Writing Opp: Race and Anti-Racism

We're less than two weeks from the deadline for writing about "Race and Anti-Racism" for Friends Journal and I'd love to see more submissions. It was two years ago that we put out the much-talked-about issue on Experiences of Friends of Color. That felt like a really-needed issue: no triumphalism about how white Friends sometimes did the right thing as Abolitionists or posturing about how great we are, forgetting the ways we sometimes aren't: just a collection of modern Friends talking about what they've experienced first-hand.

I think it's a good time to talk now about how Friends are organizing to unlearn and subvert institutional racism. It was an important issue before November--ongoing mass incarceration, Standing Rock, and the disenfranchisement of millions of African Americans was all taking place before the election. But with racial backlashes, talk of a religious or nationality-based registries, and the coziness of "alt-right" white nationalists with members of the Trump campaign it all seems time to go into overdrive.

Joan Baez cites Quaker upbringing in presidential endorsement

From the musician’s Face­book page:

My choice, from an ear­ly age, has been to engage in social change from the ground up, using the pow­er of orga­nized non­vi­o­lence. A dis­trust of the polit­i­cal process was firm­ly in place by the time I was 15. As a daugh­ter of Quak­ers I pledged my alle­giance not to a flag or a nation state but to humankind, the two often hav­ing lit­tle to do with each oth­er.

Elmer Swim Club: the heartbreak of autism parents

Elmer Swim Club
Fran­cis at his favorite place in the world: the top of the Elmer high dive

I was ambushed while leav­ing the Elmer Swim Club today by a guy I’ve nev­er met who told me nev­er to return, then told me he’s a vice pres­i­dent of the gov­ern­ing asso­ci­a­tion, and then told me he had papers inside to back him up. Although it was meant to look like an acci­den­tal run-in as we were walk­ing out, it was clear it was staged with the man­ag­er on duty.

The prob­lem is the behav­ior of our soon-to-be 10 yo Fran­cis. He is dif­fi­cult. He gets over­whelmed eas­i­ly and doesn’t respond well to threats by author­i­ty fig­ures. We know. He’s autis­tic. We deal with it every day. There’s no excus­ing his behav­ior some­times. But there’s also no miss­ing that he’s a deeply sweet human who has trou­bles relat­ing and is mak­ing hero­ic strides toward learn­ing his emo­tions. We dri­ven the extra dis­tance to this swim club for years because it’s been a place that has accept­ed us.

Peo­ple at Elmer — well most of them — haven’t dis­missed Fran­cis as our prob­lem, but have come togeth­er as an extend­ed fam­i­ly to work through hard times to help mold him. He’s made friends and we’ve made friends. The swim club’s mot­to is that it’s the place “Where Every­one is Fam­i­ly” and we found this was the rare case where a cheesy tag line cap­tured some­thing real. Fam­i­ly. You don’t just throw up your hands when some­one in the fam­i­ly is dif­fi­cult and gets dis­re­spect­ful when they get social­ly over­whelmed.

The VP was a control-your-kids kind of guy, clear­ly unaware of the chal­lenges of rais­ing an autis­tic kid — and clear­ly unwill­ing to use this park­ing lot moment as a learn­ing oppor­tu­ni­ty. I tried to stay human with him and explain why this par­tic­u­lar com­mu­ni­ty was so spe­cial. The swim coach­es always cheered our kids on despite always com­ing in dead last — not only that, but even put Fran­cis in relay races! There have always been lots of extra eyes watch­ing him and will­ing to redi­rect him when he start­ed melt­ing down. Most of the time he needs a drink, a snack, or some qui­et sen­so­ry time. To be in a com­mu­ni­ty that under­stood this is beyond mirac­u­lous for autism fam­i­lies. The worst thing is to start to scream or threat­en, which unfor­tu­nate­ly is some people’s default. Some author­i­ty fig­ures know how to earn Francis’s trust; oth­ers just make things worse over and over again. At Elmer the lat­ter final­ly won out.

