“Wait, white people can be terrorists, too?”

This what my son asks, when I explain that the KKK is a white terrorist organization. As my previous post of explains, we try to not use the word “terrorist” in our home. http://brooklynbarangay.com/2012/09/12/september-11-and-why-we-dont-use-the-word-terrorist-in-our-home-2/. The basic reason is because terrorism is really just code – code for white supremacist logic about who is “civilized” and who is not, whose lives matters, whose does not.

We rarely watch mainstream news. But my kids were hearing about “terrorism” outside our house, in school, and in the headlines, and so I wanted to introduce a counter-narrative when I used terrorist to describe the KKK.

My son’s question, asked in innocence, casts a glaring spotlight on what terrorism means  in our world today. It means brown people, it means Muslim, it means foreign invaders come to take away civilization and replace it with savagery and barbarism. It is racist code, a way to be racist without using the typical slurs or epithets. It is shorthand to attach the weight of white supremacist logic without having to use all the words. It implies the “great clash of civilization” vs the “savages/heathens” narrative in one short word.

Another example of how the racist trope of terrorism has invaded mainstream culture is during the Lord of the Rings, when the “wild men” attack the “last stand of men” with their heads wrapped in scarfs and on elephants. An unmistakable reference to the brown people of India or the Middle East and again my kids recognized it right away – they said, “hey, look, terrorists”.

So I had to unpack it for them. I asked them why they thought this was true. They pointed to the scarfs and said they looked like the Taliban. I tried to explain racist stereotyping, and we talked about what it would mean to have your country invaded by another army. Should defending yourself be considered terrorism? We talked about US drone strikes that have killed children and civilians. Is this terrorism? We tried to talk about perspectives too, to explain that mainstream culture and media is not our perspective because they frame things from a deeply racist set of assumptions.

I posted earlier about talking about race with our children. And I think I will need to have several more posts on this subject. So it is not enough that we don’t use “terrorism” in our house, in fact, it is wrong to avoid the word. We need to talk about it because obviously our kids are immersed in it. I realize now that our children are growing up with different racist codes, different wars, different hatreds and we need to give the tools to unpack these words and understand what they mean.

What Happens When Your Kids Are Raised In “Foodie” Culture

1. They Invent dishes. Like the one below. My son calls it Pastrami Sushi.

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2. They think about presentation when they make their snacks. When creating said dishes, my son declares – “I need a condiment on it. I ask, “what did you choose?” He answers: “I put a drop of soy sauce on each one for decoration and a touch of olive oil.”  After invention of snack, my kids say, “cheers” before eating it.

3. They think that food needs a name. Actually decides to rename his dish “snackers delight” and declares it should be surrounded by kale chips.

4. They ask about the “origin” of their food and have favorites. My daughter declares that she loves her Mast Chocolate from Belize. Well, I guess a kid liking any chocolate from Mast Chocolate is already a tad on the foodie side. My only defense is Free samples and 3 blocks away from home!

5. They have very pronounced opinions about food. We walk past the Mast Chocolate Brew Bar and my daughter says, “remember when we tried that Chocolate water? There was not even a touch of sugar in it! I mean, I want to taste the chocolate but c’mon! It needs some sugar!”

6. They pick sushi over all other food options and the local sushi chef is impressed by your kids’ palate and has memories of them double-fisting pieces of sashimi at age 2.

Mike Brown and Talking to Our Children About Racism & Walking With Them To Fight It

Here’s the thing –IMG_1720 recently I have heard people talking about WHEN they should talk to their kids about race, as if our children will first hear about it from us – but our society and culture ALREADY teaches our kids about race. EVERY SINGLE DAY. The experience is different depending on the skin you walk around in, but the truth is – ALL our kids are learning their respective places in the racial caste system of the US.

