  Like we’re a dying or mythological being that they can’t believe exists in the modern world?  Furthermore, the Sockalexis story is a cover-up and not true.  What IS true about the origins of the baseball team name (and mascot) is they were founded in a time when racism was widely accepted as the “norm”.  When the newspaper could publish things like this to put a smile on the faces of Cleveland fans:

THE CLEVELAND PRESS

January 18, 1915

Now that the Naps have been re-nicknamed the Indians, we hope they will become very Indian-like and wake up. A series of real indian war dances is what the Cleveland fans want next season. Let’s hope the team will be equal to the task, even if not equal to winning a pennant. The spiders are to remain the Spiders and, with spidery Jack Knight at their head, ought to show better than they did last season. The Cleveland ball club was anxious to get a nickname that couldn’t be converted into a joke. Indians delighted Vice President Barnard. “They won’t be able to poke fun at the Indians,” said Barney. Oh, no, but wait until they begin to lose and see how soon the fans will dub them the “squaws”.

NOTE: “Squaw” is an offensive term for Native American women.  It basically lumps all Native women together as being heathen whores, and yet – to this day – “squaw” is used for place names, and I have even been called it myself.  In 2015.

To read the complete documentation of the name selection in newspaper history, check out the collection put together by the Committee of 500 Years of Dignity and Resistance: http://committeeof500yearsofdignityandresistance.com/history.html

The origins aren’t honorable, and as I’ll continue to explain – the names and mascots are still not honor.  And, furthermore, we don’t need a sports team to teach us how to respect and honor ourselves and each other.  That idea is simply atrocious.

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On the left is Robert Roche, confronting a baseball fan in Cleveland in the exact stereotypical, blasphemous dress that perpetuates these images.  Ironically, a comic on the right seems to foresee this exact standoff – yet it was drawn over 10 years before the picture was taken.  It’s a large, non-indigenous man guzzling beer, wearing a chicken feather headdress and random paint, “Go Savages” and “Kill Em” on his stomach, telling the completely “normally” dressed Native in front of him that he is honoring Natives.  Ahem…

THE REPRIORITIZE ARGUMENT: Don’t you have bigger things to worry about?

We don’t need people who aren’t even taught proper American history to tell us what our problems are.  We live it every day.  What we also live every day is feeling invisible.  A lot of people, in my experience, like to chalk up our arguments for sovereignty as some kind of “racist” movement.  That just demonstrates how ignorant they are on the diversity of our communities and why they exist.  Race is a western concept.  Biology is a western concept.  In fact, if there’s any “race” viewpoint at all that is broadly accepted across our hundreds of different indigenous peoples in North America, it’s the idea of “mitakuye oyasin” – or “we are all related”.  We are all of the “Five Fingered Clan”.  Indigenous peoples understand their places in the planet and in the ecosystem, so that’s why we are the first to defend the land.  Indigenous peoples respect their resources.  They are stewards of the land, having only 20% of its surface area but hosting 80% of the world’s biodiversity.  They’re not “hippies” and “animal lovers”, as often stereotyped – indigenous peoples haven’t lost touch with the reality of Mother Nature having the last say.  Our creation stories tell us our lands are sacred to us the same way lands like Israel and Mecca have religious importance to others, yet our lands continue to be exploited and our voices are ignored.  Our stories don’t tell us “Indian”, “Asian”, “European”, “African”.  They tell us the origin of our people, our nation, our tribe.  But I digress.

My point is, indigenous peoples have a much different view on where we all come from and who we are, so calling us racist for standing up for our rights to be sovereign nations – essentially making tribal lands our own countries – is perpetuating the issue.  It perpetuates how we are lumped together.  Once we lose our identities as individual peoples with our own stories, histories, cultures, and beliefs, we are stripped down to simple “Indians” with that “heathen-like” indigenous way.  We are forced to adapt western views on who we are, including blood quantum rules that perpetuate and transpose the western concepts of race and identity on our cultures.  In other words, the new majority is telling us who is and who isn’t allowed to be us.  Why is all of this important?  Because when we look at the outside world telling us who we are, we see imagery like mascots and old western films, pieces filled with blatant disregard for our humanity.  If we exist, we only exist on the mystical reservation.  We aren’t seen as doctors and engineers and teachers passing you by on the street every day.

