SARcasm











**if you are going to read through this piece, please do so in its entirety, as it represents a thought process, which, by definition, is imperfect**

 

Oooh the conflicting thoughts and feelings I have had on this issue over the last 24 hours. Yesterday, Black Lives Matter peacefully disrupted Toronto’s Pride Parade, recognizing and celebrating the struggle of the LGBTQ+ community. After a time, Pride agreed to several reasonable concessions to BLM, and events went on as planned.

 

One concession I heard of, however, that caused not a little bit of controversy, was that banning police representation in future Pride Parades. Now – as an ally of both groups (I am and always have been a bleeding heart supporter of oppressed and marginalized groups such as the LGBTQ+ community and people of colour generally, and working with an LGBTQ+ Affirming church congregation and raising two young boys of colour has only strengthened my awareness and resolve on these topics), I wanted to share my first reaction, my “on the other hand” reaction, and where I’ve come to today – not because I have some magical insight here (in fact, as you’ll see, with all humility, quite the opposite), but perhaps to do what I can to spread some empathy for both sides of the issue. Please note I will be treading carefully here, as I recognize the need to mitigate the objectivity that might come from being “outside” the communities involved, with the (MUCH BIGGER) reality that by no means can I or should I speak for groups which don’t include me.

 

So with that in mind, I want to confess that yes – my first reaction was that privileged response of “can’t we all just get along?” This came from a bunch of places for me, starting with a gut reaction that conflict in two marginalized communities is bad for both, and that the oppressed fighting amongst themselves is only a win for the privileged. I also feel that if we want to encourage an attitudinal and behavioural shift in a problematic community – in this case, the police with their issues of misogyny, homophobia, racism and all – towards be a part of the solution and not a part of the problem, we need to encourage and celebrate their “doing the right thing” by participating in events like this one, etc.

 

But then my inner activist who has learned so much over the last few years from interactions with other activists kicked in. And the bottom line is that it is not up to me to tell BLM how they should feel about what, what events are worthy or unworthy of disruption, and what they should or should not advocate for. I can have my thoughts, but in that sense, it isn’t my fight, and it is up to that community to choose the hills on which they want to die. To suggest otherwise is strictly speaking from a position of privilege that presumes I know best which types of marginalization/participation should be prioritized and how they should be dealt with etc. And I have no desire to tell any oppressed group who to be mad at or how to direct that rage. And if police presence at Pride reduces the comfort level of POC in the LGBTW+ community and discourages their participation – well, that’s a problem, to say the least! Their voices and concerns should be heard in order to create a better event.

 

And, by the way, that also goes the other way around; for those Pride participants who disagree with this move, and who believe outreach to groups like the police, and wider inclusion in that sense is important, well … who am I to disagree with that either? And as both sides, both including people who I love and respect, have been sharing their thoughts very eloquently and thoroughly on Social Media over the last day or so, my longing to participate – to express my agreement or disagreement with various points – has been strong. Before I realized … as an ally … perhaps this is the time to be quiet, to open my ears, not my mouth, and to use my eyes to read instead of my keyboard to type. And while obviously I’ve taken to my blog now, it is mainly, 24 hours later, to say just that – that my silence on this topic, which normally I would be all over, is more meant to be a silent respect to those working through these issues, than aloofness towards them. It’s a recognition that, in my case, my voice is not the one that matters.

 

Don’t get me wrong – it does, in that allies should always listen, engage, and speak out when the need calls for it, amplifying the voices involved in the causes they believe in. But here’s the truth – I am a white, cis-heterosexual woman. Who am I to tell the Black community, or the LGBTQ+ community, how to handle their business?  And no mistake – they DID handle their business, in a way of which everyone involved can be proud.

 

Here’s the reality – a peaceful, if firm, conversation broke out, between two communities (or perhaps more accurately, overlapping, interlocking communities with lots of people who are active in both). Disagreements might have been had, voices might have been raised, but at the end of the day, terms of engagement going forward were agreed upon, and a healthy, important political debate was had in the context of an inherently political event. Communities with needs and expectations sorted them out, and a successful Pride day was ultimately enjoyed, with the promise of improvements going forward to make all participants more comfortable (because honestly, if you read the rest of the concessions won by BLM, I don’t see how any of the others are even controversial, and the one in question is completely understandable, if worthy of respectful intracommunity and inter community debate). This is a good thing, a democratic thing in the simplest terms – rabble rousers and marchers, meeting respectfully in the streets, chanting, talking, hashing out differences, and ultimately coming together.

 

And as for that concession about police involvement? I look forward to the day where bridges of trust can be built from the law enforcement community (which also includes people of colour and LGBTQ+ members) to the communities with whom faith has been broken – but I think that repair job is squarely on the shoulders of law enforcement, while it is on us to be respectful of the ongoing trauma of the Black community in this regard. And one thing I do think we can all agree on, is hoping that – in the spirit of Pride – hoping that the conversation started this year can be just a beginning, an ongoing dialogue leading to ever more healing, reconciliation, and inclusion in the years ahead.



