Solidarity With Take The Knee

My late father was a huge football fan. He was also openly racist — something I wish he had lived long enough for me to confront him about, steadily challenge and change in him.

He was not a stupid man or a garden variety asshole, but a stubborn and macho one. His racism was lazy and flimsy enough that I think he could have been converted. But as I said, he loved football and the Take The Knee protest would have gotten his attention, and gotten him to think. Dad was not an unfair man, and as a Jew, he understood historic persecution and irrational hatred. I think it would have jolted him to consider that the guys he loved watching play his favorite game were not just gladiators being paid to entertain him but human beings with justified anger and concern about social injustice suffered by their people. It would have opened conversation with him, I think, in a way that no other Black Lives Matter action has done.

This is how social change movements MUST work: coordinated and engaged across diverse areas and places in a sick society so that they can meet and confront people where they are. How brilliant and brave and effective for Colin Kaepernick to interrupt the mindless entertainment of football with a statement about reality beyond the stadium.

Please engage with the enraged and tell them what this is about. Tell them to stop repeating the stupid mantra “Stick to sports.” Tell them to LEARN. Tell them that the whole point of protest is to make people like them uncomfortable. Tell them that this is not about protesting Trump, and that it began during the Obama Administration. Tell them to read Ta-Nahesi Coates Between the World And Me or Wesley Lowery’s They Can’t Kill Us All, or Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow or to to read Race Matters by Cornel West or Waking Up White by Debby Irving. Tell them to read Peggy McIntosh’s seminal essay, “Unpacking The Privilege Knapsack.”  Tell them to see the documentary “I Am Not Your Negro” and to read James Baldwin. Tell them that black lives are more important than white feelings and to stop centering their own defensiveness in conversations about systemic racism in America.

Tell them that white privilege is separate from economic privilege and to stop insisting that they don’t have privilege because they grew up poor or disadvantaged or Irish or Jewish. Tell them that comparing Irish indentured servitude and prejudice against other groups of immigrants in the U.S. to the unique horror of the African slave trade is a diversion that needs to stop.  Only Native American peoples have an equal status as survivors of white genocide on this soil. Tell them to stop intellectualizing and sparring and opining when there are dead bodies in the streets and packed into our prisons. Keep at it. And while you’re at it, tell them that even my bigot of a father knew that what he and his brothers fought for in World War II and the Korean War was EXACTLY what those who Take The Knee are doing now, and not for a flag and an anthem.

“Mansfield Park:” Black Suffering And White Romance

Last night I watched Patricia Rozema’s 1999 adaptation of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, which I looked forward to because I knew there would be an irrepressible heroine and lots of sexy 19th century repartee done up as only Jane can do it. Great cast, too.

After the film, starring Frances O’Conner, Jonny Lee Miller and Harold Pinter (!) was over, I tweeted, “I think I just watched a movie about how slavery interferes with white people’s romantic lives?”

Because what the hell was that?

Let me summarize for you: Fanny Price is a poor relation who gets sent to live with rich relations in Mansfield Park. She is in love with her virtuous cousin Edmund (who winds up being a clergyman – score one for positive depictions of clergy in cinema!). She is courted by a super hot but untrustworthy rake named Henry Crawford.

Fanny Price’s uncle, Sir Thomas Bertram, makes his fortune largely through dealings in the West Indies. Fanny, though, is concerned about the evils of slavery (as is her cousin Edmund and her dissolute, drunken other cousin Tom, as we shall see). On her way to Mansfield Park in a stagecoach, she passes a harbor and hears the distant ululations of the slaves on a ship. The driver informs her that that’s the sound of “black gold.” The ship and the sounds from it return very briefly in a couple of other scenes. They trouble Fanny, you see.  She and Virtuous Edmund make abolitionist murmurings in one or two scenes, but never to directly challenge Sir Thomas, but more to inform him that they’ve been reading.

Reading is a much more important virtue to these characters than speaking out directly against the hand that feeds them — even when they have indisputable truth, as Fanny gains through the discovery of a sketch pad filled with images by an eyewitness, that Sir Thomas is a raping marauder of African women as well as being a direct beneficiary of the slave trade. Meanwhile, she frets prettily in those empire-waist gowns. We’re meant to see her as a woman in a sexist predicament: her futures are dictated by patriarch Sir Thomas who wants her to marry a guy she thinks is of poor character. Believe me, I’m sympathetic. But if Austen can have cousin Maria abandon her husband Sackcloth or Rightcroft or Snailditch (hilariously portrayed by a Hugh Bonneville in a poodle wig, whatever the hell his name is) and flee with a hot lover, she could surely have arranged a similar, parallel flight for Fanny for more righteous cause.

Here’s where I’m like, “Wow, I know that it’s silly to expect 21st century consciousness and intersectionality from Jane Austen, but how about this filmmaker in 1999?” Given that Patricia Rozema added some dialogue and changed some plot points for her film adaptation of  Mansfield Park, I wondered why she could not have added even one scene where the characters could actually grapple with the evils of slavery in a way that wasn’t merely a device to enhance the apparently integrity of the two romantic leads. I’m talking two or three lines of dialogue.

As it was, the theft, rape, torture, murder and enslavement of Africans by the English was used as a plot device to move white people through personal issues of integrity and romantic partnerings, which is how black lives are often used in white stories.

