‘Go Set a Watchman’ by Harper Lee – thoughts

Like a lot of readers of To Kill a Mockingbird, I romanticized and idealized Atticus Finch as the perfect father – virtuous, moral, fair, and good. So like many of the same readers, I was ambivalent when Harper Lee’s manuscript for Go Set a Watchman was published. Not only was the question of her senility bothering me, but I also wondered if a sequel would ruin my memories of To Kill a Mockingbird – would an inferior sequel somehow dampen my appreciation for the original.

Interestingly enough, Lee wrote Go Set a Watchman first, and an editor suggested that she expand on the section in which the novel’s protagonist, Scout reminisces about her childhood. Telling the story from a child’s point of view is interesting because like her readers, Lee’s heroine sees her father in a similarly hero worship way.

What pushed me to read the book was the attention that Atticus Finch was receiving. Unlike the moral hero in To Kill a Mockingbird, the Atticus Finch in Go Set a Watchman is a flawed human being. Though he still has a serious set of codes and ethics, he’s also racist. To many this characterization was shocking and dismaying – some refused to read the book, so that their perfect image of Atticus Finch remains so: perfect. More than any other book, To Kill a Mockingbird inspires a sentimentality among many of its readers, probably because it’s one of the first “issue” books read as a child.

Go Set a Watchman takes place years after To Kill a Mockingbird. Scout returns to Maycomb to an elderly and increasingly-infirm Atticus Finch, who lives with his opinionated sister. Meeting her on her return is her longtime beau, Hank, a childhood friend who hopes that their casual relationship would eventually turn into marriage. The plot of To Kill a Mockingbird takes place in a chapter, in which Scout things about her father’s crusading work as a lawyer.

For most readers approaching Go Set a Watchman, the media coverage of Atticus Finch’s racism will weigh heavily during the reading. It did for mine. I read with dread, waiting for Atticus Finch, the klansman to appear – and it doesn’t happen. Atticus is racist, and it’s disturbing to read this once-revered paragon of virtue espouse disgusting attitudes about race – but the character is essentially an allegory of toppled heroes – no one can live up to heroic standards, and certainly no one can live up to the standards set by idealistic children. Atticus Finch was frozen in amber for Scout and Harper Lee’s readers because we all saw him through Scout’s eyes, when she was a child. Harper Lee doesn’t create Atticus Finch for readers to wholly condemn – instead, he acts as a way for readers to condemn placing too much value and worth on our heroes.

When Scout discovers that her father is an attendant of the Citizens’ Council, it makes her sick – literally. All of her notions of goodness and righteousness are questioned because the man who instilled those values has turned out to be tragically human. Scout and Atticus engage in a dialogue, in which Scout’s impotent rage and offense is easily bounced off by Atticus’ measured defense. It’s a disgusting defense, in which Atticus undoes much of the mythic goodwill he’s engendered in To Kill a Mockingbird. Believing that racial equality is an inevitability, he also sees it as a danger to black people: he’s condescending toward black folks, thinking that they are too backward, childish and simplistic to hold public office, teach in schools, govern, etc. This line of thinking ignores black intellectuals who lived in the United States since slavery, nor does it take into account that in the rural south, whites often suffered because of lack of education and a paucity in resources that middle class folks take for granted.

Part of Atticus’ point was also his resentment at the Brown vs. the Board of Education – particularly the overreach of the Supreme Court in the decision that integrated public schools. It feels very timely reading Got Set a Watchman, in light of how many are characterizing the marriage equality ruling as an instance of the Federal Government overstepping. In Scout’s formless condemnation of the Supreme Court’s ruling as well as Atticus’ more articulate slam as Harper Lee’s feelings of angst over the Federal Government and its role. The resolution between Scout and Atticus also feels cheap and unearned – despite their differences, Atticus is proud that his daughter has principles and stood up to him. The problem is the principles that Scout held aren’t formulated all that well, and Atticus is clearly patronizing his daughter in much the same way he patronizes the black people in his life.

