Nasty Woman

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Ashley Judd speaks to the crowd at the Woman’s March in Washington, DC.

Women made their opposition to President Donald Trump known last Saturday with protests across the nation and globe. The Woman’s March brought hundreds of thousands of people to Washington in a kind of unwelcoming party to the Trump administration.

 

With speakers and performances cutting across generations, one speech emerged during the rally as a showstopper. Actress, activist and writer Ashley Judd fired up a sea of pink hats with her four-minute speech that’s more battle cry than “prepared words.” Written by nineteen-year-old Nina Donovan of Franklin, Tennessee, Judd performed the poem for the crowd assembled in Washington, D.C.

Nina Donovan’s incendiary poem entitled, “Nasty Woman,” is an expressive protest of Trump’s dismissive and misogynist characterization of Hillary Clinton during the contentious campaign. He used the term “nasty woman” to refer to the former Democratic nominee for the 2016 Elections during the last televised debate.

Donovan reportedly attends Nashville’s Columbia State Community College where she studies sociology. A local Dunkin Donuts employs her. The teen expressed being bewildered by her newly found celebrity and all the attention – positive and negative – in the wake of the poem’s circulation on social media.

The free-form prose includes the P-word infamously used by Trump and leaked in a tape where he bragged about grabbing women’s genitalia by way of Hollywood “privilege.”

Here is the full text of what Donovan wrote. Keep them close by because for the next four years we are going to need them.

NASTY WOMAN

I am a nasty woman.

I’m not as nasty as a man who looks like he bathes in Cheeto dust. A man whose words are a distract to America; Electoral College-sanctioned hate speech contaminating this national anthem.

I am not as nasty as Confederate flags being tattooed across my city. Maybe the South actually is gonna rise again; maybe for some it never really fell. Blacks are still in shackles and graves just for being Black. Slavery has been re-interpreted as the prison system in front of people who see melanin as animal skin.

I am not as nasty as a swastika painted on a pride flag. And I didn’t know devils could be resurrected, but I feel Hitler in these streets—a mustache traded for a toupee; Nazis re-named the cabinet; electro-conversion therapy the new gas chambers, shaming the gay out of America turning rainbows into suicide notes.

I am not as nasty as racism, fraud, conflict of interest, homophobia, sexual assault, transphobia, white supremacy, misogyny, ignorance, white privilege.

I’m not as nasty as using little girls like Pokémon before their bodies have even developed.

I am not as nasty as your own daughter being your favorite sex symbol—like your wet dreams infused with your own genes.

But yah, I am a nasty woman?!

A loud vulgar, proud woman.

I’m not nasty like the combo of Trump and Pence being served up to me in my voting booth.

I’m nasty like the battles my grandmothers fought to get me into that voting booth.

I’m nasty like the fight for wage equality. Scarlett Johansson: Why were the famous actors paid less than half of what the male actors earned last year?

See, even when we do go into higher paying jobs our wages are still cut with blades, sharpened by testosterone. Why is the work of a Black woman and a Hispanic woman worth only 63 and 54 cents of a white man’s privileged daughter?

This is not a feminist myth. This is inequality.

So we are not here to be debunked. We are here to be respected. We are here to be nasty.

I am nasty like the blood stains on my bed sheets. We don’t actually choose if and when to have our periods. Believe me, if we could, some of us would. We don’t like throwing away our favorite pairs of underpants. Tell me, why are tampons and pads still taxed when Viagra and Rogaine are not? Is your erection really more than protecting the sacred messy part of my womanhood? Is the blood stain on my jeans more embarrassing than the thinning of your hair?

I know it is hard to look at your own entitlement and privilege. You may be afraid of the truth. I am unafraid to be honest. It may sound petty bringing up a few extra cents. It adds up to the pile of change I have yet to see in my country.

I can’t see. My eyes are too busy praying to my feet hoping you don’t mistake eye contact for wanting physical contact. Half my life I have been zipping up my smile hoping you don’t think I wanna unzip your jeans.

I am unafraid to be nasty because I am nasty like Susan, Elizabeth, Eleanor, Amelia, Rosa, Gloria, Condoleezza, Sonia, Malala, Michelle, Hillary.

And our pussies ain’t for grabbin’. Therefore, reminding you that are walls are stronger than America’s ever will be. Our pussies are for our pleasure. They are for birthing new generations of filthy, vulgar, nasty, proud, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Sheikh – you name it – for new generations of nasty women. So if you [are] a nasty woman or love one who is, let me hear you say, “HELL YEAH!”