At one point, the apparently soul-sick Tom (that’s why he drinks! He’s guilty about supporting slavery) becomes gravely ill and Fanny is rushed back from her squalid home in Portsmouth to help nurse him. We are supposed to infer that Tom, whose ailment is never explained, is basically dying of moral injury. This effects a bedside mea culpa from his father, the evil Sir Thomas, who weeps, “Forgive me.” However, that apology is not for financially benefiting from the slave trade or raping African women who are never seen except as sketches drawn by a white man’s hand and heard by a white woman from a stagecoach, but a father’s distressed cry at the bedside of his dying heir: “Forgive me, and live to inherit my fortune and run my company.”

In other words, the forgiveness is begged not of the real victims of slavery, but of the white man whose conscience was inconveniently troubled by it.

That’s where I think I hooted and threw my remote control across the room.

After Tom (miraculously) recovers and all the romantic partners get squared away (the one character who showed lesbian leanings is exiled, of course, as she turns out to be a thorough baddie), the film ends on a quaint lawn scene as the narrator explains how things resolved. As it turns out, heh heh, Sir Thomas divests from his “interests” in the West Indies but goes into the TOBACCO industry. Isn’t that a great punch line? HA HA HA, a slave-tended crop that kills people! The cheerful music and wink-wink tone of the narrator signals that we are to find this information a mildly naughty irony rather than sickening evidence of the character’s continued exploitation and destruction of countless, anonymous black bodies, families and lives.

We so easily could have had a slightly redeeming coda saying that Franny and her husband Edmund joined an abolitionist cause, but naw. The pretty white heroine got her guy and happy ending. No need to mention slavery, as it was just there to provide a background conflict for white family drama.

Not one of the reviews I could find online mentioned this problem with the film; not even Roger Ebert’s four-star write-up.

Not even Hugh Bonneville’s poodle wig and rouged cheeks could sweeten my bitter disappointment.

mansfield park 1999 hugh bonneville












Weekends in my neighborhood are festive, with Latino music and parties and grilling. I could do without the 2AM firecrackers going off right outside my bedroom window, and I need to learn how to say both “firecrackers” and “heart attack” in Spanish and chat with a few of my neighbors.
I happened to go out for Mexican food last night and see a flier — in both Spanish and one in English — advertising a vigil for the Orlando victims – in a park about .3 miles from me. My stomach is a mess and I dare not head out, but I can hear the sounds of a distant song or chant through a megaphone through my open study window that faces the street.
We read the names of the 49 murdered today in church. We lit candles for them. I said this:

Again, hateful violence has exploded out of one angry, deranged individual and shattered the lives of countless people in the murdering of 49 of them, and the wounding by bullets of many others.

In Orlando, at a gay club called Pulse, these men and women died. They were all unique individuals with names and stories and circles of love and relationship that extended far beyond each of them, just as all our lives extend. We name them now, in solidarity and sorrow.

Stanley Almodovar III
Amanda Alvear
Oscar A Aracena-Montero
Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala
Antonio Davon Brown,
Darryl Roman Burt II
Angel L. Candelario-Padro
Juan Chevez-Martinez
Luis Daniel Conde
Cory James Connell

Tevin Eugene Crosby
Deonka Deidra Drayton
Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez
Leroy Valentin Fernandez
Mercedez Marisol Flores
Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz
Juan Ramon Guerrero
Paul Terrell Henry
Frank Hernandez
Miguel Angel Honorato

Javier Jorge-Reyes
Jason Benjamin Josaphat
Eddie Jamoldroy Justice
Anthony Luis Laureano Disla
Christopher Andrew Leinonen
Alejandro Barrios Martinez
Brenda Lee Marquez McCool
Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez
Kimberly Morris
Akyra Monet Murray

Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo
Geraldo A. Ortiz-Jimenez
Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera
Joel Rayon Paniagua
Jean Carlos Mendez Perez
Enrique L. Rios, Jr.
Jean C. Nives Rodriguez
Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado
Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz
Yilmary Rodriguez Solivan

Edward Sotomayor Jr.
Shane Evan Tomlinson
Martin Benitez Torre
Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega
Juan P. Rivera Velazquez
Luis S. Vielma
Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez
Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon
Jerald Arthur Wright

May we continue to affirm, unequivocally, that sexuality is a gift of pleasure and joy and that no bodies are sinful or created wrong. Consensual sexual attraction between people who are not hurting or exploiting anyone else, whether for the purposes of procreation or just for the expression of the joy in being alive, is a BLESSING.

We affirm the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people of any self-chosen label or no label at all in the life of the church and affirm their equal rights under the law.

Unitarian Universalists are committed to anti-racism, and therefore we respect the significance of the fact that the murderer chose Latino night at the club to target his victims, almost all of whom were people of color.

Unitarian Universalists are committed to inter-faith work and understanding, and do not hold any entire people – in this case the Muslim community – responsible for the acts of one of their members.

Let us pray.
God, grant us strength to endure these outrages and to be present to reality rather than shielded from it.

May we be steadfast in our commitment to challenge all of the factors that make this kind of violence possible.

May we pray peace upon the victims and upon all those who mourn, and for our nation in turmoil, divided by ideologies that create rancor and divide us from each other.

La paz sea con ellos. Peace be upon them.

May our work, our presence, our benevolent rage, be our steadfast prayer.

Concédenos tu paz , la paz que sobrepasa todo entendimiento.
Grant us your peace, the peace that passeth understanding.

– Rev. Dr. Victoria Weinstein 19 June 2016
Unitarian Universalist Church of Greater Lynn


[Please pardon any errors in my Spanish. – VW]