We first start­ed com­ing to this pool for swim lessons in 2009. After six years becom­ing more involved in this deeply wel­com­ing com­mu­ni­ty, I had start­ed to allow myself to think we had found a home. I’d day­dream of the day when Fran­cis would be 18, grad­u­at­ing from the swim team and peo­ple would give him an extra rous­ing cheer when his name was called at the end-of-season ban­quet. We’d all tell sto­ries with tears in our eyes of just how far he had come from that 9yo who couldn’t con­trol his emo­tions. And we were at the point where I imag­ined this as a cen­tral iden­ti­ty for the fam­i­ly – the place where his old­er broth­er would sneak his first kiss on the overnight cam­pout, or where his younger sib­lings would take their first coura­geous jumps off the high dive.

Julie’s mak­ing calls but I’m not hold­ing my breath. What hap­pened is an breath­tak­ing­ly overt vio­la­tion of the club association’s bylaws. But would we even feel safe return­ing? Fran­cis is eas­i­ly manip­u­lat­ed. It only takes a few hard­ened hearts at the top who believe autism is a par­ent­ing issue — or who just don’t care to do the extra work to accom­mo­date a dif­fi­cult child.

For­tu­nate­ly for us, for a while we had a place that was spe­cial. The Elmer Swim Club and Elmer Swim Team will always have a spe­cial place in our hearts. Our thanks to all the won­der­ful peo­ple there. Here’s some mem­o­ries:

Update: Our post shed­ding light on the Elmer Swim Club’s trustee mis­be­hav­ior and the board’s vio­la­tion of its own bylaws has now had over 1800 Face­book inter­ac­tions (shares, likes, com­ments) and the blog post itself has been read 9,970 times. Terms like “autism elmer pool” are trend­ing on our incom­ing Google search­es and the post looks like it will be a per­ma­nent top-five search result for the pool. Although our fam­i­ly will nev­er set foot in its waters again, our absence will be a remain a pres­ence. Dis­cus­sions over what hap­pened will con­tin­ue for years.

I share these stats to encour­age peo­ple to talk about mis­be­hav­ior in the pub­lic sphere. It doesn’t help civ­il soci­ety to bury con­flict in the tones of hushed gos­sip. Just as we as par­ents work every day to help our autis­tic son make bet­ter deci­sions, all of us can insist that our com­mu­ni­ty orga­ni­za­tions fol­low best prac­tices in self-governance and abide by their own rules. Bylaws mat­ter. Park­ing lot civil­i­ty mat­ter. Kids should be held respon­si­ble for their actions. So should trustees.

Mix up a little Evangelical fire and liberal progressivism and you get?

There are a lot of good con­ver­sa­tions hap­pen­ing around Rachel Held Evans’s lat­est piece on the CNN Belief Blog, “Why mil­len­ni­als are leav­ing the church.” One cen­ters on the rela­tion­ship between Evan­gel­i­cals and Main­line Protes­tants. As is often the case, the place of Quak­ers in this is com­pli­cat­ed.

Some his­to­ri­ans cat­e­go­rize the orig­i­nal Quak­er move­ment as a “third way” between Catholi­cism and Protes­tanta­n­tism, com­bin­ing the mys­ti­cism of the for­mer and the search for per­fec­tion of the lat­ter. It’s a con­ve­nient the­sis, as it pro­vides a way to try to explain the odd­i­ties of our lack of priests and litur­gies.

But Quak­ers trad­ed much of our pecu­liar­i­ty for a place set­ting at the Main­line Protes­tant table a long time ago. The “Quak­er val­ues” taught in First-day schools aren’t real­ly all that dif­fer­ent than the lib­er­al post-Christian val­ues you’d find post­ed on the bul­letin board in the base­ment of any pro­gres­sive Methodist, Pres­by­ter­ian, or Epis­co­palian church. We share a focus on the social gospel with oth­er Main­line denom­i­na­tions.

In a follow-up post, Evans re-shares a piece called The Main­line and Me that tries to hon­est­ly explain why she finds these church­es admirable but bor­ing. The lack of artic­u­la­tion of the why of beliefs is a big rea­son, as is the the fire-in-the bel­ly of many younger Evan­gel­i­cals and a cul­ture adverse to step­ping on toes.