Our children learn about race and White supremacy from an early age. When my daughter was just 3 or 4, she declared that White skinned girls were prettier and that she wished she didn’t have brown skin. Of course, this killed me. My daughter didn’t learn about our country’s racial caste system from me, she learned it from being a brown skin girl in America. White kids know it too, but they don’t have to grapple with it like our children. It is easy to bask in the beauty of whiteness when it is all around you. No need to look at your skin the mirror and wish/ache for something more. And of course, why question it? White children are so used to being the center of everything – movies, books, celebrities, political figures, historical accounts, that when a movie like Hunger Games dares to make a small Black girl an emotional center (not even the star), White children felt free to complain about via social media. And while all children of color experience racism – in this country, with it’s history of slavery and genocide of the First Nations – anti-Blackness and Anti-First Nations has it’s own particular virulence.

We talk about racism all the time in our home. We use it as frame and explanation for many of the questions that my kids feel free to ask. But with the recent murder of Mike Brown, I realized that talking about fighting racism, while essential, was not going to be enough to counter to the anti-Blackness that our kids are exposed to every day.

But actually being out there fighting for a Black life with Black people as the lead – well – that is the heart of it, right? Our children needed to see our anger and despair over the loss of a Black life at the hands of the State. Because in this society that our children live in – they learn that Black life is disposable, not to be celebrated, not to be cherished, or mourned when taken so brutally. They needed to see their non-Black parents watch the racist’s state announcement that essentially blamed Mike Brown for his own murder & they needed to hear us declare the prosecutor’s words to be racist lies. They needed to see us mourn a Black life. And then they needed to see us all march in the street together and take the streets and declare that yes #Black Lives Matter.

Brookyn Barangay Joins The People’s Climate March!

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Getting ready to make some art with DAMAYAN, Filipino Domestic Workers group!

This Sunday, September 21, Brooklyn Barangay will be joining the 100,000’s of people expected to march in NYC to show the world that we DEMAND our world leaders to act now on climate change.

We March because Typhoon Haiyan was the strongest storm to ever make landfall – in the history of the PLANET.

From pics taken in our province of Aklan, Madalag, Philippines, after Typhoon Haiyan.

From pics taken in our province of Aklan, Madalag, Philippines, after Typhoon Haiyan.

We March because the Philippines, our home, suffers from energy poverty, has contributed a tiny % of the green house gases that causes climate catastrophe and YET is one of the countries most at risk for the havoc caused by climate change.

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DAMAYAN’s Banner Clean up! FIGHT Corporate Plunder.

But Marching is not enough. We need to start to act like we are in a climate catastrophe – because we are.

We Need to Fight For Community and Worker Control of our Energy Systems. We must understand that the companies who are the worst polluters : oil and coal will literally let this planet burn for profit. They have manipulated science, public discourse, laws, in order to make a buck KNOWING that they are destroying the world. The very definition of Psychopaths.

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We Need to Fight For a Different, Sustainable Economic System Because: CAPITALISM Is UNSUSTAINABLE. 

527639_10150918412181178_1664081966_nSee You on the Streets!

If measured by how we treat the most vulnerable of us – charter schools would not do so well..

Amazing things happen in our public school all the time. Teachers who call me at night to discuss a wonderful thing my daughter accomplished, text messages of my children enjoying a group art project, a classroom project about Odetta – the voice of the Civil Rights movement. But there are tough times too, kids who act out or are disruptive in class.

Pic from NYC schools website

There is a recent NYTimes Op-Ed about stats that show children with special needs don’t do well in charter schools like Success Academy. In fact, statistics show that much of the “success” of charter schools is based on the fact that they push out children who can’t survive their “no-excuses” regimes, something that public schools can’t do. And should not do! Read the Op-ed here, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/05/opinion/charter-school-refugees.html?hp&rref=opinion&_r=1

And read a great blog post about it here: https://teacherbiz.wordpress.com/2014/04/05/quick-send-your-kids-to-charters-lest-they-be-tossed-in-the-lions-den-with-the-special-needs-student/

It has made me think of a child in particular that our public school has worked with this year and the impact on our children. First, to preface, my girl, is very sensitive and a tad on the anxious side, and other children’s emotional distress has a big impact on her. In the beginning of the year, there was a child who the school was trying to mainstream into our class. I, of course, don’t know all the details of her, or her IEP, but I knew enough to see that she was struggling. Her behavior was disruptive, she was angry in class. The teacher tried hard to work with the child, she also asked the class to try and work with the child. “Let’s all try and help X with his feelings and respect when he is feeling upset and give him space.” I think this was a good thing for my Girl to see, to see grown-ups give attention and caring to another human being who was hard to deal with & to NOT see a child thrown away or discarded.