It’s a strange passage in a strange book. It’s a confusing text – sometimes brilliant, but often the story feels a bit too self-satisfied in the characters’ quirkiness, especially when it comes to Scout’s inability to conform to social standards. I felt the book was at certain moments too cutesy in mining comedy – especially when it comes to Scout’s relationship with her aunt, a Southern belle with a penchant for corsets and a devoted obedience to societal and gender mores. The two have a predictably prickly relationship, and it feels cliched and forced.

But there are moments that are breathtaking because of how well written and interesting they are – for example, when Scout finally realizes that the black people employed into domestic servitude aren’t the one-dimensional angels who happily abandon their own families for white families is brutal but important. With books like The Help or Gone with the Wind, the relationship between whites and their black servants is often romanticized at the expense of the examination of the hierarchies that create these inequities. In Go Set a Watchman, some of that happens, too – but it’s deceptive. Though Scout’s mother is dead, her maid, Cal acts as a surrogate mom, even explaining puberty, sex, and menstruation. But when Cal’s grandson is arrested for accidentally running over a white man with his car, a perceptible curtain is dropped between Cal and Scout. Scout visits Cal, hoping to cheer her because Atticus will take on the case (only because he doesn’t want the NAACP to get involved), but her visit to Cal’s home is heart wrenching because she finally learns how tenuous their bond was, and how racial injustice can sour even the seemingly purest of affections (that of a child to a loving adult).

In the end, I read Go Set a Watchman  because I felt I had to. Besides being conflicted and disappointed, it did make me want to read To Kill a Mockingbird again. It’s important for readers who feel cheated or robbed to see this book as another work of art – separate it from the original book. It’s not a clear sequel, as it was written before To Kill a Mockingbird, and really, it acts more as a literary curio – like seeing a good rough draft. I see that Harper Lee was aiming at asking deep questions about race as well as about how children attach values and ideals to their parents – these are important issues to look at. But her questions about race as well as her justly righteous disgust with racism are mitigated by an unsure heroine who cannot seem to intellectualize or verbalize her feelings. Scout as a child is precocious and interesting – Scout as an adult is hesitant and frustrating.

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Book, commentary, movie, What I'm Reading, Writing

Andy Cohen’s “Jackhole” comment proves Amandla Stenberg is right…

Actress and activist Amandla Stenberg took to social media to critique cultural appropriation – particularly Kylie Jenner’s cornrows. Cultural appropriation debated because it’s unclear to some why it can be damaging to take on tropes of an oppressed culture as a fashion statement. With Stenberg the issue lies in the cognitive dissonance that occurs in our culture when white women take on black female cultural tropes and are praised, but black women who do the same are criticized. When a white woman wears a black woman’s hairstyle, she’s often looked at as fashion-forward, subversive, and stylish. This kind of cultural appropriation isn’t new: young white men have taken on tropes of black male culture (at least what is marketed as black male culture) to assert their independence, as well.

Whether we agree with Stenberg or not, her critique has validity. While the Kylie Jenners of the world are praised and receive attention for their hair, black women who have worn their hair for years face discrimination and critique. Either they’re dismissed as “ghetto” or “ratchet,” or they’re forced to change their hairstyles to something more “professional” when they are in the workplace (black men face similar issues). Kylie Jenner isn’t the issue – she’s just a public example of how we fetishize black female style when it appears on famous white women, but criticize it when it appears on black women in our everyday lives. It’s a type of aggression that is indicative of a culture that still sees blackness as exotic, with a need for some kind of context to make it passable.

With this in mind, it’s problematic when a media figure like Andy Cohen takes on the issue. On his Bravo TV talk show Watch What Happens: Live, Cohen devoted his “Jackhole” segment to Stenber, calling her the “Jackhole of the Day.” On the show, Cohen was speaking to former Vogue editor Andre Leon Talley and actress/activist Laverne Cox. When Cohen brings up the subject, Talley reports that he’s fine with it, while Cox implies her approval by bringing up Bo Derek (who famously wore cornrows in Blake Edwards’ film 10).