One of the peo­ple she cites in this arti­cle is Robert E. Web­ber, a reli­gious Evan­gel­i­cal of anoth­er gen­er­a­tion whose spir­i­tu­al trav­els brought him back to Main­line Protes­tantism. I first dis­cov­ered him ten sum­mers ago. The cross-polination of that book helped me bridge the Quak­er move­ment with the pro­gres­sive Evan­gel­i­cal sub­cul­ture that was start­ing to grow and I wrote about it in the Younger Quak­ers and the Younger Evan­gel­i­cals.

I sup­pose I should find it heart­en­ing that many of the threads of GenX loss and redis­cov­ery we were talk­ing about ten years ago are show­ing up in a pop­u­lar reli­gion blog today (with the sub­sti­tu­tion of Mil­lenials). But I won­der if Friends are any more able to wel­come in pro­gres­sive seek­ers now than we were in 2003? I still see a lot of the kind of lead­er­ship that Web­ber iden­ti­fied with the “prag­mat­ic” 1975 – 2000 gen­er­a­tion (see chart at the end of my “Younger Quak­ers” post). 

Web­ber might not have been right, of course, and Evans may be wrong. But if they’re on to some­thing and there’s a pro­gres­sive wave just wait­ing for a Main­line denom­i­na­tion to catch a lit­tle of the Evangelical’s fire and artic­u­late a clear mes­sage of lib­er­al pro­gres­sive faith, then Friends still have some inter­nal work to do.

Georges And Trayvons

Over on Mobtown­blues, Kevin Grif­fin Moreno cops to being George Zim­mer­man. Thank­ful­ly, he’s not: when feel­ing threat­ened in a recent sit­u­a­tion with racial over­tones, he chose to walk away, but it is worth ask­ing how dif­fer­ent we are from the char­ac­ters of this tragedy.

I nev­er had much expec­ta­tion that the tri­al of Trayvon Martin’s killer would find him guilty. A good team of lawyers can con­jure up rea­son­able doubt over most any­thing. As as Alafair Burke writes on Huff­in­g­ton, much of what Zim­mer­man did was pro­tect­ed by Florida’s insanely-crazy “stand your ground” laws. 

But even with­out that, high-profile court cas­es get so politi­cized so quick­ly that they rarely pro­vide any kind of cathar­sis, let alone jus­tice, when stacked against hun­dreds of years of racial injus­tices. And just as Zimmerman’s judge­ment was col­ored by his racial his­to­ry and bias­es, so too are ours: our opin­ions about what hap­pened that evening in San­ford, Flori­da, are much more a reac­tion to where we fall in the con­tin­u­ums of priv­i­leges than we might care to admit. 

Martin and Zimmerman, swapped races, via Whileseated.org

Priv­i­lege is unearned oppor­tu­ni­ties con­ferred by how close­ly we fit a par­tic­u­lar stereo­type. When I was in my ear­ly 20s, I was once pulled over by a police­man when I was dri­ving aim­less­ly through a sleepy town at 3 am (no good sto­ry I’m afraid: I was sim­ply bored, with insom­nia). He vis­i­bly eased up when he saw I was white, and he got almost avun­cu­lar a minute lat­er when he saw the Irish name on my dri­vers license. I know that almost-forgettable instant could have played out quite dif­fer­ent­ly if I had been black, with a Mus­lim name, per­haps, and a chip on my shoul­der because this was the fifth time that month I had got­ten detained for no good rea­son.

No mat­ter what I do to edu­cate myself, I will always be George Zim­mer­man to (many) strangers on the street, just as Trayvon Mar­tin will always be a sus­pi­cious house bur­gler for being a black stranger in a hood­ie.

The work that needs to be done – or con­tin­ued, for we need to remem­ber the many times peo­ple have done the right thing – couldn’t be answered by a crim­i­nal tri­al any­way. What’s need­ed is the edu­ca­tion of soci­ety at large. 

One step is all of the con­ver­sa­tions tak­ing place on Face­book and around water cool­ers this week. Let’s talk about the fears that sub­con­scious­ly dri­ve us. For Zimmerman’s gun was only one of the trig­gers that killed Mar­tin. It was fear that gave us Sanford’s gat­ed com­mu­ni­ty and its town watch, along with our nation’s per­mis­sive gun laws and dra­con­ian legal con­cepts like “stand­ing one’s ground.” It was that potent mix of sus­pi­cion that set in motion a sit­u­a­tion that left a sev­en­teen year old kid with a pock­et­ful of Skit­tles lying dead face down in the grass. 