We are often mislabeled as other races, or tested when we identify by our nations.  I often get this test – like some kind of checklist.  Are you enrolled?  What’s your blood quantum?  Oh, you do have high cheekbones.  Oh, but your eyes aren’t black – you can’t be more than, what, a quarter?   I don’t need other people weighing in on my “Indianness”.  Many of us have these internal struggles already, feeling like we aren’t enough for our people – or that we’re too different to be accepted by those who aren’t part of our culture.  It’s hard enough trying to live in a competitive world and have the career you want while still being culturally active.  It shouldn’t be that way, but you find yourself making a lot of choices.  Youth, in particular, make choices on whether or not to “leave home” – and often times it ends up being for good.  This is called the “brain drain”, and nations are working endlessly to defeat it.

Those who are aware of the realities of reservation life – especially amongst those groups who have been forced to “remove” – know that many of these communities are toxic environments for the youth.  They ask questions like “Why don’t you just leave?”  I was asked this once by a person whose father came from Poland.  I said, “If Germany invaded Poland and called it New Germany, and the Polish were forced to speak German and become German and destroy all things that made them culturally Polish, would the answer be for them to just leave?  To just get over it?”  I don’t like throwing other groups of peoples under the bus to make my points, but I thought that example offered relevant perspective as to why youth don’t leave, or don’t want to leave.  But the reality of conditions on many reservations makes it incredibly hard to survive.  The youth are our future, so we are well aware of how much protection we have to give them.  That is why it matters to us how they view themselves.  In a country that already has and continues to marginalize their peoples, where they live in poverty with high rates of suicide and substance abuse, etc., any negative opinion of who they are from the “outside” world is of course only going to worsen the situation.  Thus, when the image of the dying brave is plastered as a singular identity for all of these youth in a world that already challenges them, of course it will negatively impact them.  And negatively is an understatement.

Consider how many organizations (including the American Psychological Association) have joined the anti-mascot cause in solidarity to the harmful effects on Native youth and community.  And, rather than me reiterate all of the facts, take the time to read this thorough documentation on why the mascot issue is an enormous microcosm of all Native suffering and maybe you’ll realize why so many Nations have released official statements against these mascots: http://www.changethemascot.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/DrFriedmanReport.pdf

THE OVERREACTION ARGUMENT: Why now?  Why can’t you just get over it already?

The Cleveland name has been in place for 100 years now.  Indigenous peoples weren’t even considered US Citizens until 1924, after its use.  Boarding schools for assimilation were still in operation throughout the 1900s.  The Termination Era from about the 1930s through the 1960s caused many of our parents to lose recognition of their tribal citizenships.  Remember, our nations are sovereign nations.  This country was founded on that promise, despite the hundreds of treaties the US government has broken to carry out its genocide and assimilation.  As the Civil Rights for blacks came underway, Natives slowly began getting a voice in the public as well.  Religious freedom and rights started to become written law in the 1970s, but even to this day we are still fighting for religious freedom.  In 2015.  In our homelands.  The question is not WHY NOW, but WHY STILL?  We can’t get over who we are.  And the only peoples who have ever “given up” in our indigenous histories are the ones who have been exterminated completely and therefore can no longer stand up.  Asking these peoples to “get over it” is asking them to erase who they are, what they believe, and everything that makes up a person – especially after all of the hardships their ancestors have gone through and they continue to live through in order to provide this free country to Americans.  We have been continuing to not “get over it” since 1492, and that’s why (most of us) are still here.  In case you thought we really did all die out.

THE OTHER MASCOTS ARGUMENT: What about the Fighting Irish?  The Pirates?  The Vikings? The Fighting Sioux? The high school teams?

Mascots are chosen to show aggression.  Mascots are generally vicious animals or creatures, or sometimes dishonorable professions.  So, in the example of Pirates or Vikings, or Raiders, – those are all professions with a clearly aggressive, ruthless reputation.  There are also the Cowboys – an American profession and icon.  The Fighting Irish uses a leprechaun and was created by Notre Dame, a school founded by Catholic Irish – so maybe there are some offended leprechauns in Ireland.  As for the Fighting Sioux, it’s not endorsed by the many groups that make the Siouan people – no need to go into the past and present hardships of the various peoples the name and logo stereotypes.  The fact that the R-word is used at all completely flabbergasts me, and I remember being lied to as a kid that No, it doesn’t mean us, it’s a nickname for a football – the mascot’s just coincidence.  But perhaps the argument that really pisses me off is when people make an argument for not being “too politically correct” and end up proving my dehumanization point – and still don’t get it!  Recently, someone asked me what we’re going to do if we change the R-word to The Worms – then all the activists are going to cry that we’re squishing the little wormies?

Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t realize that saying, “Stop calling me a racial slur and dehumanizing me!” equated me to a worm being thrown underfoot.  THANKS FOR PROVING MY POINT.

At that point, I was done trying to make my point.  There are some people that are just too stuck in their ways to realize when they’re wrong, when they’re disrespectful.  They can’t swallow their pride and admit to their mistakes.  Kind of like elderly people who still can’t accept black folks as equals.  They’ve been trained to accept inequality.

The truth is, we shouldn’t need to be saying, “well what about this?  Well what about that?”  Look at the issue for what it is.  If one thing is right or one thing is wrong, then it will be addressed in its own time, using the same principles of respect.  Once you understand the issues at hand, it will no longer seem like a senseless battle for political correctness.

Trust me – I do not like making people dislike me for my opinions, and I am certainly not one to stand up and cause a raucous.  But, when it comes to this issue, and when it comes to our food system and our water problems, these are things we cannot ignore.  These are all issues that revolve around respect, and I was taught that respect is one of the highest things to have.  I’m not sure what’s happening in these last few decades that people seem to be losing that mentality, but respect to me is the highest form of honor.  If we cannot respect culture and human rights, just as if we cannot respect the planet and our dependency on its resources, then how will we ever coexist?  How will we ever survive?  Rather than preferring to assimilate cultures and ideas, we should be respecting their diversities and their inherent rights to exist.  Regardless of your background, your religion, your experiences – respect should be a common language.  I speak out against racism, homophobia, and other forms of human mistreatment just like I speak out against the exploitation of this planet.  Educate yourself, swallow your pride, and start respecting our differences – and change the name.

motivation is such a fickle thing.

This post hasn’t been well thought-out or anything.  I’ve just been frustrated a lot lately and felt like ranting a bit.  I don’t think I’m alone, especially with the winter season here now.

I officially moved into my new place in September.  Around that time, I had a TON of unpacking to do and also a lot of planning.  I had just decided I would be flying to Hong Kong in 2 months and I had $2,000 to raise.  Needless to say, I was using my time to scramble.  I had to finish painting so I could at least push my furniture against the wall, then I had to sort through boxes and unpack.  And I’ve lived alone since 2011 so I have quite a lot of things to unpack.

Well, with the trip coming up, my fundraising prioritized slightly.  I was going through my boxes of books and selling things online, setting up an Amazon account and having to deal with issues with my bank to make the thing work out alright.  I went to a few events and raised funds there.  Also, I was planning a trip to Orlando for National Conference (AISES) – and we’re not talking like it was last year when I flew to Denver and just did whatever.  I was just a volunteer that year.  No, this year I was a volunteer, a judge, a presenter, a chapter member, a student chaperone/assistant, and a networker.  Plus, I drove.  And so that also took money, which meant all September and October I was working overtime, then November I was traveling.

So my place is still at least 5 to 10% unpacked.

My kitchen cabinets are 70% finished and have sat like that since September.

And then I put things up and they come back down.  Like my curtains.  I took the time to hang them and my cats took the time to rip them back down again.  Twice.  Or the Christmas tree that was eaten twice before I finally established a “NO!!!” basis with the cats…but that still hasn’t managed to uncover my lost star tree-topper, or the cat collar that somehow vanished in the chasing process…

Oh, and the excellent caretakers….like the ones who drove the plow truck into my garden units and smashed my boards to pieces.  Or the idiots who did a repair to my gutters (which still, by the way, don’t work) and so now my basement still floods and my back porch got smashed by a backhoe.

The people who came to replace a pipeline in my yard, tore up my grass and gardens, and made a mucky mess out of the sidewalk.  Which is now solid ice because someone thought plowing it a little and letting the snow melt in the sun was a good idea.  So I nearly wiped out 10 times last night.

The mailman who doesn’t mail my rent checks, so I find them 10 days later in my mailbox.

Well, at least I finally have heat.  It doesn’t seem to work right, but my place is generally around 60 and I’ve stopped showering at LA Fitness because I actually have hot water now.