HELL YEAH!

HELL YEAH!

The global pink “pussy cat” chorus serenaded President Trump and his administration on Saturday, one day after his inauguration.  They sang in unison, “President Trump…do not underestimate the power of women. We stand shoulder to shoulder to make clear we will not be silent. We will not play dead. We will FIGHT for basic dignity for all humans, period.  We will fight for economic opportunities for everyone and our children.  We will fight for RESPECT for all women, all nationalities for every generation.”  President Trump, if you “thought we were nasty women before, buckle up buttercup. Our pussies are not for grabbing!”

To which I say: Right on, girl!

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Hidden No Longer

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Mary Jackson, one of the “hidden figures” who were instrumental in helping the United States win the battle to get the first man on the moon.

Before John Glenn orbited the earth, or Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, a group of dedicated female mathematicians known as “human computers” used pencils, slide rules and adding machines to calculate the numbers that would launch rockets and astronauts into space.

 

Among these problem-solvers were a group of exceptionally talented African American women, some of the brightest minds of their generation. Originally relegated to teaching math in the South’s segregated public schools, they were called into service during the labor shortages of World War II, when America’s aeronautics industry was in dire need of anyone who had the right stuff. Suddenly, these overlooked math whizzes had a shot at jobs worthy of their skills, and they answered Uncle Sam’s call, moving to Hampton, Virginia and the fascinating, high-energy world of the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory.

Even as Virginia’s Jim Crow laws required them to be segregated from their white counterparts, the women of Langley’s all-black “West Computing” group helped America achieve one of the things it desired most: a decisive victory over the Soviet Union in the Cold War, and complete domination of the heavens.

Stories like those of the women in the early years of NASA – who performed calculations that were literally out-of-this-world while curtailed by both sexism and segregation – have been largely forgotten.

That is, until now.

Hidden Figures: The Story of the African-American Women Who Helped Win the Space Race, Margot Lee Shetterly’s exhaustively-researched book, and recently made into a highly acclaimed movie of the same name changes all that.

In Hidden Figures, Margot Lee Shetterly tells the untold story of these brilliant women, once on the frontlines of our cultural leaps and since sidelined by the selective collective memory we call history.

I had no idea that black women played such a key role in our space program. It’s great to finally acknowledge those who contributed so much – and received so little credit for their work. Hidden Figures tells the story of four determined black women, who overcame numerous obstacles, and worked in the space program at Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory (now known as Langley Research Center.) It was at this Virginia lab where Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden were able to employ their skills – and really make a difference. It was behind the scenes work back then – but now we know the real picture. To give the reader an idea of how difficult it was for a woman – much less an African-American woman – to actually become a mathematician, the author notes these statistics: “In the 1930s, just over a hundred women worked as professional mathematicians.” The likelihood of a black woman actually becoming a mathematician working on the space program was about zero: “Employers openly discriminated against Irish and Jewish women with math degrees. The odds of a black woman encountering work in the field hovered near zero.”

Oddly, the Soviet Union actively encouraged women in engineering. The schools in the Soviet Union were “loaded with women” including many of their engineering grads. Alas – that was not the case in the United States, which struggled to find a place for women and Negroes in its science workplace, and in society at large. At the time, women generally received little credit for their work. It was unusual for a woman to even be acknowledged as co-author of a report. The work of most of the women, like that of the computing machines they used, was anonymous. Even a woman who had worked closely with an engineer on the content of a research report was rarely rewarded by seeing her name alongside his on the final publication. At the lab, life for black women was not quite as bad as outside, where strict rules were followed, with blacks always separate from whites. At Langley, the boundaries were fuzzier. Blacks were ghettoed into separate bathrooms, but they had also been given an unprecedented entrée into the professional world. At Langley, the work was serious; lives were at stake. Sending a man into space was a damn tall order, but it was that part about returning him safely to Earth that kept Katherine Johnson and the rest of the space pilgrims awake at night. Recall that the United States did not yet have a track record of successful space launches. In fact, many launches were complete failures. Two of the Atlas’s last five sallies had ended in failure. One of them had surged into the sky, erupting into spectacular fireballs with the capsule still attached. That was not exactly a confidence builder for the man preparing to ride it into orbit.

