Black, White, and Red All over

Classic dad humor. My dad used to ask, “What’s black, white, and red all over?”

Wait for it….

… A newspaper! (Get it? Read, not red.)

Hah. Now I look around our country, and black, white and red seems like a pretty accurate color palette. Racism, violence, fear and blood-boiling anger are being brushed across our landscape at a rate many of us can hardly keep up with. If you ever wondered what you would do if you lived during the civil rights era, stop wondering. This is happening now.

Black, white.

And red. All over.

This Thursday morning, mother of 26 year old Mario Woods was found weeping over the blood stained cement in the Hunters Point neighborhood where her son, Mario, was killed the day before. A suspect in a reported stabbing earlier that day, Mario was confronted and ultimately killed by 10 police officers. Over twenty shots were fired.

“He almost made it home,” she said.

Today I had to walk into school, just a few blocks down from where Mario was shot, and have a crucial conversation with my fifth graders. Some of my students had seen a video of the police officers shooting Woods. A few of them had no idea about what had happened, and were startled by the news. A few were at the scene of the shooting and witnessed everything.

In our circle, when one student claimed that he felt worried, I asked why. He said that since he was an African American male, he feared that one day this may happen to him. I nodded in response, anger welling up inside me. I knew that I could not look him in the eye and guarantee that as long as he stayed out of trouble, he would never be confronted by a police officer with the same hostility they showed Woods. All of my students have seen the news this year. My African American students (about half of my class) know that the stats are not in their favor.

In a letter writing activity to the Chief of San Francisco Police, one of my students wrote eloquently:

” Dear Chief Suhr,
I feel sad because your officers killed a person, instead of just thinking of a solution. And I know he did not follow directions, but they should [have given] him another chance. And that’s why I write this letter. Please next time try to solve the problem. ”

In my class, we talk a lot about solving problems. My school pushes students to be independent and to work really hard when they have an issue, rather than taking the easy route. The student who wrote this is ten years old. He comes to school and works hard every single day. He solves problems. Out of all of the perspectives I’ve seen on this incident, his is the one that has stuck with me the most; he presents an untainted worldview that is compassionate, yet rational.

God is not a solution. We can not simply pray for the communities that are affected by all of the terrible gun violence and police brutality that is going on. A nice gesture, but not a solution. It is not enough to accept that these things happen and hope that it will get better.

It is not okay to make the judgement to take someone’s life and later claim that the suspect lunged toward you. At KIPP, we do not accept excuses. We do not take the easy way out.

When it comes to death, there is no grey area. Put away the guns and find a solution.

No more red. No excuses.

Too Big and Too Cold

 

 

While student teaching a year ago, I discussed with my students the happenings in the book Number the Stars, in which a young girl and her family flee from the Nazi’s in war-torn Denmark. In a written response, one of my students argued: “safety is an illusion that we all keep.” She remarked how the author uses a distant relative’s safe house as a symbol of safety, but the family continues to feel terrified of the Nazi’s reaching them. She mentioned how the mother wades into the ocean to get on a boat and is in despair, claiming that the ocean is simply “too big and too cold.” This nine year old then went on to describe how, at some point, the world is just too big and too cold for everyone who lives in it.

Is she right?

I grew up never quite knowing this feeling. I remember finding comfort any time I had a nightmare, knowing that my dad was just a few bedrooms away, and he would protect me from anything that could hurt me. The boogie man, ghosts in my closet, my creepy neighbor who once stole my undies- you name it, he would defeat it. It was the same with the police. I always thought, if it’s over my dad’s head, that is was the police are for! There was always someone to protect me. Undoubtedly.

This past school year I  was given many opportunities to reflect on my privilege in comparison to my students and their families. Students began telling me about their experiences with police, their experiences of violence in their community, and more often than not, the intersectionality of these two. These kids, and so many- too many- like them grow up having the illusion of safety ripped out beneath them before their feet even hit the ground for the first time. Forget the literal sense of being protected; for a moment let us focus on the idea. Is it not this illusion which keeps us sane?

As a nation, we continue to chase this safe house, this illusion of safety, and slapping new faces on it. The War on Drugs! Harsher drinking and driving laws! Gun Control! Gun control! GUN CONTROL!

Until we can all discuss the reasons in which many of Americans have given up on the safe house illusion, we are still losing in my book. There is no safety without people believing in those who are meant to keep us safe. Right now, the world is too big and too cold. The tide brings with it systemic racism, bullshit politician mumbo jumbo, income inequality, classism, and fear. It retreats. It returns, bringing with it more and more and more fear.