All of these little things going on and it’s so hard to come home from a 10-hour work day, walk into a semi-warm house, and say “I’m gonna clean this ALL UP right NOW!”  It just doesn’t happen.  I might sit down on the couch and suddenly find myself waking up, it’s 2am, and I haven’t eaten dinner.  So what about my workout schedule?  Well, that’s been pretty terrible, too.  I used to run all the time and it felt good, but suddenly I was feeling like running was a burden.  I don’t like running on the streets with cars passing or guys whistling or something stupid, so I’ve felt trapped.  I’ll go to the gym at 5:30am, but with hockey most nights now I can’t possibly get home at 1am and expect to be working out in a few hours.

I’ve been lucky lately because I’ve forced myself to try a new thing: Nike Plus “Coach”.  I went for a 3.6 mile run last Sunday while the weather was still decent.  I realized I needed to get back into this running.  5Ks used to be so easy – even 10Ks.  I want to run a full marathon someday and realize I had been close to running it when I did my last 1/2 marathon, so why slack off now?  It’ll be harder to catch up later.

My Coach function allowed me to choose “Marathon” as my training goal.  I’m not saying I’m gonna go through the whole thing and actually run that Marathon when it says I will, but I’m going to stick to it as much as I can for as long as I can.  Partly, I want to do this because it will bring me through this cruddy months when I usually drop my mileage anyway.  I hate treadmills, I hate running indoors unless I’m sprinting on a track.  That’s just by the nature of the sports I did: Fall XC and Indoor/Outdoor Track.  And I always trip on treadmills.  It’s pretty uncoordinated and bad.

With my “Coach” telling me to get out and run, I have logged over 10 miles since Tuesday this week and am about to go to North Chagrin Reservation to log another 5.  Yeah, it’s been icy and in the 20s, but the Coach just wants to see you try.  It’s kind of nice to hear a voice say “Halfway there!’ and “Congratulations!  You finished your goal!”, followed by a recording of an actual star athlete complimenting your work.  And I’ve slowly come to realize that a 3 mile run is really only 20 minutes out of your day.  I could kill 20 minutes just looking at my Tumblr feed and, while Tumblr tends to be my source of “news” considering I follow a very trendy, outspoken friend, it’s not at all as useful as spending that time accomplishing something.

My Coach says I can run a Marathon by May 31st on the plan, so maybe I’ll look into running one this summer. If nothing else, sticking to the plan through the winter is the first inkling of motivation I’ve had for a long time, and just in time too.  These months are rough ones here in the Lake Effect Snow zone.  But I love snow, so I won’t complain.

The Small Farm Crisis in America.

My mom texted me a few months ago.  “Dave’s selling his cattle.  He’s going beef now – can’t make money anymore in dairy.”  That hit me hard on two levels.  First of all, I always grew up with dairy.  Grandma had the beef farm.  Seeing brown cows every day at the property line instead of spotted ones and Oreos (who are sometimes also for beef) was regular at home and I could tell already it would feel strange to me.  No milking stalls.  No “Got Milk?” sign.  Just cows awaiting slaughter, staring blankly towards my house all day then going home to be fed.

But that’s not all that hit me hard.  The second part – and by far the worst – is hearing someone say they “can’t make money anymore in dairy”.

We live in Pennsylvania, for God’s sake!  Milk is our STATE DRINK!  We are rolling hills and mountains lined with crooked, topographically-tilled cattle corn fields and littered with silos and milking barns.  Sun-up, to sun-down, to late night, with electrical bulb-lit barns, farmers are out there growing the crop, tending to the herd, then milking them away.  How can we be losing money like this?

I don’t think there is a simple answer, but I’ll spell out what I see: 1. Government regulations, 2. Consumer persuasion, and 3. Industrialization of the farm.

1. GOVERNMENT REGULATIONS
Not long ago, one of my neighbors sold his farm.  He was older, it was too costly, and no one would inherit it.  It was sold and developed and I now can see houses on a hillside across the valley from us.  What a shame.  My mom around the same time explained to me how someone had come in and drained the reservoir behind Dave’s because they want to drive a superhighway through our valley.  In response to this, and with concern that no grandson wanted to inherit his farm, Dave signed into the Pennsylvania farmland protection program so as to preserve his land from development.  Soon after, his partner left him and he was forced to downsize.  I think everyone thought he was crazy for keeping the farm running at such profit levels and in his advanced years.  That’s when EPA rolled in and threatened him for violating standards with watershed pollution.  He was forced to make changes in his practices and to plant trees and lay fence through the creeks to keep cows out of direct contact with the water.