{March 24, 2016}   Ghomeshi
So the Jian Ghomeshi verdict comes down today. And judging from the amount of disgusting misogyny (and I am mincing my words hugely here) I am already seeing on Twitter, particularly aimed at my friend Anne – an amazing feminist blogger with the courage to speak out publicly on issues like this in the face of threats and harassment  – it is going to be awful. Hell – it already is.
 
Let me be perfectly clear here: as a high school law teacher of several years’ standing, I understand from a legal standpoint why the verdict has to be what we all know it’s going to be. I can parse the details of “innocent until proven guilty” with the best of them, and I understand that. However, from the real-world point of view of that simple question – “Did he do it?” I think most right-thinking people know he did. As NDP MP Charlie Angus stated during the trial, “Nobody close to Jian even pretends he is innocent, and somehow this isn’t an issue — the women are.”
There is a reason his lawyer is making her case by destroying the reputation and credibility of his victims rather than even for one hot second questioning whether or not these assaults occurred. It’s the down and dirty way out. Since the burden of proof doesn’t lie on the defence, all they need to do is create doubt. What easier path is there to  creating doubt than to besmirch the victims and how they handled themselves prior to, during, and especially after their abusive interactions with Ghomeshi? Indeed, given the treasure trove of correspondence Ghomeshi saved up over decades of misdeeds, this was always the plan. Which bears pointing out – THERE WAS A PLAN to protect himself … not the actions of a man who truly felt he was doing nothing wrong.
So on that score, our system is working how it’s supposed to work. But that doesn’t mean it is working in the most humane or just way possible. There are ways of investigating rape cases that are both sensitive to the victims while preserving the accused’s right to a fair trial, and we need to start implementing those things. We need to recognize that inebriation – far from negating the possibility of rape because “she was asking for it” – by definition MEANS RAPE HAPPENED IF SEX HAPPENED, because consent couldn’t have been given. We need to recognize that people are human and aren’t always going to acquit themselves perfectly, especially in and after moments of high trauma, and not throw the baby out with the bath water for a lack of “perfect witnesses”.
And we need to look at the big picture. We need to understand after the treatment of these women on the witness stand during Jian Ghomeshi’s trial, this is going to make it ten times harder for victims to come forward, being terrified of similar treatment if they don’t have photographic memory of just what the last email they sent to their assailant was, or what kind of car he drove, or if they’re going to have it held against them that they didn’t know how to react perfectly to the most volatile and violating of situations. And this is only going to perpetuate the cycle – frightened women will either not report at all, or else not until much later, at which point they will be questioned, “What took them so long?” Well … I ask you. What do YOU think took them so long? Would you be eager to open yourself up to this?
At this point, we can’t control the verdict in this case. The arguments have been made and the judge will rule, I would assume, with the best judgement they can in the case from the standpoint of our legal system as it is today. But we CAN lobby for change – in ensuring rape kits are tested in a timely manner, in increasing sensitivity to the questioning of rape victims, in limiting just how much of their personal behaviour and history is fair game for trial …
And we CAN treat each other with respect in light of the verdict. We can realize this is going to be a very traumatizing and triggering time for many, and we can treat that trauma and disappointment with respect. We can perhaps not try to dis-prove misogyny and rape culture by in fact engaging in and perpetuating it, either on social media or in the real world. We can realize that, whatever else, this trial (AND THE REACTION TO IT) has created an even more uncomfortable and potentially unsafe environment for sexual assault victims to come out in – something that was never easy to begin with – and we can be sensitive to that and work to make it safer.
I know none of this is going to happen – at least not enough of it, judging by how this case has been viewed and reacted to from the beginning – but I know I for one am going to do my part to at least improve that situation, and I hope those of you who know, in your heart of hearts, that women have been victimized here and that justice will not have been served, or at the very least believe that women deserve – at a BARE MINIMUM – a reasonable assurance of their physical safety and security when speaking up on these difficult issues, will do the same.


{November 24, 2015}   These Are My Children

I am in the process of reading “Between the World and Me”, by Ta-Nehisi Coates and guys – I am struggling really hard. Which I think is the point.

I have always tried to be a good ally to any marginalized community, largely because I’ve been raised to be compassionate, my faith teaches me compassion and hey! It’s just the right thing to do with privilege, is to use it to make sure it gets spread around. Hey, I’ve even gotten the memo that a part of good ally-ship is realizing that it is, by definition, imperfect, and not to assume I have all the answers up here in my (very) ivory tower.

Intellectually, I have understood for a long time that as a society we see coloured lives as cheaper than white lives, and nothing has brought this more firmly home to me than the realization that I am raising young black men – and that I sit there watching them sleep as we see the murderers of Trayvon Martin … Michael Brown … Eric Garner … dear God, Tamir Rice and intellectually I understand “These could be my kids”. Ari and I have had the conversation and have known – if perhaps not understood – that they are going to face some realities that we never have. They will – simply by the fact of being born the colour they are – have racial slurs thrown at them someday. It is not an ‘if’, it is a ‘when’.