Setting aside for a moment that Stenberg is 16, the issue I have with Cohen’s take on the subject is that for one thing, he dismisses the issue as an online feud, which is reductive. He even went on Twitter later and clarified his “Jackhole” comment by tweeting, “To clarify, I gave the jackhole to an online feud & certainly not to the topic or to any individual. I ironically hate online feuds.” Interestingly enough – and to Cohen’s credit – the talk show host tweeted an apology, stating, “I want to apologize to Amandla. I didn’t understand the larger context of this cultural discussion and TRULY meant no disrespect to her or anyone else.”

What’s so interesting about Cohen’s apology is that he really summed up perfectly why Stenberg’s comment created so much confusion and controversy. “I didn’t understand the larger context of this culture discussion.” Cohen inadvertently blundered into a debate about cultural appropriation, but for whatever reason, he was clueless as to what Stenberg was getting at with her critique. Cohen took Stenberg’s calling out as merely a cat fight between two young ladies, which is sadly evidence of why people like Stenberg are necessary.

Though she’s only 16, Stenberg has already produced some thought provoking discussions on race and cultural appropriation. As a young woman of color, Stenberg is going to be viewed and listened to through a filter of some kind, whether it’s because of her race, gender, or age. With Cohen’s initial assumption, Stenberg was painted as catty and petty – she wasn’t engaging in thoughtful cultural critique but throwing shade and being in a feud.

All of this has unintended irony because Bravo is home to The Real Housewives of Atlanta, a show that to many is a smorgasbord of black stereotypes – none of which are particularly flattering. Reducing women to archetypes is what reality TV does, and TRHOA caters to an audience that revels in watching these women affirm these damaging stereotypes, and it’s all done for either a laugh or a thrill – again, the black woman is exoticized and otherized, the behavior outlandish and flamboyant.

That Talley and Cox sat through Cohen’s comments without saying anything is disturbing. Because I’m white, I won’t go into Cox’s or Talley’s responsibility as black people to stand up for a young woman of color, or to school Cohen on cultural appropriation. It’s not my place to scold them, nor is it my place to insist that as black individuals, they should “know better.” But as adults, they should’ve stepped in and raised a flag and reminded Cohen that the person he was calling a “Jackhole” was a 16 year-old kid.

I’m glad Cohen apologized. But I wish it wasn’t necessary because I wish everyone – particularly those who have a strong media presence like Cohen – understood the damaging effects of superficial and exploitative cultural appropriation. I also wish that when a young black woman speaks her mind, she isn’t summarily dismissed.

Update: How quick social media works – Laverne Cox wrote a great piece about cultural appropriation.

http://lavernecox.tumblr.com/post/124093373221/my-thoughts-on-cultural-appropriation

Leave a comment

Filed under Celeb, commentary, politics, Television, TV, Writing

Three legendary divas try to reclaim what was once theirs on the pop charts: new singles by Madonna, Janet Jackson, and Mariah Carey

Back in the fall of 1995, four of pop music’s most successful divas: Whitney Houston, Madonna, Janet Jackson, and Mariah Carey were released highly-anticipated albums. This was an era when people actually bought physical CDs and given each performer’s track record, expectations were high. Houston was coming out with the soundtrack to her starring vehicle, Waiting to Exhale, which would give her a handful of top 2o hits; Carey was releasing Daydream which is one of her biggest sellers in her career; and both Madonna and Jackson were coming out with greatest hit collections for the holiday season, each of which would go on to sell over 8 million copies each. In those days, it was a guarantee that a product by any one of the superstars would be lodged in the top ten for weeks.

But now, 20 years later, pop music has changed. Older artists are edged out for younger performers, and if an album manages to sell a million copies, that’s considered a monster hit. Houston sadly died in 2012, yet her colleagues are still around, making music, and seemingly trying to recapture some of their former glory. Each has come out with a single in the past few months, with sales being sleepy for all three songs. Carey, Jackson, and Madonna have seen their record sales all dwindle as tastes change.