Unfortunately, in the end, the child was unable to be mainstreamed and was removed from our class and placed in a different class. My children observed this transition, my girl was relieved, because the constant disruptions were hard for her. BUT what was outstanding/miraculous even was that they never learned to stigmatize or blame the child. My children used language that they obviously learned from the school, like “well he needs to learn to deal with his anger more” or “he was moved to a class where there is more support for him.” They learned to have compassion, love, and patience for someone struggling.

Again and again, I see my school treat struggling children with love and compassion. What do children in schools like Success Academy feel learn when their classmates get kicked out of school because they couldn’t follow the strict letter of the law?

Sheltering in Place school drills, DARE dogs, Fallout Shelters and the Monsters under our Beds

My children are learning how to “shelter in place” in school. In Kid’s words, “If someone with a gun comes into the school, they will say a code word on the intercom and we all go into a corner of the classroom, after my teacher locks the door.” At first, I had this moment of mourning for their loss of childhood, etc, but then I stepped back and remembered that kids throughout US history have been practicing drills for different monsters under our collective beds.

In my childhood, it was the War on Drugs and DARE (Drug Abuse and Resistance Education). I still remember the movies – kids on PCP who thought they could fly, kids high on weed who let their baby brother drown, all the while laughing hysterically.  And who can forget the commercial – “This is your brain on drugs” – a sizzling fried egg!~ One of my earliest memories of school is of the DARE bear, or was it a dog? I looked it up, turns out it was a lion?? A policeman and his DARE bear met with us every few months to tell us the dangers of drugs and urge us to turn in our parents if we caught THEM doing drugs. “Just Say No kids!” My kids have heard very little about the dangers of drugs and certainly have never seen a DARE bear. They HAVE learned about the dangers of obesity and Kid #2 always asks, “Am I burning calories? or Is this calories? as she takes a bite of food.” (This DOES NOT come from us, we don’t believe in the body shaming/dieting fad of our culture).

During WWII kids in schools practiced diving under tables in case the Axis powers conducted an air raid. In the 60’s – 80’s the cold war with Russia had us all looking for fallout shelters or building them in our back yard.

I guess my point is that in the moment our fears and anxieties seem very real and terrifying. After Sandy Hook, our schools appear to be nightmares of possible gunmen and murder. According to media, our children all more obese than ever so we should teach our kids about calories. Gunmen in schools, childhood obesity  – these are our children’s monsters under the bed. But in other generations, their monsters also seemed very real and terrifying – drugs, nuclear warfare, German airraids. Today, the monsters of the past look small, even quaint. Or they, themselves, were the actual things we should have feared. The WAR on drugs has arguably done more damage than drugs – the mass incarceration of a whole generation have destroyed families and communities. It also distracted us from what we really should have been fighting – the growing inequality, the failure of trickle down economics, for instance.

My question is  – if this is true, the monsters of the past were just distractions or worse- then maybe our monsters of today aren’t the ACTUAL monsters. Yes, a lone gunman did enter a elementary school and committed a terrifying act and thereby entered all parents’ nightmares. But he was also a child himself, who had long suffered from mental illness and his parents’ hadn’t been able to find him help. Maybe the real monster is the failure of our mental health system. Maybe it is an society that glamorizes violence, guns, and a mean-spiritness that makes it ok for politicians to attack teachers, firefighters, and other public workers as the drains on society.  Yes, obesity and diabetes is on the rise among children. But Maybe the REAL monster is that parents are both working full time (which are 50-60hours a week), jobs don’t give us any time to take care of family, including cooking of healthy meals, parents increasingly rely on empty calories of McD’s dollar menus. Maybe it is the privatizing of our schools and the resulting pressure to produce high testing children and so they don’t have time for physical exercise, art, music, or other creative work.