Ain’t nobody got the money to do that.  I respect the EPA and it is part of my job to make sure projects are up to spec with the regulations, but how can you expect people with 200-year-old farms and old buildings to suddenly change their ways?  When they already have no profit?  When they’re in fact being environmentally-friendly to an extent by maintaining old materials instead of tearing things down and building new ones. Of this exact vein, a clipping my mom mailed to me in Ohio that she found in the Tribune-Review addresses these small farmer concerns, saying they’re “weary of new regulations” in Pennsylvania.  It talks about just what I have pointed out, how farmers use old barns, old methods, old wooden tools that may face tough laws soon that restrict how they handle their produce, meat, and dairy.  They cry, What can we do?  If we want local, organic, small family farms to operate, we cannot be so god-awfully stringent like this.

I understand the need to monitor health of food, but at what cost?  Everything we eat is to be controlled?  Our foods supplemented like our water without our consent because someone decided it’s better for us?  When we are constantly learning we were wrong about our previous health-related insights?  We say we need to support America, but aren’t we tearing it down from the inside out and encouraging imports and cheap labor and poverty?  Why are we letting the American Dream die?  Sometimes I feel like government regulations will soon leave us feeling like we’re living in (WARNING: SPOILER ALERT FROM THE HUNGER GAMES SERIES IF YOU HAVE NOT READ MOCKINGJAY) District 13 of the Hunger Games, where food is regulated down to the last calorie and you can’t take more than your share or act outside of your daily schedule.

(SPOILER OVER)

2. CONSUMER PERSUASION
So why do we buy the things we buy?  How is Dave going out of business with dairy?  What is causing this?  I think back to his “Got Milk?” billboard and realize how silly these nutritional notions Americans have are.  The lead of a “Save Your Bones” program discusses how milk actually depletes calcium and argues that countries that drink more milk have higher levels of osteoporosis.  Not only that, but modern milk is a processed food.  Think of Asians who, like me due to my Indian blood, cannot drink lactose.  Their cultures didn’t have milk outside of infancy/young childhood because they didn’t raise crops and drink the milk of other animals yet look at their health ratings, some of the best if not the best in the world.  Finally, like so much of our food, milk is almost always fortified.  You are better off telling your children to eat more dark greens!  No cholesterol, cheap, fresh, unprocessed, low fat, natural…

Then why does the government do these things?  I couldn’t tell you.  There must be some kind of profit in it for them.  Meanwhile, the other problem is that these small farms are selling their milk to large collectors who mix the milks regionally and mass-produce cartons.  These small farms are selling at minimum prices because everywhere you go in Pennsylvania you see signs like “Milk sold at state minimum!”  Who benefits from that?  The collector and the cheap customer is who, leaving people like Dave to break their backs for far-too-less money with inflation, regulation, and every other crisis knocking on their doors – not to mention global warming causing late frosts and draughts and wreaking all kinds of havoc on crops.

Why do we get so riled up about big chains like Wal-Mart who take over small businesses, but we let the same things happen to our farmers?  Why do we allow ourselves to be brain-washed by lower prices?  Higher prices don’t always mean the better choice, but a little research can tell you you’re making a lot of poor choices in the grocer’s.  Why do we fill our buggies with these “fillers” and products that undermine small-farming to keep your budget comfortable?  And, honestly, you can’t blame these big guys.  I mean, they’re just doing their job.  The only ones we can blame are ourselves for submitting to this monopolizing behavior and supporting it through purchases.  Think about what you’re doing.  The consumer has all of the power.  The producers just provide what will fit the demand in the most profitable way possible.

3. INDUSTRIALIZATION OF THE FARM
That is my lead-in into the final point I’m making: High demand of cheap, lower-quality goods is causing farms to become industrialized, thus defeating the whole concept of small, local, and healthy.  Instead, America wants fast, cheap, and easy.  Since animal farms might be hard to imagine as well, picture the huge agricultural farms in the Plains states.  Endless rows of soybeans and corn stalks.  Huge combines and plows combing and tearing up the land.  We are in a topsoil crisis, yet we continue to destroy the ground with machinery, chemicals, and high-yielding but genetically washed-out crops.  Why are we doing this?