 

Bitch I'm Madonna (The Remixes) [Explicit]Madonna’s “Bitch I’m Madonna,” is the third single from her 13th studio album, Rebel Heart. Teamed up with rapper Nicki Minaj (who guested on Madonna’s last top ten hit, 2012’s “Give Me All Your Luvin'”), the legendary dance diva has the strongest single of the three vets. As with her albums, Madonna has an uncanny ability to pick producers who know how to compliment her pop aesthetic, while remaining just subversive enough to be interesting. “Bitch I’m Madonna” is really a producer’s showcase – DJ and remixer Diplo creates a swirling mess of a dance song that shoehorns EDM, dance-pop, hip-hop into a surprisingly listenable song. There are samples of acoustic guitars, skittery beats, video game beeps and pops, and a farting synth that undulates alongside Madonna’s heavily-layered vocals. Diplo has his work cut out for him because he has to make an established pop star sound outre and original – a difficult task, as Madonna’s been in the business for over 30 years, and has seemingly tried everything. So instead of handling his muse with kid gloves, he converts her into a 21st century Donna Summer to his Giorgio Moroder. The song doesn’t reference Madonna’s storied past, and instead makes the case that Madonna’s still a relevant and powerful tunesmith. Instead of recalling Madonna’s fantastic past, the lyrics place Madonna squarely in the present. She presents herself as the queen of the party, still able to raise hell and cause a stink. And to her credit, she doesn’t sound hopelessly uncool, nor does she come off as some desperate legend trying to sound hip “for the kids.”

 

InfinityIf Madonna is happy in trying new things, Mariah Carey is interested in some good old-fashioned nostalgia. Her single “Infinity,” the title track off her latest greatest hits record, #1 to Infinity will remind ardent Carey fans of her best pop ballads. A lot has been said about Carey’s diminished vocal range –  I don’t hear it. She sounds great on this breezy, overwrought ballad. When one listens to Mariah Carey, it’s not for subtlety or truth, but to get ones musical sweet tooth satisfied. And though the lyrics are supposed to be empower in an “I Will Survive” kind of way, they are merely there to let listeners revel in Carey’s substantial set of pipes which can still belt and do that crazy dog whistle thing. The song has a catchy chorus that moves at a sweeping pace because of wall-to-wall strings and with dramatic drums. Though it’d be nice of Carey would start using her prodigious talents to do something more substantial, as a lovelorn, breakup ballad, “Infinity” fits the bill nicely.

 

 

No SleeepLike Carey, Janet Jackson decided to return to pop music with a pop ballad. Unfortunately, of the three songs reviewed here, “No Sleeep” is the least interesting. Misspelling aside, “No Sleeep” is a misleading title because it’s a drowsy quiet storm ballad. This is Jackson’s first single in 5 years, so it’s a surprising that she’s chosen this slow meandering tune instead of a dance single which would show her off in her best light. Though she possess a pretty voice, it’s thin and airy, and her vocal limits are often highlighted when she slows down. On “No Sleep,” she indulges in some of the bad habits she leans on when she’s singing slower songs, namely the whispered cooing and random spoken bits that sound like they were recorded under layers of gauze – she tries to reach for some real singing in the bridge, which has the singer use a fuller voice, which is nice, but unfortunately, she falls back on the drowsy delivery just as soon as she belts, which is a shame because it’s the only time the song comes to life. All of these debits would still be okay if the song was well-written with a memorable hook. Unfortunately, Jackson and her longtime collaborators, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis chose to craft a song without a hook – instead it’s meandering and formless, with little-to-no structure. Though it’s only three minutes long, it feels interminable.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Celeb, commentary, music, Nonfiction, Writing

Why I No Longer Eat Watermelon, or How a Racist Email Caused Me to Leave Graduate School

Originally posted on int / med:

You_can_plainly_see_how_miserable_I_am

Names have been changed to protect myself from these very silly and possibly litigious white people.

I received a racist email in 2011, when I had just started the English PhD program at Rutgers University. This email has come to define so much of who I am, in ways both good and bad. I think about it every day. I get lost in it. Sometimes a stray thought or an offhand comment can catch me off guard, bringing this email and everything it represents rushing to the surface. It’s an awful cycle, and a destructive one that I want to break. The purpose of this post is to attempt to do exactly that. I want to exorcize these memories to the best of my ability, to drag them out. So here we are.