Against a sobering cultural backdrop, Shetterly captures the enormous cognitive dissonance the very notion of these black female mathematicians evokes: “Before a computer became an inanimate object, and before Mission Control landed in Houston; before Sputnik changed the course of history, and before the NACA became NASA; before the Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka established that separate was in fact not equal, and before the poetry of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech rang out over the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Langley’s West Computers were helping America dominate aeronautics, space research, and computer technology, carving out a place for themselves as female mathematicians who were also black, black mathematicians who were also female.”

In the introduction to her book Hidden Figures, author Margot Lee Shetterly relays what it was like to grow up as a black girl in Hampton, Virginia, where most of her community worked at the nearby Langley NASA research center.

I knew so many African Americans working in science, math, and engineering that I thought that’s just what black folks did,” Shetterly, whose father was employed at NASA as an engineer, writes. “Growing up in Hampton, the face of science was brown like mine.

Some of those brown faces belonged to women, even in times long before it was normal for women to work outside the home. Before electronic computers made the job obsolete, the synapses powering the math behind the breakthroughs in this field belonged to women known as “computers,” meaning simply “one who computes.”

But what Shetterly saw as the norm as a child likely comes as a surprise to most Americans today. In Silicon Valley, physics laboratories, and university classrooms  –  and particularly in popular media and imagination  – the face of the research designed to propel America to the future is still disproportionately male, and often quite white. Stereotypes about “brogrammer culture” and inherent differences in mathematical ability dissuade women, particularly women of color, from technological fields.

February has, in recent decades, been Black History Month. I hope the organizers include these NASA “computer” women and show America we would not have made it into space and back, to the moon and back, without the beautiful and amazing minds of these dedicated and talented women math masters. The STEM efforts (STEM, previously SMET is an acronym that refers to the academic disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) should be linked to this as well. And we should remain mindful that the linkage between music and math is very strong and that few blacks end up encouraged to pursue math if they show some talent in music.

I kept thinking about the book and movie Hidden Figures. These women were educated engineers and mathematicians – one a prodigy with an extraordinary capacity for calculating numbers and theorems in her head. When astronaut John Glenn prepared to become the first American to orbit the Earth, calculations for his re-entry into the atmosphere require an urgent adjustment. Glenn knew whom to ask for: “the smart one,” he says of Katherine Johnson. Sure enough, she gets it exactly right.

Yet for all her skill and talent – for all her genius – Johnson and the other black women are routinely subjected to humiliation and insults, to the condescension and cruelty that were the common lot of black Americans when “Whites Only” and “Colored Only” signs – and burly state troopers enforcing Jim Crow laws – maintained strict segregation between the races.

Despite several white restrooms in the NASA control center where she worked, whenever nature called Johnson had to run half a mile to the colored bathroom in another building. She was the only black and the sole woman among an all-white team who would not even allow her to share the coffee machine. When she was called out for taking such lengthy breaks, her suppressed anguish at the second-class treatment suddenly erupted. You can feel her pain.

While her friend Dorothy Vaughan oversaw thirty or more black “computers,” as the women officially were identified, she was consistently and rudely denied the title and pay of white supervisors. Mary Jackson was barred from attending engineering courses at the town’s all-white school until a judge reluctantly agreed she could attend – the night class. Somehow these women survived the malice, meanness and pervasive oppression of everyday life to carry on successful lives with dignity intact.

Bill Moyers relates: “Washington, DC in the mid-’60s glowed with pride over America’s besting of the Soviets up in the heavens, and there I got to know NASA Administrator Jim Webb. I attended meetings on space policy over which he presided, shared in moments of celebration at the agency’s successes and relished his boisterous remembrances of the first thrilling but precarious days of the space program. I never heard these women mentioned. There were no shout-outs to them, no newspaper features, no official recognition. They were swallowed back into anonymity and invisibility – into the suffocating holding pen that was American apartheid.

The civil rights movement was then beginning to gain force, a power that would bring change, and at the end of Hidden Figures, we see photographs of the real women and learn they finally earned recognition through intelligence, skill and hard work. As we left the theater we saw tear-stained faces throughout the auditorium, and we ran into several friends who had unabashedly wept both in joy for the three women and their “ultimate triumph,” as one said, and in sadness at ‘the long neglect through which they had to pass.’

I thought again of those photographs later that evening during the Golden Globe Awards, when Tracee Ellis Ross of the TV series Black-ish dedicated her award “for all of the women, women of color and colorful people, whose stories, ideas, thoughts are not always considered worthy, and valid and important. But I want you to know that I see you. We see you.”

We see you.

Finally.

Which brings us to Jefferson Beauregard “Jeff” Sessions III.