And, if they’re lucky – that’s the worst they’ll experience. That doesn’t speak to the police who I had always been taught were there to protect me, but will probably look at my sons with more suspicion than their white brethren in just a decade’s time. That doesn’t speak to the unspoken slights … the dates or jobs or friends they might not get, of course for other reasons on paper but ostensibly for being ‘other’. And the choice between “play nice and be twice as good, or risk violence at the hands of … peers … police … reactionary racists …” – well, I mean …

How do we have that conversation with them? Honestly, in some ways, how dare we presume to have that conversation with them as comfortable, middle class white people who, quite honestly, have been incredibly blessed and privileged – right down to the ability to, quite frankly, adopt our two beautiful boys – by the system that puts them at risk?

This isn’t a new worry or a new conversation – but, only halfway into Coates’ book, I think a new level of personal-ness has crept into this for me. It’s not statistics – X number of young black men shot by police, X number of young black kids being funnelled out of schools and into jails – it’s real people, living their lives scared, every day. Coates’ son is lucky in one sense, to have a dad whose lived those experiences and can talk to him about them honestly, with wisdom and clear eyes. He can look out for his son – in conversation, in example, in brutal awareness of his experiences of the same world.

But how can we truthfully do that when the “world’s” rules – go to school, behave yourself, learn, do well, get a job, get married, buy a house, blah blah blah – seem to have done pretty well by us? But on the other hand … not to  do so could ultimately put our sons’ very lives at risk. We’re not talking hurt feelings and bullying here – rites of passage that everyone seems to experience. We are talking membership in a clan, a tribe, that Ari and I can work our butts off to understand but never be a part of, and as such, never adequately prepare them for.

At the end of the day, I guess, like any parent, I guess for now, we hope our best is good enough. We continue to educate ourselves – honestly, sometimes painfully, even when we don’t want to hear it or think about it.

We continue to challenge racism – whether it is the blatant beating (endorsed by the Republican presidential front-runner, by the way) of a Black Lives Matter protester at a political rally this weekend, or even as seemingly minor as casual, good-natured “jokes” from dear friends and family. We make sure the kids grow up in diverse neighbourhoods, go to diverse schools, are surrounded by a world where they fit in … make sure to introduce them to black culture without appropriating it or tokenizing it … making ourselves available for conversations when they have their first experiences of bigotry, and acknowledging when we aren’t enough, and seeking wise counsel and help. Being aware that, as nice as #AllLivesMatter sounds, it is “White Power” wrapped up with a nice little bow, because if all lives truly DID matter, #BlackLivesMatter wouldn’t need to be justified as a statement or a movement.

It takes a village, and – only halfway through this book, I’m so thankful for mine, and hope to continue expanding it. Let’s all be aware of this – be aware that it isn’t a theory, but a very real, corporeal, literally painful reality – and one we can only hope to navigate … as parents, as a family, and a society … as best we can. I am afraid, but I also agree with President Obama, who said “There’s never bee anything false about hope”. So let’s be that hope, let’s always be willing to call out hate, let’s be open to being called out ourselves, and hopefully we can at least make our little corner of this messy world of ours a bit more loving, a bit more open, a bit more diverse … and a whole lot richer for it. Nothing but love.

 



{January 14, 2015}   Charlie Hebdo

“I do not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” – Voltaire.

“Je ne suis pas Charlie” (I am not Charlie) … but I sympathize with him.

Those were my words last week, and really, my thoughts on the terror attack on the French satirical newspaper can be summed up as such. Through the worst (murdered cartoonists, journalists and hostages) and the best (a brave Muslim police officer’s defending a magazine’s right to mock and demean his faith, a near-universal discussion and defence of free speech), all of the many facets and nuances of this case have been discussed in other forums and by wiser, better-spoken people than me, from all sides, all along the spectrum of identifying very personally with the magazine (#jesuischarlie) to hyper-criticism that by being so provocative, they knew they were antagonizing extremists. For me, what I know is this –

I cannot ever and will never sympathize with violence as an answer to our grievances. Period. The bottom line when it comes to free speech, is that perhaps the incendiary stuff Charlie Hebdo published was unkind, unwise, racist and all sorts of awful things – in fact, it almost certainly was. But it was also allowed. And if it wasn’t, if it started hitting up against the edges of ‘hate speech’, well, that’s something else to deal with too. But at the end of the day, that does not make the taking of life acceptable. Period. Write letters to the editor. Protest. File a complaint with whatever authorities look at hate speech,  standards and practices in the media, what have you. Start up a counter-publication. All extremely good options in a free society to express one’s great displeasure with one’s editorial stance. Expressing your displeasure at the end of a gun is unacceptable. And frankly, by rallying everyone’s sympathies around the very opinionistas you hate, you are doing your cause no justice.

I will admit I am not comfortable associating so personally with the #iamcharlie hashtag, because personally, viscerally, I disagree with a large portion of what they put out into the world. But like much greater minds (Voltaire – see above) before me, I will defend with my every breath their right to do so. And I will defend the right of anyone who wishes to criticize them. I might question the wisdom and motives (Charlie Hebdo), or the timing (critics at a time when perhaps compassion is called for), but this world is big enough that there is room for all, and there always should be.