Some context. As I said, I was a first-year student in the English PhD program. I got this email…

View original 4,182 more words

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Texting during a show is wrong, but so is stealing…

To many, Patti LuPone is a folk heroine because she snatched a phone away from an audience member who was texting during her performance. At a July 8 performance of Shows for Days, LuPone, fed up with a texter, finished her line and grabbed the phone just after her exit line. She handed the cell phone to the theater manager. Theater fans at the show blew up social media (well, as much as social media can blow up when Patti LuPone’s the story) with the tale of the diva’s act, and LuPone herself released a statement rightly pointing out that “We work hard on stage to create a world that is being totally destroyed by a few, rude, self-absorbed and inconsiderate audience members who are controlled by their phones. They cannot put them down. When a phone goes off or when a LED screen can be seen in the dark it ruins the experience for everyone else—the majority of the audience at that performance and the actors on stage. I am so defeated by this issue that I seriously question whether I want to work on stage anymore.”

LuPone was right to be upset. Unless it’s an emergency (and we still don’t know what was the texter’s deal), one shouldn’t text during a live performance. It’s bad enough to text at a movie theater, where you’re bothering fellow patrons, but at a theater, with the lights dimmed, the bright LED screen from a cell would be distracting for anyone.

That being said, LuPone doesn’t get to be the police and steal phones, either. This act of citizen policing is another incident that builds up the difficult image that has followed the Tony-winning actress/singer throughout her career.

The end of her statement hints that she may leave live theater because of the prevalence of cellphones. Though I think she’s a supremely talented singer and actress, that may not be the worst idea. A difficult part of live performing is that it’s, well, live. Because a singer is singing in front of people, she cannot control the elements, nor can she control how the audience will respond. She also cannot control the behavior. Being a live performer in the 21st century means understanding that folks seem to be glued to their cellphones (I’m sure a few folks in the balcony were also filming LuPone’s performance that night – every time I go to a concert, and I see cellphones held up like lighters).

Interestingly enough, this wasn’t the first time that LuPone did something like this during a show. Back in 2009, while in Gypsy, LuPone stopped during “Rose’s Turn,” to demand that a guy with a flash camera be thrown out of the theater. As with the texting incident, LuPone rightly pointed out that flash photography upsets performers and can be very distracting (the image of an irate LuPone reacting to flash photography reminds me of warnings not to use flash photography in certain parts of the zoo).

In a blog post from back in 2006, LuPone wrote about her issues with theater – essentially grousing that she can’t control the audiences that come. She complains about the folks in the front row dozing off during the production, or boorish clods eating and getting tanked. But she makes a good point by saying “[theater] is a dying art from,” yet still she wants her audiences to be elegant. “It’s just not done in the theatre or shouldn’t be,” she primly notes. It’s interesting because it feels as if Patti LuPone’s role isn’t just Evita Peron or Gypsy Rose Lee, but also of Emily Post.

But though what LuPone did was understandable, it was also a little silly. And self-contradictory. You don’t teach etiquette by then misbehaving. If I’m at a dinner party, and am offended by a guest’s table manners, my response wouldn’t be to humiliate him in front of my other guests (“Elbows off the table, what, were you raised in a barn?”), but hold my tongue and wait till the dinner’s over before losing my shit. And depending on how well I knew the pleb, I may have a word with him in private.

LuPone should’ve finished up as she did and then had a word with the theater manager – who should have his/her ushers patrol the seats from time to time to make sure that cellphones aren’t being used during the show. As I wrote earlier, she should seriously consider devoting her career to film, television, and the recording studio, if live performances can be too unpredictable. With a film or CD, a performer can control all the elements, and not have to worry about dummies taking photographs, texting, eating, or sleeping. Her departure would definitely be a loss to the theater world, but gaining notoriety as a temperamental scold isn’t the greatest PR, either.