The more we ignore the tide, the more our illusion of safety- an illusion we love so much-fades into darkness. The world is too big and too cold.

 

3

3:4/06 11:26

I approached my doorstep.

A man sprawled out face down, clearly not from here ; shoes gave him away.

Friends threw him away.

Like a seal on a rock he lay there, an island in a sea of pepperoni vomit.

Friends emerged after 3 calls. 1, a hang up. 2, an empty promise to come soon. 3, an agreement to leave the Little Darlings strip club to retrieve their seal.

I became invisible when they appeared.

Insisting he should eat his vomit, insisting it was only fair.

Boys will be boys.

Why did I expect anything?  A “thanks” or “sorry about our friend here…”

Finally, eyes met mine as I stepped over the flopping man. Words began pouring out, but he was not talking to me…

“You know she’s going inside to masturbate to this, right?”

2: 5/18 6:55

Planted on the corner of Pierce and Chestnut, blubbering to Mom on the phone.

“The most hilariously terrible awful day…”

“Isn’t it amazing? How incredibly coincidentally BAD today is? Isn’t it AMAZING!!!!”

Yes, I had lost it. I was aware.

A man appears before my eyes. Mid-forties, nothing peculiar about him.

He gestures to get my attention. He ignores my face that reads” I DO NOT WANT TO GIVE YOU MY ATTENTION.”

He begins to speak. ” Stop crying. You shouldn’t cry. Why are you sad? You don’t need to be sad… Don’t cry, pretty girl…” He ignores my request to

“PLEASE STOP TALKING. PLEASE. STOP.”

Thank you, sir. I feel so much better now.

1: 5/21 11:35

“Hey! Hey you there!” A silhouette in an old corolla. No, two silhouettes.

“I’ll give you 5,000! ”

“Hey honey! Slow down! I’ll give you 6,000!”

$$$.

Shame on us for wearing  dresses above our knees. Shame on us for dressing like such prostitutes.

 

 

 

Dare to Bare

An event takes place in San Francisco every once and a while, urging women to show up in sports bras and men to show up shirtless. They claim that women need to be “empowered” to show off whatever body they have, and that we should not be ashamed of our bodies or insecure of them.

Really? First of all, the fact that this even was sponsored by SoulCycle is ridiculous, accompanied by the fact that it took place in the Marina. How often do you see severely overweight people in the marina?

Exactly.

Soul Cycle’s audience is mostly young, in shape women and men. By saying that women should not be shamed out of wearing sports bras, you are shaming the women who do not feel comfortable taking their shirts off in a soul cycle class. You are not going to “solve” insecurity, and you especially aren’t going to solve it by taking your tops off and doing soul cycle on marina green. This is like Heidi Klum walking into my yoga class in a sports bra and bootie shorts and being like “Look at me! I am confident in my own skin! You should be confident too! Don’t be insecure about your body! Take your shirt off and be proud!”

Um…. no thank you.

This movement is a poor excuse to give women another idea of what we should be wearing and how we should feel about what we’re wearing. Dare to Bare, you now have a competing movement. It is called:

Dare to Wear Whatever the Fuck You Want Because It’s No One’s Business What You Decide is Comfortable for Your Own Body.

Too long?

I thought so. Damn.

 

Link

Love Letter to San Francisco

Hi,

I just wanted to tell you that I see you.

Through my google glasses.

Just kidding. I remember when we first met. You were windy and grey, my cheeks were pink. The air was strong, unrelenting. You smelled of promise and of hope and of wackadoodle culture, subculture, counter culture, above-ground undergroundedness.

The conversation tables at the Red Victorian, unchanged since the time when people didn’t need to be told to look into eyes instead of screens. Murals, protests, parade after parade of anyone who has something to say. You refuse to let people not talk.

You let me live. You let me bathe in the definition of living until I have soaked it up and rung it out like a towel, only to bathe in a new definition of life soon thereafter.

I see you bleed as you have bled before. I see you being shaken and rattled by clashing perspectives, the tsunami of tech assholes and tenants being pushed, pushed, pushed out and of history repeating itself with black people and white people and brown people and of new art, old art. Where is the art? Where did it go?

I hate you with all of my bones as I get on the dreaded 8 line and love you again as soon as I look out the window.