If he could, Jeff Sessions, the President-Elect’s nominee for Attorney General, would take back all the racial progress made up to now. Now he will at last have the chance to turn the clock back, which is why Donald Trump chose him. I watched Sessions feint and evade during the hearings and thought what an insult his appointment is to a half-century of history in which the civil rights movement helped end overt oppression and won for Johnson, Vaughan, Jackson, Darden, and countless others the standing and recognition they earned and deserved as citizens.

As Americans.

So much struggle and sacrifice over the years, so many burned churches, mutilated bodies, ticking bombs and bloodshed – so much venomous human behavior before America finally began to get it right. Racism still remains a powerful toxic stream flowing through American life.

Too many people are still unseen.

Through his career as a prosecutor in Alabama and as a United States senator, Jeff Sessions has done what he could to frustrate the gains of all the “hidden figures” among us by attempting to disenfranchise or suppress their votes.

He called the Voting Rights Act of 1965 “an intrusion” before cynically voting to reauthorize it and then quickly signing on to a Republican effort to undermine it.

When the conservative Supreme Court eventually gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013, Sessions said it was “good news… for the South.”

Since then he has championed voter-ID laws and remained indifferent as Republican state legislatures undertook a massive campaign of repression against black voters.

In the 1980s, he prosecuted civil rights activists on dubious charges – behavior that when coupled with an allegation that he had called a black colleague “boy,” cost him a Reagan-era appointment as a federal judge.

The NAACP, which Sessions once called “un-American,” describes his record on voting rights as “unreliable at best and hostile at worst,” and also notes “a failing record on other civil rights; a record of racially offensive remarks and behavior; and [a] dismal record on criminal justice reform issues.”

And he opposed reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act.

Benign in manner, soft of voice but hard at the core, Jeff Sessions is the perfect figurehead for the resurgent white nationalists who now aim not to make history but to reverse it – by a hundred years or more if they can. This is the man to whom Donald Trump is handing the enforcement of our laws from civil and voting rights to environmental protection, antitrust enforcement, housing, employment and all the rest.

Expect new laws, but little justice, and be vigilant as America’s shadows become ever more crowded with hidden figures of every shade.

 

 

 

 

 

Expect the Unexpected

surprise3I suspect that you have probably been to a number of surprise parties for a friend or for a relative. There you are, you and a bunch of friends, all waiting for the victim – I mean – the party honoree, to walk through the door so that you can greet that person by shouting, “Surprise!” at the top of your voice. You are gathered there in the living room or family room. The lights are turned very low. Everyone is talking very quietly, but excitedly. Every now and then somebody says, “Shhhhh, I think she’s coming!” and the whole room becomes silent. The hushed tension of the excitement and expectation is so thick in the air, one can almost cut it with a knife. All hold their collective breaths until the door opens, the honoree enters, and is thoroughly overwhelmed. “Surprise!

That feeling of expectation and excitement is one of those delicious moments of life. There is nothing else quite like it. That is what the anticipation and expectation of this New Year is like.

Recently, I came across this story about a young child named David. Little David’s favorite character in the whole world was Superman. He had Superman pajamas and a Superman plate and cup. He had Superman action figures. And for his birthday, David received a Superman cape. David was ecstatic. He put on the cape and ran as fast as he could around the backyard. It was not too long afterward, however, that he returned to the house, out of breath, with the cape in his hand. In disgust, he threw it on the floor and said, “This thing doesn’t work.” David’s Superman cape did not live up to his expectations.

Unfortunately, sometimes reality does not live up to our expectations. Often reality is like hearing someone at that same surprise party, say, “Shhhhh, I think she’s coming!” and everyone becomes silent. Then the door opens and in walks – the wrong person! The effect is a dash of cold water in the face of our excitement and expectation.

I do not remember where I read this story, but I believe that it illustrates my point of being prepared to expect the unexpected. Listen. One year at Christmas, money was tight in the family. After all the bills were paid, there was not much left for the mother and her four children to use to spend on each other for Christmas. That year the mother took the children to the mall and gave each of them a twenty-dollar bill and told them that was all they had to spend on each other. The children did not seem to care. They all went off thinking of inexpensive and creative ways that they could spend their five dollars per person. Their mother gave them instructions to meet her back in an hour.

The hour went by quickly and soon everyone gathered again. They all were excited and they all hid their bags so that no one could see what they had bought. The youngest daughter’s bag was the smallest of all the rest. But the mother did not think too much about that until they all piled into the car and the youngest dropped her bag. The bag fell open and candy bars fell out. Mortified at what had happened, the youngest daughter blushed, hurriedly picked up the candy bars and shoved them back into her bag.