Can we learn to under­stand the ways we live in fear? Can we get to know one anoth­er more deeply in that place that breaks down the gates in our hearts?

Trying out iOS 7

It’s prob­a­bly not a good idea to be use bleeding-edge betas. That’s espe­cial­ly true for a tool used dai­ly, like a cell­phone. But I’ll freely admit that Apple’s iOS 7, announced Mon­day, has been itch­ing at me. Cultof­Mac told read­ers straight-out not to install it. But com­menters there and else­where have been report­ing few prob­lems and appar­ent­ly it is pos­si­ble to go back to 6 if prob­lems arise.

So this evening I took the plunge. I used the method out­lined here and signed up at imzdl​.com. It all worked pret­ty well. And so far, so good. The bat­tery looks like it’s drain­ing a bit faster than before, but that’s to be expect­ed of a first beta and it’s not the half-battery that the Chick­en Lit­tles claim. A few apps have bombed on me, but only spo­rad­i­cal­ly. Skype didn’t open at first, but a quick look at their sup­port forums found you just need­ed to delete and rein­stall the app.

Is it worth it? I don’t know. The new icons are still a bit rough, as report­ed, but more than that, their flat­ness looks out of place next to the 3-D icons that most iPhone apps still use. The new quick-settings bar is cool and the par­al­lax effect for back­grounds is cool­er still (it shifts the back­ground as the accelerom­e­ter moves about, giv­ing it all a feel­ing a depth). We’re told that multi-tasking is more robust, but that’s not some­thing one notices imme­di­ate­ly (besides, Android’s had it for years). I’ll update as I explore more. Guess­es are that the sec­ond beta will come in about ten days — I’ll see if I can live with the first beta’s bat­tery hit until then.

A modern-day Commonplace Book?

From a post by Jamie Todd Rubin, \"Going Paperless: How Penultimate and Evernote Have Replaced My Pocket Notebook,\" I\'ve learned the concept of the \"Commonplace Book,\" which he attributes it to Jefferson:

The notion for the “commonplace book” comes from Thomas Jefferson, who used just such a book to capture pretty much anything: passages from books he was reading, notes, sketches, you name it.

Wikipedia takes it further back in its entry on Commonplace books. The name comes from the latin locus communis and the form got its start in a new form of fifteen-century bound journal:

Such books were essentially scrapbooks filled with items of every kind: medical recipes, quotes, letters, poems, tables of weights and measures, proverbs, prayers, legal formulas. Commonplaces were used by readers, writers, students, and scholars as an aid for remembering useful concepts or facts they had learned. Each commonplace book was unique to its creator\'s particular interests.

I really like this idea. I\'ve been thinking a lot about workflows recently (and listening to way too many geek podcasts on my commute). I\'ve been muddling my way toward something like this. I\'m currently using Evernote to log a lot of my life but there\'s scraps of interesting tidbits that have no home. An example from half an hour ago: I was listening to Pandora the train when along came an unfamiliar song I wanted to remember for later. A Commonplace book would be a natural place to record this information (First Aid Kit\'s Lion\'s Roar if you must know, think Bonnie Raitt steps out with Townes van Zandt for a secret assignation at a Stockholm open mic night.)

Of course, being a twenty-first century digital native, my workflow would be electronic. What I imagine is a single Evernote page that holds a month\'s worth of the bits that come along. I have something similar with a log, a single file with one line entries (lots of Ifttt automations like logged Foursquare check-ins, along with notes-to-self of milestones like issues sent to press, etc.). I\'ll start setting this up.

Story: The teapot that survived

“What do you think of this?” It was prob­a­bly the twen­ti­eth time my broth­er or I had asked this ques­tion in the last hour. Our moth­er had down­sized to a one-bedroom apart­ment in an Alzheimer’s unit just six days ear­li­er. Vis­it­ing her there she admit­ted she couldn’t even remem­ber her old apart­ment. We were clean­ing it out.