You have your issues. You need help. But I will not leave you. I will teach your children the best that I can and I will listen. Listen to what you are trying to teach me. I will watch and I will listen to your terrible, lovely, un-hiding story without judgement or inaction. I will act.

Please do not lose yourself in the new Sales Force tower or bureaucracy or violence. Stay raw and messy and keep showing off your sunsets.

I love you.

M.

Sunday Yellows

My Sunday Blues are better than yours.

At the peak of my Sunday Blues, I get to remind myself of my Monday morning. I may be lying to say the blues are totally shattered-  after all, weekends are pretty wonderful. But they do pause for one long, delicious breath. My Sunday Blues are paused when I remember that in the next 24 hours I will get to stand in front of a room and have twenty faces look up from their books and scream, “GOOD MORNING MS. MCCRACKEN!!!!” How cool is that?

Maybe someday I will get tired and jaded and this moment will no longer give me such giddy excitement, but until that day comes, I will continue to revel in my Sunday Yellows.

I love those twenty faces. And I love my job, even on Mondays.

Hair

The following is an essay I wrote as an example of a memoir for m fourth and fifth graders.

I looked down at the hairbrush and saw a big wad of hair. “Gross”, I thought. “Do I really shed that much hair?” Sitting on the bus on the way to school, another snapshot of hair sprung up in the forefront of my memory. It was the image of a chunk of hair caught in a hairbrush, but this time the brush had twice as much hair. In fact, it looked a bit like a rodent. It looked… disturbing.

I looked up from the brush and saw my mother’s face. She looked sullen, defeated. In her other hand was a pair of scissors and a comb. “Will you cut it?” she asked. “It’s itching me, and it’s falling out in bigger chunks.” My mom had cancer. She always tried not to act like it was a big deal, but once her hair started falling out from the chemo, I could tell she was beginning to feel irritated. Not in a sad, sick puppy kind of way, but more so in a stubborn, I’m stronger-than-I-look-please-don’t-pity-me kind of way. She and I both knew that once she was bald, that look would follow her everywhere. ‘

I took the scissors, looked her square in the eye and replied, “It will be my honor.” She knew I was being dramatic and playful by my overly-formal tone and grand arm gestures. We both chuckled, as if we were trying to convince ourselves that this was not a big deal, it would be okay.

My mom’s hair was about shoulder-length at the time. It was honey vanilla blond and thick like rope. I fought my intuition to set the scissors down and back away. I began to snip. The sound of the scissors was muffled, slightly- we chatted as I combed and cut. My mom made jokes about me hacking her hair off, I tried to reassure her that it was fine- I had done this with my Barbies a dozen times. We giggled and gabbed like girlfriends. I remember thinking how odd all of this was. I looked down at the pieces of hair on the ground and began to feel apprehensive about soon having to see my mother as a bald woman. Then I began to feel guilty about feeling apprehensive- after all, this was not about me.

Finally, after I had cut it as short as she wanted it (before going to the hairdresser for a final buzz), I turned her around to face herself in the mirror. She turned, and paused for an excruciatingly long moment. She was a deer in the headlights. In that second, I asked myself, “Should I tell her? Should I tell her how bad she looks? Oh no….” All of a sudden, an enormous grin emerged on my mom’s face. She broke out into hysterical laughter… and I did too. I’m talking about tear-inducing, deep belly, could barely breathe kind of laughter. She exclaimed in between laughs, “I… look… like…” She took a big gulp of air…” BILLY RAY CYRUS!!!” I could barely see through the tears in my eyes from laughing so hard, but she was right. I had given my mother a mullet. It looked awful. I exclaimed, “Business in the front… party in the back!” We laughed for what felt like an hour. Finally, we gathered ourselves and she looked at me, silently agreeing that maybe this wasn’t so bad. And in that moment she was the most beautiful person I had ever seen.

Hair is a funny thing. We take it for granted- sometimes it hold meaning, sometimes it tells the world things you don’t want it to know about you, like you overslept, you had a hat on for half the day, you don’t know how to use a curling iron, you have cancer. Sometimes, though, even when hair tells the world something, you can look it right in the eye and say hair is just hair. You can let things that are out of your control make you sit back and give up, or you can shake them off and choose to have a good, old fashioned, pee- your pants kind of laugh. I looked up at my hand while sitting on the 38 Geary. Something had been tickling my finger- it was one loose, long strand wrapped around my thumb. I picked it up, let it fall, and felt a smile spread across my face.