Leave a comment

Filed under Celeb, commentary, music, Nonfiction, Writing

‘The View’ should consider hiring Candace Cameron Bure…

The View is losing another panelist, Rosie Perez, who is leaving the show. This announcement isn’t surprising because there were rumors of Perez’s departure after she took time out to star in Larry David’s play Fish in the Dark. Judging from her performance on The View, I think it’s a good idea for the actress to leave what appears to be a sinking ship, as it struggles to find itself after an exodus of the show’s main players. This year was a year of transitions, and none of them were smooth. After Elisabeth Hasselbeck left in 2013, the show lacked a strong conservative voice. This season featured Republican strategist Nicole Wallace, famous for her work on the McCain/Palin campaign. Unfortunately, for the show, Wallace’s conservatism is one of an analytical kind – she comes from it from an intellectual point of view, which means, unlike Hasselbeck, she rarely reverted to the scary Right Wing nonsense that Hasselbeck would spout joyously (or tearfully) when she was on the show. While I appreciated Wallace’s restraint and intelligence, it was a little dull.

Which is why I’m thinking The View should tap Candace Cameron Bure to fill Hasselbeck’s slot as the Right Wing fundie needed to inject some drama into the show – and hey, as an added bonus, she even kinda looks like Hasselbeck (though to be fair, Bure kinda looks like every Right Wing news anchor). Bure appeared on The View this week, and like her nutty fundie brother, Kirk Cameron, she didn’t disappoint, defending a baker who refused to bake a lesbian couple a wedding cake. Raven-Symone, who is queer, was obviously put out by Bure’s assertion that the baker’s bigotry is protected by the Constitution, and the two got into some bickering – which was awesome, and made me think of the days when Hasselbeck would spout some garbage that she read off the Internet. It was all kinds of amazing, because Raven-Symone, a queer black woman, was comparing the baker’s bigotry to racism in 1960s era Segregation, and then Bure – a cis straight white woman – corrected Ms. Raven, informing her that she was comparing “apples to oranges.” I love it. Only in the mind of someone like Candace Cameron Bure, can a white straight person school a gay black person on discrimination. And Ms. Raven was not having it for the rest of the show, throwing all kinds of shade in tense body language toward the artists formally known as D.J. Tanner. It was the kind of hot mess that made The View great in its heyday. Bure intentionally affirming straight privilege, while unintentionally whitesplaining is the kind of TV that The View should be. And there’s also something very strange about two former child stars of 80s TV sitcoms arguing about gay rights on television.

Which is why the producers need to hire Bure onto the show, because she seems like the perfect Elisabeth Hasselbeck clone, and would probably safe the show’s sinking ratings. You see, I don’t think people stopped watching the show because of its alleged liberal bias, I think they’ve stopped because it’s too staid and boring. When Whoopi Goldberg brought up abortion, Bure tried on some Hasselbeck sass by saying “bring it,” before the Whoopster quickly shut her down with a great line that essentially said, “You’re Christian, so you don’t have to have an abortion – but hands off my body.” It was vintage Goldberg schooling Hasselbeck, and it made me nostalgic for the days of The View when Goldberg would roll her eyes as Hasselbeck would question the rights of gays, immigrants, women, Muslims, etc. Those were great days. I think the problem is the producers are mistaken in thinking that people watch The View for trenchant political debate or discussion – please, it’s The View….We want to see celebrities giving each other the stink eye.

If it sounds like I’m damning Candace Cameron Bure with faint praise….Well, I am. I think she’s ridiculous, obviously. But I do have some affection for her because she was the only one on Full House that I didn’t find to be an irritating bore (and in the later seasons she was actually funny). But even if I think she’s ridiculous, it doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy her – being ridiculous and being enjoyable aren’t mutually exclusive. And when she’s not spouting fundie nonsense, she’s actually personable and kind of funny – see her episode of In Bed with Joan, for proof that she was able to hold her own against a comedy powerhouse like Joan Rivers and not come off like a blithering idiot (though, I’m always confused when homophobes partake of gay culture).