Farmers just cannot compete on a small farm using traditional equipment.  We’ve already upgraded to tractors from horse-drawn plows, but it keeps getting worse.  Without an incredibly expensive combine and other contraption, famers cannot possibly meet the demand to yield enough produce for a solid profit.  They have to get big-scale and possibly hire some hands to get them there.  It’s not longer a family business but an industry.  And do you have any clue how environmentally-bad single-crop farming is?  How it destroys the land?  An intriguing prairie study I read in Biomimicry addresses that along with many other concerns.  (I wrote about that here, on my Cleveland blog.)

What’s worse is we are corrupting the God-given (literally or for emphasis) genetics that were evolved to be on this planet.  There are reasons things are here, whether godly or naturally.  Natural Selection.  There are ecosystems in existence.  We, as humans, were borne out of its byproducts, in the same environment, eating its literal fruits.  And now we have big-scale company monopolizing the system and destroying the beauty that was here, companies like DuPont Pioneer (to whom my company sadly caters in projects).  DuPont Pioneer is developing genetically-modified seeds and playing god, encouraging farmers to coerce, and dominating fields with single, unnatural crop types.  Sure, some benefits seem obvious (outside of profit, of course), but is that really helping the farmer?  Is it really helping us?  The planet?  How is making a crop withstand one disease going to prevent it from the next?  Similarly, I don’t support getting flu shots.  Let nature take its course.  That’s what it’s meant to do.  A resistance will build.  We will be better for it.  Nature will find its way to destroy what it wants to destroy regardless of a stupid, genetically-messed up seed.

Phew.

And so my rant concludes – for now.

But, in sum, I say support your local, organic, small farms, don’t support industry, low prices, or genetically-modified food, and keep in mind that the government has reasons for regulations, but some of the things it does are not necessarily worthy of worship.

Smiles From Strangers.

ImageI got up early this morning to walk to the indoor Farmer’s Market at Shaker Square, stopping at the bank along the way.  I was proud that I got up early while it was so cold and I would normally have second thoughts.  I got up early, I drank some tea, I read, I played with my cats, and then I got dressed in a dress and even wore lipstick and a hat.  I walked to the market with my satchel from Willi’s Ski House, withdrew cash, and passed inside the market with my list scribbled on the back of a Starbucks ad.

My motivation this fine morning?  Picking up ingredients from local, organic, animal-friendly vendors to cook another fantastic meal on Monday with Jeff.  He’s been working hard, long hours in the cold.  I feel for him, and I’m also thankful that he chooses to spend so much of his limited free time with me.  He’s always texting me and calling me with positive words, even when he is working or busy, and I want to do him favors while I can (not to mention shamelessly show off my ability to cook anything from scratch).  I rounded up ingredients, bought fair-trade coffee at Dewey’s, and walked home to reorganize my produce into tin foil and the proper crisper drawers. And, yes, this vegetarian even bought grass-fed meat to cook for the meal.

While I was emptying my half-peck of apples into the crisper, I started thinking about all the people I saw today.

First, at the bank, an older, white gentleman came in as I finished at the ATM.  As I walked out, a younger, black man came into the room.  The older man was still fumbling with his wallet and insisted for the younger man to go first.  Not only was it strikingly kind, but I realized that would never have happened between most strangers where I’m from.  I’ve been realizing how much more colorblind people in Cleveland are than in my rural hometown in Pennsylvania.

Second, I thought about the first meat vendor I spoke with who didn’t have pork or ham.  We chatted like old friends and he pointed me directly to another vendor and listed all of the others who sell meat.  I told him I’d keep him in mind if I ever need beef or chicken.

Third, I revisited the Woolf Farm vendors for their apples.  The old gentlemen who sell the pecks are sometimes so brittle that I want to help them load their crates.  Yet, they’re always the first to bend over to pick up anything that is dropped, they always help lift paper bags into sacks, and they always have a friendly, crinkly smile like you buying their apples was the kindest thing you could have possibly done for them.