I sympathize and pray (or send good thoughts, if they’d prefer) for those who lost their lives, and for the loved ones they left behind who are grieving. I hold in my thoughts as well Muslims who an all-too-bigoted world will yet again hold responsible for the actions of a few lunatics. And I pray that again, as France, and the world, face an incident of terrorism, that we see it bring out more humanity than hate, more compassion than fear. Because at the end of the day, it is our humanity we have in common … and that counts for much more than I think some realize.



So I want to say up front that I have never been a particular Jian Ghomeshi fan. I enjoyed Moxy Fruvous, and would listen to “Q” (his well-known show on CBC Radio 1) if he had a particularly interesting guest or topic, but I was no loyalist. So when about a year ago I read this piece on XOJane by Carla Ciccone, detailing (and I understate things) an arrogant and far-too-persistent ‘bad date’ with boundary and personal space issues, and understood through comments thereafter that this was a thinly veiled story about Ghomeshi, it didn’t particularly fizz on me one way or the other. Creeper, I thought, glad I don’t know him, but doesn’t quite sound criminal, and he’s OK at what he does, and hey, aren’t we all fans of some problematic people or other? It didn’t really change my opinion of him one way or the other. Entitled minor celebrity, I thought, and pursued my previous stance of ‘I wasn’t a big fan of his anyway, but this isn’t worthy of a boycott, I’ll listen depending on the topic or guest at hand.’

That said, I never forgot that read, or that I got the sense through scuttlebutt that this wasn’t exactly out of line with Ghomeshi’s off-air reputation. So when I heard this past Sunday that he’d been fired by the CBC, I wondered dimly if it was related to an issue, or issues, like this. Ghomeshi’s Facebook statement followed within hours, suggesting (and I summarize very briefly, it was a long note) he was fired for enjoying rough sex but that it was always consensual, and to suggest otherwise was a smear campaign against him by a jilted ex-girlfriend and a few co-consipirators, and of course, the internet began taking sides. I very carefully made a point of not doing so. On the one hand it is a personal policy of mine, as a feminist, not to doubt claims of assault or sexual abuse. After all, the media, public, and – worst of all – courts and law enforcement do a good enough job of that, making it difficult for victims everywhere to come forward (indeed, according to the Toronto Star, who ultimately came forward with the story in light of the firing, the reason the women didn’t press charges, and wished to remain anonymous, was fear or reprisal or revenge). On the other, while the tone of Ghomeshi’s open letter bothered me on a number of levels, I was impressed with him getting out ahead of the story when it might seem simpler to just bite one’s tongue, and I have a natural instinct (applied to both sides, in my defense) to give the benefit of the doubt and want to information-gather before any witch hunt.

Especially in this case, where there is so much at stake in being wrong. What feminist in their right mind wants to unwittingly defend a rapist, or accuse an assault victim of lying? On the other hand, if there was even a bit of truth in Ghomeshi’s claims, who wants to see a man’s career ruined because he’s a bit of a creep around girls and has some ‘deviant’ tastes in the bedroom? What if it was a misunderstanding where neither side was lying, the women genuinely thought they were consenting to one thing while Ghomeshi took it as license for another? I want to be clear – I never for an instant believed the women involved were lying. There was too much smoke for there to be fire. But “how bad was it”? Was Ghomeshi a monster, pure and simple, or clueless, entitled, in need of education on how to deal with his fetishes in a safe and responsible manner? Or heck with it – at that point, is there even a difference?

Bottom line, in the immediate aftermath and firestorm, when it was a LOT of he-said she-said, while I had my guesses in my heart of hearts in terms of what was up, I had no interest in getting involved. I figured, it will all come out in the wash and all will have their day in court … and media … and whatever other arena these issues get batted around. Because trust me, there are some big issues to discuss here, from rape culture and the difficulty to come forward in cases of assault – especially when the perpetrator is famous, powerful, and probably a serious gatekeeper in an industry you have an interest in if you run in the same circles as him – to BDSM and the importance of being safe and clear if engaging in it, to how ‘innocent until proven guilty’ comes into play in hiring and firing situations and beyond.But all that said – four days have passed now. More women have come forward anonymously, and one – Canadian actress Lucy Decoutere – has done so publicly. Ghomeshi has done precious little to convince me – or anyone – that these stories are false. And apparently, that ‘anyone’ now includes his PR firm, who dropped him today.

So – for this writer anyway, in my small bubble – the time for ‘having an opinion but keeping it to myself’ is over. In trying to be fair-minded, I in fact took too long in putting out there what my gut was telling me from the first this story broke. And while I understand Ghomeshi is still ‘innocent until proven guilty’ in a legal sense, he has lost whatever benefit of the doubt I was prepared to give him. Not only is he an abuser of women, he apparently has been one for a very long time. And while I still have no desire to lead any witch-hunts, or deny him his day in court, I think it’s time we all recognize that ‘innocent until proven guilty’, as my friend Anne over at The Belle Jar has pointed out several times through this story, doesn’t just extend to suspects of crimes, but their victims too. And all too often, that benefit of the doubt is denied to rape victims, perpetuating a vicious circle where they are uncomfortable coming forward “the right way” (un-anonymously, to the police), and thereby doubted even further because, well, if it was true, why wouldn’t you report it?