Anyways, Candace Cameron Bure gets my vote for the newest View candidate…

Leave a comment

Filed under Celeb, Comedy, Sitcom, Television, TV

An actual conversation I had about marriage equality

Yesterday I had he day off, but like every workaholic worth his salt, I still decided to pop in to work, to make sure that all is well at work. Because I didn’t want to bother with public transportation, I hopped in a cab. I love taking cabs in Chicago because every cabdriver in the city seems to listen to NPR.

On my ride, the cab driver and I were listening to the story about the escaped convicts from New York state. The story is pretty incredible – almost like a movie, really. A guard gets seduced by a convict and is convinced to help him and his buddy escape. I’m thinking Lifetime needs to get on this story quick (oh, and I think the part of the guard would be ably played by Meredith Baxter).

The cab driver was fascinated by the story, particularly because the prisoners were convicted murderers. Suddenly, he became very philosophical as he thought about murderers.

“You know, to kill a human being, something must be really wrong with you.”

“What do you mean?” I asked. “Like mentally wrong?”

“Yes, exactly. A chemical imbalance. I think if you can kill a person, then that’s something inherent in you – it’s biological.” He then added, “That is why I’m opposed to capital punishment, because the murderers, they are killing people, but they cannot help themselves. It’s a sickness.”

I mentioned the work of a psychologist who studied serial killers – John Wayne Gacy, in particular. The psychologist theorized that serial killers do seem to have some abnormalities in their brains, that could account for the impulse to kill.

“You see,” he said, with a sweeping hand motion, “They are born that way,” he said, quoting Lady Gaga’s gay right anthem.

My thought about Lady Gaga wasn’t inappropriate, because he then added, “Just like gays and lesbians…we say gays and lesbians are ‘born that way,’ and so we shouldn’t criticize them for being gay or lesbian.”

I’m always careful in cabs whenever my cab driver gets interested in discussing homosexuality. I’m in the guy’s car, so I don’t know if my ass would be handed to me if I got all LGBT activist. But before I could say anything further, he asked, “did you hear about the Supreme Court?”

“You mean gay marriage being legal? Yeah, I did.”

As we drove down Clark street, he beamed over his shoulder, “I think that’s a good thing. I think what the Supreme Court is saying is that here in the United States, everyone is treated fairly and everyone is equal…And I think that’s a good thing.”

“I agree,” I said cautiously, “I think it’s great that if gays want to get married in this country, they can.”

“It is…I’m from Nigeria,” He said, which explained his accent. “And in my country we don’t like homosexuality. We see it as an abnormality, or an anomaly, a deviance, you know. We know that there are gays and lesbians in Nigeria, but we want them to be hidden away so that we don’t have to see them.”

He then sighed, “And you know, that’s not good. We shouldn’t criticize them for being gay and lesbian, because it’s just who they are. You know, I think Nigeria’s a bit backward when it comes to homosexuality, and we should be more like the United States.”

Touched by his candid assessment of his homeland, I felt the need to step in: “Well, I wouldn’t say that a country is backward just because it doesn’t have gay rights. For us, here, in the United States, gay rights works. In other countries, people have to decide their own way.”

He agreed with me. “Of course, but still, I think that there should be more…sympathy for gays and lesbians. Although, I will tell you something, I don’t have a problem with homosexuals, but,” here we go, “I do have a problem when it’s thrust in my face.

“Sometimes, in my cab, I’m driving gays or lesbians and they are kissing in my cab, and I think, ‘what you do at home is your business, but there is decency, too.’ But then the homosexuals will think that I’m criticizing them, and their lifestyle. But I don’t like heterosexuals kissing in my cab.

“You see, I feel as if when they are acting that way, they are trying to provoke a response of some kind – a reaction, like daring me. But I find the act repulsive, I see two lesbians kissing, and I feel repulsed, it’s offensive.

“Still,” he said as he pulled up to my office building, “I believe that they should be allowed to get married and have the equal rights.” As my credit card was being charged, he continued, “I traveled all over the world, and I see gays and lesbians everywhere – England, Denmark, Belgium. They’re everywhere. So they should have the same rights as everyone.”

Leave a comment

Filed under commentary, Nonfiction, politics, Writing