Almost forgotten history.
Almost for­got­ten his­to­ry. by martin_kelley, on Flickr

The object of the ques­tion this time was an antique teapot. White chi­na with a blue design. It wasn’t in great shape. The top was cracked and miss­ing that han­dle that lets you take the lid off with­out burn­ing your fin­gers. It had a folksy charm, but as a teapot it was nei­ther prac­ti­cal nor aston­ish­ing­ly attrac­tive, and nei­ther of us real­ly want­ed it. It was head­ed for the over­sized trash bin out­side her room.

I turned it over in my hands. There, on the bot­tom, was a strip of dried-out and cracked mask­ing tape. On it, bare­ly leg­i­ble and in the kind of cur­sive script that is no longer taught, were the words “Recov­ered from ruins of fire 6/29/23 at 7. 1067 Haz­ard Rd.”

We scratched our heads. We didn’t know where Haz­ard Road might be (Google lat­er revealed it’s in the blink-and-you-miss-it rail­road stop of Haz­ard, Penn­syl­va­nia, a cross­roads only tech­ni­cal­ly with­in the bound­ary of our mother’s home town of Palmer­ton). The date would place the fire sev­en years before her birth.

We can only guess to fill in the details. A cat­a­stroph­ic fire must have tak­en out the fam­i­ly home. Imag­ine the grim solace of pulling out a fam­i­ly heir­loom. Per­haps some grand­par­ent had brought it care­ful­ly packed in a small suit­case on the jour­ney to Amer­i­ca. Or per­haps not. Per­haps it had no sen­ti­men­tal val­ue and it had land­ed with our moth­er because no one else cared. We’ll nev­er know. No amount of research could tell us more than that mask­ing tape. Our moth­er wasn’t the only one los­ing her mem­o­ry. We were too. We were los­ing the fam­i­ly mem­o­ry of a gen­er­a­tion that had lived, loved, and made it through a tragedy one mid-summer day.

I stood there and looked at the teapot once again. It had sur­vived a fire nine­ty years ago. I would give it a reprieve from our snap judge­ment and the dump. Stripped of all mean­ing save three inch­es of mask­ing tape, it now sits on a top shelf of my cup­board. It will rest there, gath­er­ing back the dust I just cleaned off, until some spring after­noon forty years from now, when one of my kids will turn to anoth­er. “What do you think of this?”

Update March 2017

Prob­a­bly the old­est pic­ture of Liz I have, from 1931. Eliz­a­beth “Lizzie” “Gram­my” Williams Noll, Eliz­a­beth Klein­top, Puerette “Puri” “Pap­py” Noll. On porch of Colum­bia Ave. home, Palmer­ton.

Beyond all odds, there’s actu­al­ly more infor­ma­tion. Some­one has put up obit­u­ar­ies from the Morn­ing Call news­pa­per. It includes the May 1922 notice for Alvin H. Noll, my mother’s great grand­fa­ther.

Alvin H. Noll, a well known res­i­dent of Palmer­ton, died at his home, at that place, on Sun­day morn­ing, aged 66 years. He was a mem­ber of St. John’s church, Towa­mensing, and also a promi­nent mem­ber of Lodge, No. 440, I.O. of A., Bow­manstown. He is sur­vived by two daugh­ters, Mrs. Lewis Sauer­wine, Slat­ing­ton, and Mrs. Fred Par­ry, this city; three sons, Puri­et­ta Noll, Samuel Noll and Thomas Noll, Palmer­ton. Two sis­ters, Mrs. Mary Schultz, Lehigh­ton; Miss Aman­da Noll, Bow­manstown; two broth­ers, Aaron Noll, Bow­manstown, and William Noll, Lehigh­ton. Ten grand­chil­dren also sur­vive. Funer­al ser­vices will be held at the home of his son, Puri­et­ta (sic) Noll, 1067 Haz­ard Road, Palmer­ton, on Wednes­day at 1.30 p.m., day­light sav­ing time. Fur­ther ser­vices will be held in St. John’s church, Towa­mensing. Inter­ment will be made in Towa­mensing ceme­tery.

And there it is: 1067 Haz­ard Road, home of my mother’s grand­fa­ther Puri­ette Franklin Noll one year before the fire. So I’ll add a pic­ture of Puri­ette and his wife Eliz­a­beth with my Mom eighter years after the fire, at what the pho­to says is their Colum­bia Avenue home. Wow!