And while I am a little late to this party (whether via a noble attempt to be fair to all sides, or perhaps on some selfish level wanting to be sure I was ‘right’ before speaking out), I would like to encourage everyone now to take this story beyond Jian Ghomeshi, beyond the CBC, and to the crux of this issue everywhere – the fact that a man was allowed to abuse women uninhibited and consequence-free for decades, despite everyone “Knowing About Jian”. Even his closest friends have expressed a hindsight awareness of his behaviour, yet he continued to hold a cushy job, millions of fans, and lots of women willing to go on dates with him having no idea what the consequences would be. This is rape culture at its worst, and we as a society need to explore carefully how this happens. Because until and unless we look at this topic head-on, there will always be another Jian Ghomeshi, and there will always be decades worth of anonymous victims afraid to come forward except in the most hush-hush, whispered innuendo of terms.



Since the events surrounding the shooting of unarmed African-American teenager Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, MO (details on the incident can be found here and here), I have wanted to write a piece about the realities of raising young black men in today’s world – the world where Brown’s death, and the death of Trayvon Martin remind us that racism still exists, that it is still far more dangerous to be black today than white. But for a number of reasons, I haven’t really felt able to. For one, I have just felt too strongly about it to really be able to string my thoughts together into some narrative whole – it’s been easier to share others’ perceptions that I have found right on.

But perhaps on a deeper level, ultimately, what it has come down to thus far has been this: while our (adopted) boys are mixed-race (born to a white mother and a mixed-race father, is our best understanding), my husband and I are white, and can’t even begin to comprehend the realities they might have to face. While we can make vague claims to having been bullied or mistreated in our youth, in light of recent events in particular this feels woefully inadequate – the reality is, neither of us have ever had racial epithets flung at us. We will never know what it is like for people to assume we must be up to no good, simply because we are (a) young and (b) … well, Not White. Sure, as a woman, some of the bullying I’ve experienced has taken on a sexist/sexual connotation at times, and Ari has had some systemic issues and assumptions to deal with in terms of being Jewish, but let’s be honest – this is a whole different ball game.

That said, today my friend Anne Theriault (who is a phenomenal feminist blogger who writes over at http://www.bellejar.ca) had this piece, on teaching young children about racism, published at the Washington Post today, and in the ensuing discussion she mentioned that she would be interested in my husband’s and/or my perspective on raising children of colour. And while I can’t say I have any more of a cohesive perspective or message than I did beforehand, I thought I would accept her invitation as a challenge, and at least put to proverbial paper the (admittedly jumbled) thoughts in my head on this issue. This isn’t going to be the most eloquent piece I’ve ever written, but roughly:

  • First, I want to second just about everything Anne says in her piece. We are blessed to live in a neighbourhood that isn’t colour-blind, but diverse, and where our boys are ‘different just like everyone else’. Being “brown” can mean you are native, Arab, mixed-race, Indian, or any other number of things – there are a variety of cultures, religions, languages, and just about everything else in the rainbow that is their school, and just that exposure, in their lives, in the media they absorb, in the world they inhabit, is an important step to teaching the ways in which we are all both the same and different, and wonderfully so. In terms of the ramifications of these things – both privilege and marginalization – frank, age appropriate discussions of the ways in which they, we, and others are sometimes lucky, unlucky, and the struggles people can face for being different, can happen as needed and appropriate.
  • Recognizing my own privilege without becoming overly cynical or jaded. I grew up privileged to be able to trust the police. I was always taught that if I was in trouble or lost or scared or needed help, that the police were helpers and I could turn to them. And don’t get me wrong – I know there are good cops out there and it is a difficult and important job, and there are few people I respect more than a good cop who takes their job seriously and does it well. I want my children to be able to believe in those police officers, and trust in them to serve and protect. But the reality is also plain – perhaps plainer now than it has been in years – that this isn’t always the case, and especially for young men of colour. The reality is, someday our cute little brown boys will become brown teenage boys (although this unbiased mother assumes they will still be adorable), and this in itself can create distrust, fear, and yes, let’s call it what it is, hate. Racism. It might not even be conscious, but it’s there. So who do I teach them to trust, to look to for help? At the same time – I don’t want to raise them to inherently DIS-trust police either, or to be belligerent should a situation arise where a police officer might legitimately just be doing their job. But then, just being able to say that feels like it smacks of naivete, and brings home more than ever how I have never and will never live the experiences my sons might.
  • I take some comfort that we live in one of the most diverse areas of one of the most diverse cities in Canada, whose racism at least feels less dangerous, less charged, somehow than that which exists in the United States. But again … I don’t want to be naive about just how far that gets us. Even in Canada, black males are still disproportionately stopped by police in comparison to other members of the population. And even outside of the realities of law enforcement, boneheads exist here too. FACT: someday, somewhere, our boys will experience being called the N-word. Neither Ari nor I ever have, and there in some ways is nothing we can do to prepare them for that day other than breeding a strong sense of self in them, and keeping the lines of communication open – that we are there for them, and that we recognize we will never fully understand their experience, but we will ALWAYS fully try, and we will always support them.
  • And I guess that last is the ultimate thing I would add to Anne’s list. Expose the boys to multicultural and multiracial media, for sure, and ensure that they have friends from all walks of life, not just racially but economically, religiously, ability-wise etc. – but recognizing in the case of our family in particular education won’t be a one-way street. There will be a point where THEY communicate to US their own experiences of race – their experiences of being black children, and eventually, black adolescents and black adults. And it is our job to listen, to understand, to believe and accept the experiences they share, and not allow our privilege – the privilege of our skin colour, of our age, or what have you – to colour our perceptions of their realities. And on that score – the willingness to have our privilege and assumptions challenged – I think we’re on the right track. At least if the gut punch that Ferguson was to me is any indication – both in terms of disappointment in an institution (law enforcement) I’d always been brought up to respect, and more especially in terms of bringing home very potently that it can be dangerous, even fatal, to be a black man not that much older than my very own babies
My boys, ages 4 and 5.