Her mother was furious. She knew her youngest daughter was a little irresponsible and had a sweet tooth, but for her to go and spend all the Christmas money on herself was inconceivable! Mother stewed about the incident the whole way home. The children all rushed into the house to wrap their presents. The mother followed her youngest daughter into her room, closed the door and started telling her how disappointed she was in her for spending all of her money on candy bars for herself.

The little girl started to cry, and then said, “But I didn’t. These aren’t for me. These are the presents I bought for you and the others.”

The mother then asked, “But what happened to the rest of the money?”

Then the little girl explained that she had been shopping and could not find anything that she liked for anyone else. While she was shopping in the mall, she saw a tree covered with angels. So she went to see what it was all about and found an angel with the name of a little girl on it who needed a pair of gloves, a coloring book and a box of crayons. She thought about all the possessions that she and her family had and decided to buy those gloves, that coloring book and that box of crayons for that little girl. When she was finished, all she had left was enough money to buy everyone in the family a candy bar. To paraphrase Art Linkletter here, “Kids do the darndest things!”

The mother learned a valuable lesson that day about assumptions and expectations. The mother had assumed certain things about her youngest daughter. She had expected a different explanation than the one she received and was not prepared for the one she heard. The explanation was unexpected.

So let us be filled with the excitement of expectation of the New Year. Let us prepare our homes and our families and more importantly, let us prepare ourselves.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Deeds, not Words

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In Charles Schultz’s comic strip Peanuts, Linus and Charlie Brown are depicted as being all bundled up with caps and coats on a snowy, wintry day. They spot Snoopy shivering in the cold. Desiring to comfort him, they walk over to him.

Linus speaks first, “Be of good cheer, Snoopy.”

Charlie Brown adds, “Yes, be of good cheer.”

Then they turn and walk away. Snoopy is left still shivering. A large question mark appears over Snoopy’s puzzled expression as he watches Linus and Charlie Brown walk away.

Love is intended to carry us beyond words to deeds.

For many of us, it is easier to love from a distance rather than “up close and personal” because it is not as complicated or as involved.

Sometimes it is easier to see the forest rather than the trees.

Sometimes it is easier to write a check to a relief agency than to love or take care of our neighbor next door.

Sometimes it is easier to say a prayer for the person far away than to reach out physically to someone in the same predicament locally.

Real caring occurs on a one-on-one basis and must be more than simply giving it lip-service.

Our caring for one another might occur through a counseling appointment,

a hospital call,

a nursing home visit,

a twenty-minute meeting on the parking lot with a friend,

or a brief encounter in an aisle at the grocery store with someone who simply needs for us to listen.

It might occur by phoning an estranged acquaintance,

delivering cookies to a shut-in,

spending time with someone who is lonely,

helping an elderly neighbor with shopping or yard work,

or reading to someone who is blind or incapacitated.

When we do some love, we are to be there for each other.

There are many lives that we can touch and befriend. There are countless people who are hurting, unhappy, and unloved in our communities and they long to see love presented in deeds, not just in words. The work that we do on a one-on-one basis in sharing love has a great and immediate impact.

Charles “Chuck” Swindoll, in his book, Improving Your Serve illustrates this point. Swindoll writes: “Early one chilly morning an American soldier was making his way back to the barracks in London. As he turned the corner in his jeep, he spotted a little lad with his nose pressed to the window of a pastry shop. Inside, the cook was kneading dough for a fresh batch of pastries. The hungry boy stared in silence, watching every move. The soldier pulled his jeep to the curb, stopped, left his vehicle and walked quietly over to where the little fellow was standing. Through the steamed window he could see the mouthwatering morsels as they were being pulled from the oven, piping hot. The soldier’s heart went out to the nameless child as he stood beside him.

“Son, would you like some of those?”

The boy was startled.

“Oh, yes sir, I would,” said the lad.

The soldier stepped inside and bought a dozen, put them in a bag, and walked back to where the lad was standing in the foggy and damp cold of the London morning. He smiled, held out the bag, and simply said, “Here you are.”  As he turned to walk away, he felt a tug on his coat. He looked down at the boy and heard the child ask quietly, “Mister, are you God?”

We are not told what the soldier’s reply was to the lad that day, but whatever his response, he embodied what Father Jerome Cummings had in mind when he wrote: “Love is shown in your deeds, not in your words.”