As a parent, it feels like an exceptionally scary time to be raising children, there is a myth that times were simpler and the monsters tamer in the past. But in truth, children in our society have always been in danger, in capitalism, it’s the most vulnerable that are the least likely to survive. From Black children throughout the US history, to child workers in the factories, and even now children working in our fields, children dying at our borders, it is only the death of certain children that become a national tragedy. Our children are at risk differently, based on race, class, and gender, gender identity, sexual orientation – the fact that we help some children thrive while letting others die – that is the real monster under our collective beds. As poet Audre Lorde said:
“So it is better to speak
remembering
we were never meant to survive”

But those are not the monsters that our children are being prepared for when they learn to shelter in place. 

THE new “Talk” with our Kids – Climate crisis

We were talking about the impending typhoon Haiyan. We were talking in tones of awe, fear, rage. The largest storm to hit the planet, the satellite pictures of a storm that covered the whole country. Our family in harm’s way. The fact that climate change is happening, that global warming threatens to destroy our planet.

My son, “what is global warming?” And so I began to explain how our species’ burning of fossil fuels at unprecedented rates is putting too much carbon into the atmosphere and how this has caused a chain reaction of terrible consequences for our planet. Our planet is warming, our oceans our warming, the ice sheets in the arctic is melting, our oceans are becoming more acidic. And as I spoke, I realized the magnitude of our talk. I mean, we are talking about the end of our planet as we know it, the loss of countless species of animals, the loss of islands and coastlines, the squandering of their inheritance.

My son. He is so intent, so serious for a soon-to-be 9 year old. “So we need to switch to wind and solar.” “What are grown-ups doing about this?”

How do you tell your children than we grown-ups haven’t done nearly enough? That although I believe in science and climate change, I was overwhelmed by the challenge. That I didn’t do much about it all? That WE, as a generation, brought you I-phones, but not climate justice. That we are burning more carbon than ever before?

I didn’t say all of that. But, also we didn’t talk about taking quicker showers and changing light bulbs. I heard that when I was my kids’ in the 70’s! It is too little, too late. We have to transform our entire system. An economic system based on relentless consumption just doesn’t work, relying on the private markets to make the switch has failed.

What I said

I admitted that we didn’t do enough. I said we have to try harder. I explained that we needed to join rallies and protests to fight any new expansion into fossil fuels, like the Keystone pipeline. We talked about democratizing our energy systems and  community control.

For now, we start with acknowledging the problem. Next, I want our children to meet up with other youth so they can begin organizing together. I encourage them to grow up and find solutions, not become rich, or famous.  We talk about limiting our consumption, about the trickery of advertising that makes us think we need things. We talked about the short lived nature of the happy feeling we get when we buy something new thing. We are reading about climate change. We hope to go to some protests. They learned about the Filipino’s own environmental hero – Yeb Sano – chief climate talks negotiator and held up signs to support him during the UN climate talks.

Small conversations, small steps, that will hopefully lead to something bigger.

The “Talk” changed me as much as my children.

I couldn’t look them in them in the eye and tell them about climate change without recommitting myself to do everything I can to work for climate justice. I had always felt overwhelmed by the magnitude of global warming and underwhelmed by US environmental movement which always seemed overwhelmingly white and middle class. Class based struggles and racial justice was where I had decided to fight. But without a planet? And what about my children, what about their future and their children’s future? The science tells us that we are reaching tipping points, points of no return. We owe our children to turn around now. At least I want to be able to look them in the eye, and say that I did the best I could.

To quote this often quoted Chief Seattle, “We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors—we borrow it from our children.”