My boys, ages 4 and 5.



{August 11, 2014}   RIP Robin Williams

Today, the world lost a great comedian and actor in Robin Williams, as he committed suicide after a very difficult battle with depression. His wife and children lost a husband and father. He will be missed very deeply. In a lot of ways, I share his wife’s desire that as time goes by, we can remember the joy he brought to so many, the laughs he shared, as opposed to his sad end.

But I also hope that a part of us remembers how he died, also … remembers that depression is a disease with a high mortality rate, and it is every bit as real as cancer, as real as heart disease or any other illness. We owe it to ourselves, and to everyone else, to recognize the suffering of mental illness, and to live with compassion for it.

For those suffering as Mr. Williams did, and as so many of us have, please: you are valued, you are loved, and you deserve the world, as the world deserves you. Make a phonecall, send an email or text, please … it might not feel like it, but so many people out there want to help, if you’ll trust us. And for those who know someone suffering from depression … please don’t wait for them to fight through their illness and come to you. Please be there for them, love them, and let them know that with every fibre of your being. You just might save someone’s life.

MENTAL HEALTH CRISIS LINE (CANADA): 1-866-996-0991



{December 1, 2013}   Church Reflections

One of the true blessings I’ve had through my work at my church over the last few years has been the opportunity to lead worship from time to time when our minister is away. I thought I’d share my reflections here for those who might be interested in what a progressive Christian worldview might represent. I encourage anyone with a bit of time on their hands to listen – not so much because I’m an especially good preacher, but more because I’d love to share as widely as possible the reality that there is another way to ‘be Christian’ … to be a progressive, affirming, loving person who takes Jesus’ message of radical inclusivity (the Samaritans, lepers and tax collectors of our day) in a 21st century Emerging Christianity. I’d be extremely flattered by anyone willing to listen, and familiarize themselves both with my own faith journey, and how faith can, in fact, inform a progressive world view.

CLICK HERE to listen to my reflection on Christ, Gandhi, and peaceful conflict resolution.

CLICK HERE to listen to my reflection on radical forgiveness.

CLICK HERE to listen to my reflection on discipleship in a progressive Christian context.

CLICK HERE to listen to my reflection on the power of prayer.



{November 10, 2013}   Rob Ford – My Thoughts

So I guess I’m a little behind the eight-ball on this whole story, but I haven’t really found a comfortable way to address it since it began. If I take the sympathetic approach, it’s disingenuous as I truly am no fan of and do not like the mayor of Toronto. However, when speaking of addiction and a life that is clearly in crisis, taking the schadenfreude, let’s laugh at the buffoon approach seems callous and cruel, even if the man on the receiving end IS extremely easy to dislike, espouses poor political policies and is in no position -for many reasons – to run any city, much less the fourth largest in North America. Whether sober or not, he would never have my vote … and yet I can understand in the depths of whatever compassion I can claim that he is ill, and badly needs help. To that end, I don’t know if my words that follow will strike the tone I’m hoping to, and I apologize for that in advance. But I have done my best.

First of all, I suppose, for those who find living under rocks comfortable, let’s recap – on Halloween afternoon, the Toronto police announced they possessed a video of Toronto mayor Rob Ford smoking crack cocaine, as described by several journalists and bloggers several months ago. Rob Ford spent a weekend responding with very general, vague, somewhat self-deprecating ‘We all make mistakes’-type comments before earlier this week admitting to having smoked crack cocaine “in one of my drunken stupors”. As Toronto city council moves to severely limit his powers, and the push for him to at a minimum take a leave of absence (which he steadfastly refuses to do … along with refusing to commit to sobriety in terms of his admitted drinking problem), and another video has become public of the mayor literally on a drunken, murderous rant, the story has ballooned out internationally, garnering attention not only on ‘real’ news, but Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” hosted by Jon Stewart, and its sister show, “The Colbert Report”, hosted by Stephen Colbert.