Fourth, as I walked to the other room of vendors, I took a moment to step back and see how many people had walked (and some driven) from all around town to stuff their eco-friendly bags with organic, fresh, higher-than-the-grocer’s-priced goods.  They were all out here despite the 14F-degree morning.  Many of them had children in tow, all sporting home-knit hats or classy bowlers.  I had this sudden good feeling, like these are the kind of people who are going to keep the world good.  These are the kind who care and who keep caring and who get up, bring their family, help out friends they don’t know…

Fifth, I finally found the vendors I needed for my meat.  I chatted with the father and son about how a vegetarian has no idea which meats she needs, but she (I) will surely make it taste alright anyway.  They pointed me in the right direction based on the recipe I said I was making.  The girl beside me gasped and said that not only did it sound good but – And pardon me for getting in the middle and overhearing, but my what a thing you’re doing to be cooking meat for someone!  That’s really cool! – and I thought, maybe it is?  Not for a second did I dread doing it; it only seems proper to cook an ordinary meal and not subject my guests to my eating habits.  Well, I subject them a bit.  I am after all buying local, organ, grassfed – because that’s the kind I support.

Sixth, I walked into Dewey’s to get my fair-trade coffee.  I was impressed by the numbers of people crowded along the tables, many from the market, all barring against the cold in home-knits and pea coats and smiles, appreciating the local, more expensive things.  It was a well-mixed crowd too.  I even recognized a student who used to come into the library while I was on Welcome Desk shift.  I’ve seen him in there before.  He is such an outlier and cannot blend in at all with society; I’m not sure if he actually has a problem, or if he doesn’t realize that people don’t really care about his magic cards and his ability to rule fairies, the way-too-loud conversation he was holding in the middle of the room one morning at 7am.  But they all know his name.  They all ask him questions to relieve the last person and pass him around, making him feel like he has a home.  I’m not sure what the poor kid does with his life; he has got to be older than I am.  But there he was today, on his laptop in the corner, surrounded by throngs of people who I know would defend him.

Seventh – this is the moment that stuck with me the most and made me recall the others.  It was something so simple.  I was walking out of the coffee shop and pulling out my earbuds when I noticed a small dog tied to the bench, shivering.  No, I’m not a bleeding heart over animals left outside.  We keep our dogs outside all of the time and they much prefer it.  I just felt bad because he looked distraught and lonely.  So, I walked over to him, introduced myself, and kneeled down to pet him.  At first, he cowered, but I reached and scratched and he came closer.  Soon, his little tail was wagging rapidly and his breath was panting out steam.  When he looked warmer, I started to pull away and walk back.  I looked up just in time to notice a man, having held doors for many people, walk briskly past us, look back, observe the moment, and bear an enormous smile that he then proceeded to carry into the Farmer’s Market.

All of those smiles – whether from the face or the heart – were affecting people right, left, and sideways today.  It was good to see some hope left in what has been feeling like such a drab, dreary, dark world.

So thank you, man with the smile, and you’re welcome to the person who caught it next.

The Little Things.

I “get through” my day after day after day i.e. life by looking forward to something. It’s so easy to be distracted by only the big things, but really it’s those little somethings that make up the journey in life. What is a trail anyway? It’s a line, and a line is endless infinitesimally small points along the way.

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Yesterday, my big thing was a little something full of lots of simple smiles. I got to spend an evening cooking with someone dear to me. Jeff and I of course have fun skiing or playing volleyball like we sometimes do, but it takes a special kind of person to still go outside to build snowmen and to spend a few hours preparing a meal from scratch – and have fun doing it.

From walking to Heinen’s, to slam-dunking food into the buggy, Jeff making fun of me standing on my toes to look over shelves, wandering aisles because he’s too stubborn to ask for help, walking home in the rain, stirring frogs eggs pudding, cutting up Jeff’s first star fruit, sipping wine while making our own broth, fixing up pretty plates of roasted asparagus and improvised homemade hollandaise sauce…we had a blast. We sat down the watch The Bachelor, but we didn’t need a TV show to keep us entertained. I think we could make scrubbing dishes fun.

And that’s when I thought, how many people do that? How many people can enjoy cooking a time-consuming dinner? How many people in their late 20s would build a snowman with me in snow that won’t even compact? How many people take the time to read a silly, three-paged letter with joking references to the Hunger Games trilogy? How many people can still appreciate the little things?

Maybe we are weird, but I like it. And I’m really glad I have someone like Jeff to make being weird less lonely.

Our menu from last night included: white wine, champagne, roasted asparagus, homemade hollandaise sauce with lime, basmati rice, chicken/seitan in white wine broth with sun-dried tomatoes and seasoned artichoke hearts, arugula-basil salad with fresh mozzarella and balsamic-basil vinaigrette, frogs eggs (tapioca pudding), and a sliced star fruit.