I don’t live in Toronto – I’m all the way in Ottawa – but I have friends and family there, and honestly, it is a huge city with major influence in Ontario, so I can’t help but to have developed an opinion on this case, and it comes down somewhere in between those seeking to make fun of and/or condemn the mayor, and those who support him, appreciate his flaws and foibles, and think he’s done a great job in office despite, you know, the alcohol and drugs. My thoughts, in no particular order, with no particular rhyme or reason, go something like the following:

  • At the end of the day, this isn’t really funny, but actually incredibly sad. No, no I won’t get all holier-than-thou about this, as I’ve laughed at Stewart and Colbert’s jokes too – but really, if we examine our best selves, it’s sad and scary. This is a man with a family, and a huge city which is suffering from a soap opera side show circus instead of the governance it needs and deserves. A city with much to be proud of is becoming a laughing-stock, and a man who badly needs help seems determined to self-destruct in the public eye, and take the city he runs down with him, refusing to compromise on even so much as a leave of absence, much less stepping down. Common sense has been abandoned and there is suffering on both a personal level, and a political, city-wide level. It is in some ways infotainment run amok and we enjoy the show … but let’s not lose sight that these are real lives – a real man with a real family, and an extremely large city with a large citizenry and complex infrastructure – which are suffering.
  • I am actually inclined to be naive and give the benefit of the doubt that Mayor Ford’s smoking crack was a one time event that occurred in a drunken haze. However, he has a drinking problem. And if I, as a sickeningly non-confrontational, non-judgemental person who takes stories about people she doesn’t know with several grains of salt, can see that and know that – and he has all but admitted that – and yet he will not commit to abstaining from alcohol, he will not commit to rehab or to step down … that is bad news for the city of Toronto, and will absolutely do nothing, really, for Rob Ford or his family either. We all do stupid things when drunk – for some of us maybe that just means dancing poorly and telling embarrassing stories, for others it might be a bit more serious, going home with someone they don’t know for example – but I don’t think that smoking a hard drug is under the traditional list of ’embarrassing drunken mistakes made by all’. And remember – this man is a forty-some-year-old who smoked crack … as the mayor of Toronto … and the mitigating factor he cites is that he was in a drunken stupor. This shouldn’t be inspiring a great deal of confidence in Torontonians – any Torontonians – in terms of their mayor.
  • All of this said – right now this needs to be about damage control and not schadenfreude … and on a similar note, we need to focus on the issues. Drug and alcohol use insofar as they affect Mayor Ford’s job performance – and to the extent he doesn’t think these as problems need to be addressed in any meaningful way – are fair game, for example, as are his policies to those who disagree with him, including the hypocrisy that he has been known to take a hard line on drug users. I have no problem with anyone criticizing the mayor. But ‘he’s stupid’, ‘he’s fat’, ‘he’s a clown/buffoon/idiot’ … I figure we have enough concrete, tangible, job-performance-related things to throw at him at this point without having to be ‘mean’. At the end of the day, this man is a crappy mayor who is selfishly inflicting all of his problems on the city he runs; his weight, his plain-spokeness, his likability or lack thereof have nothing to do with it.
  • Bottom line; let’s not indulge the soap opera. Here are the facts that matter, bluntly without trying to take cheap shots: the mayor of Toronto has a substance abuse problem that at least includes – but is not necessarily limited to – alcohol. He has been drunk at official events a number of times, and has been drunk to the point he thought that indulging in illegal drugs was a good use of his time as mayor. He is not necessarily evil or bad for this, but he is sick. And in his stubborn refusal to admit as much, he is pulling the great city of Toronto down with him. And if Rob Ford truly loves his city and his constituents as much as he claims, he will think long and hard about them – as well as his family, friends, and those who love him – and realize the best thing he can do for anyone who cares for him – and anyone he cares for – would be to get help, so he can best serve the city he was hired to represent.

Again, this is all just extemporaneous first draft stuff, so if it’s wordy, or babbly I apologize. I am just filled in equal parts with sadness, concern, frustration, anger, and yes, if I’m honest and not polishing up my halo too much, a touch of schadenfreude … and I just want those who are sick to be well, and those who need to be looked after in the meantime, to be looked after. My very best wishes to the city of Toronto as they face, frankly, a concerning and tricky time in their city governance, and yes … I also wish the best for Rob Ford as he is, again, clearly in crisis, and I hope for his sake and that of his wife, kids, and family, as well as ‘the city [he] love[s]’, that he searches his soul and finds the way out.



{July 15, 2013}   Baby Veronica

As an adoptive parent, I’ve been following the Baby Veronica story for some time now. To save this blog post from getting horribly long, and to avoid the risk of leaving out important or pertinent facts, some thought-provoking insight, and a pretty thorough view of the landscape, can be found by checking out both of the following sites (NOTE: they represent two opposing sides, so please read both for at least something of a balanced view):

http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/baby-veronicas-birth-mother-girl-belongs-with-adoptive-parents/2013/07/12/40d38a12-e995-11e2-a301-ea5a8116d211_story.html

http://nicwa.org/babyveronica/

Now I want to clarify I am not on ‘a side’ here. While as an adoptive parent one might expect a natural inclination to side with them, I am sensitive to the touchy issue of removing native children from their homes and cultures, and I do understand the adoption was not finalized at the time Veronica’s biological father asserted his parental rights. At the same time, I recognize at first he had no intention of parenting the baby, and she was raised and settled for two years in what seems to be a happy home with a healthy ‘open adoption’ setup which was disrupted by the father’s reemergence. I can’t help but wonder about ulterior motives – punishing the biological mother with whom he had an acrimonious relationship? a politically motivated move? – while at the same time recognizing this is a sensitive topic and the case of a native child being raised in a native environment always needs to be given some due consideration. Mudslinging aside from both parties – from accusations of not allowing contact to the seeming treatment of ‘child as commodity’, I tend, at the end of the day, to consider this simply a messy and unfortunate situation that is difficult and tragic for all involved.

That said, while reading this article on the topic today, I came across a comment that I found so very offensive as an adoptive parent. And I considered ignoring it as the ignorant ravings of someone who simply had no idea what she was talking about, but have since decided, given how many misunderstandings there are out there about adoption, adoptive parents, biological parents, rights, relationships etc., that it merits response lest anyone else harbour any such attitudes (the kind of attitudes that to this day lead to references to our kids’ ‘real mother’, or whether we will ever ‘have kids of our own’). Here is the comment:

“Her adoption wasnt finalised so they where not the adoptive parents, they have shown by their actions that they don’t give a f**k about her because they want ownership. They know she doesn’t remember them (fortunately their ambitions show many red flags) but that doesn’t matter adoption especially private needs to be banned. You have commodified babies into saleable items people wont adopt these children who need parents, ie these in foster care as that would mean them doing work to help the child. What these who want to adopt want is a healthy baby well sorry the infertile are not owed babies. Everyone has the right to try for a child its up to nature to decide if you can have one.”

Where do I even begin? I will ignore the first accusations – the ones directly aimed at these particular parents – as I’m not familiar enough with the case on a personal level to know whether those accusations are fair or not; they’ve been made on both sides, towards both the biological father’s tribe and the adoptive parents themselves. However … banning adoption? I agree private adoption can be problematic, and I don’t want to pretend that there is no comodification of babies, stigmatization of ‘birth mothers’, etc. I am admittedly on that score speaking from the position of privilege as someone who was blessed to be in a position financially, emotionally, mentally to adopt. And while I have made a promise on many levels not to share the details of our children’s first mother’s story, I can tell you without hesitation and ask for your trust that, while it was more than clear that she loved both boys, struggled with the idea of placing them for adoption, and wanted nothing but good things for them, their lives would have been untenable had she kept them. This is not simply a matter of a woman who was young, poor, or taken advantage of – at least not by us – although those are all parts of her story. You can be young, poor, uneducated, and still manage as a parent. There were deep seated issues here by which, she would not have, and she was in many ways the first person to recognize as much.

Nor are we some elite buying children – we work professional jobs, but were just starting out, making entry level salaries, and went through the public adoption system. While we could afford to take children into our home and give them a decent life, by no means could we have afforded thousands of dollars in overhead to do so – we knew that money would be better spent providing for their education, or even a fun family trip on which to make memories, than padding some lawyer or social worker’s bottom line. We took a great leap of faith, as such, in keeping an open mind to childrens’ age, potential health risks etc. And our sons, when adopted, were high risk. We have been blessed in their health and their growth … but this wasn’t a given. We wanted to be parents, whatever that meant. Did that mean recognizing our limitations – that handling a severely disabled child, for example, would be beyond our ken? Sure. But we had to do some real soul searching through the adoption process of just what ‘wanting to be parents’ meant to us, and it broadened our minds – honestly, any parent-to-be, biological, adoptive or otherwise, should have to go through what we did in some ways. Infertility in some was was a blessing in disguise to explore the true meaning of ‘parenting’.

And as for the infertile not being owed babies, and it’s up to nature to decide who has one … well, when the ability to parent biologically is honestly a lottery ticket, and many undeserving people hit the jackpot while so many who are sincere and genuine in simply wanting to provide a little person a home lose out. It’s not an ‘entitlement’ issue … the adoption process in itself is a crapshoot. Ours went incredibly smoothly and lasted a year ‘bell to bell’, as it were. Others have to wait much longer. Others even more open-minded (or richer) than us might have an even quicker placement. But I do believe people willing to put in the time and the work to prove that they truly want to be parents, deserve … not a guaranteed child, but a chance. That’s all the process offers us, just like that’s all nature offers bio-parents out there. And trust me – the process is tough! If we’d given any sign of ‘healthy white baby, no exceptions please’, I would be willing to wager a small fortune (because I don’t have a big one) that we’d have never been approved for a placement.

I guess my thing is this – I am all for opposing opinions, especially on things so fraught as … well, anything surrounding parenting. Go make babies in the bedroom, in a lab, or adopt ones who are already here …  be permissive or strict, attachment-oriented or more laissez-fair … I might make the same choices, different ones, or be limited in my choices as the case may be, but they’re our choices right, and we will all have our own approach, and as long as your child is basically happy and healthy I won’t go banging you over the head about it. All of this stuff can be problematic and I acknowledge I’m not going to be looking at adoption through the same paradigm as a birth parent or adoptee. But please – if you are going to have a strong opinion, please let it be an informed one? I mean, I know internet message boards and comment sections are prime territory for the mouth (or fingers over the keyboard) moving more quickly than the brain, but don’t tar all adoptive parents with the same brush as some who have used or abused the system … or been failed by it, depending on your – and here’s the magic word – perspective.



et cetera