The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Monday, June 16, 2008

Happy belated Father's Day

Hope everyone had a happy father's day. I have a tradition of taking Larry Niven to brunch on Father's day. Larry, Fuzzy and I went to a "93rd Aero Squadron" restaurant in Van Nuys, and had a mostly fine time. One strange thing, though. As they are both quite conservative, we often get into conversations about philosophy, and politics, and such, as if I'm just about the only black person they know. No problem. The problem was that while we were having brunch, and discussing Reverend Wright and Michelle Obama (Fuzzy was afraid that Michelle hates white people, for instance) I spoke of how a person can attend a church for what they can give, as well as what they take away. Just a typical conversation about race and history and the psychology of personal evolution. While we were talking, I noticed that there was a big (really big) white guy in his 40's sitting at a nearby table. I may have had a hunch that he was interested. Not sure.

At any rate, after about an hour, the folks at the other table got up to leave, and this guy walked over to me. "I couldn't help hearing what you were saying" he said. "Where did you grow up?" I had a feeling he was going to give me the "gee you're articulate" speech I get from white people all the time. I said I'd grown up in L.A., but was hesitant to mention what part. He launched into his capper. "Well, I grew up in Watts and South Central" he said. "And I think that what you've been saying is just bullshit."

My my. Here I am having Sunday brunch with two very genteel, folks in thie late 60's, or early 70's, and he walks up to a stranger and says that? My take on him was that he was relatively well to do (the restaurant was pricey) and comfortable with physical and emotional confrontation. By what right did he think it would be cool to say that? That is a level of...hmmm. Let's say assumption of privilege that is pretty astounding. since he almost immediately walked away (with a "gotcha" expression) I don't have any clear idea what he was referring to . I can only guess. Wow. I wonder what it feels like to go through life thinking you have the right to interact with human beings like that.


So...the book project continues to evolve. The current title is simple: "100 Days." It is going to revolve around a very short list of practices to be integrated for the titular duration. Those practices are

1) Intermittent Fasting (if hunger on fasting days gets too extreme, eating fresh fruits and vegetables only on those days)

2) Five Tibetans

3) Five Minute Miracle (integrating the breathing practice into the rest of your life)

4) Triangle Goals (one in each major area, re-read every morning.)

5) Heartbeat Meditation.

The minimum buy-in becomes abotu 10 minutes a day: three minutes of Tibetans, a minutes of meditation, a minute of goal overview, and five one-minute breaks during the day. The "Program Minimum" would, when mature, take no more than about 15 minutes a day. Program Maximum would be the "Golden Hour."

I envision a workbook format, with at least one page per day, with room for writing, doodling, mind-mapping and so forth. Probably a workbook/CD set with a DVD. But I'll start with just the book. 100 days gives me plenty of time to discuss other ways of looking at the same concepts, exercises, Q&A, etc. What I'm going to do is address about 80 different subjects, and I'll use my morning blog to create rough drafts for each--so the next few months will repeat some material, clarify more, and give you the chance to throw rocks at others.

Should be interesting.


And the question of the day is: what is the strangest rudeness you've encountered from a stranger? Do you have any idea what triggered it? My automatic thought is that the gentleman at the restaurant was frightened by something I said--probably a fear that America is changing in ways that not longer puts him, his sons and daughters automatically at the top of the pyramid. He holds beliefs about black people that are in conflict to my "I see no evidence that one group of human beings: black/white, gay/straight, male/female, whatever, is intrinsically superior intellectually or morally to another" and feels that because he grew up in the inner city, he knows this "truth" about black people better than I do...since I obviously was raised in a Monastery somewhere. Interesting. What's your story?


Dan: no, comments that Bill Clinton should be killed certainly aren't racism. But did someone say this on Television? My theory suggests that black lives are considered less important than white (and male less important than female) which in combination with political antagonism and fear of change means that comments like this will get made:

1) Deliberately, to provoke and anger.

2) Unconsciously, as an expression of unvoiced fear and aggression


Oh! And another question. This one is related to the supposed video of Michelle Obama ranting about "Whitey." This one is amusing: I, personally, have never heard a black person using this term, outside of television or film. In other words, it seems to be less a term black people use than one that white people THINK black people use. I'm wondering if anyone out there has actual experience of hearing a black person using this term. Just curious...


Uliari said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Uliari said...

Have you ever had a "What the H3ll!" moment? That was the kind of moment that I remember as the strangest, rudest encounter I have ever had. I can still remember it to this day (thirty some odd years later) it so surprised and shocked me that someone would think that it was OK to do what they did to me, let alone to anyone that they do not know.

I was still pretty young...fifteen or sixteen and had grown up in a very small logging/farming town. You know the kind, you know everyone in your school and every one else, too.

On this day I was walking near Fare-less Square in front of the public library. I was out for the day as I was visiting my mother and she was working. It was sunny and there were only a few people out but I remember that I was walking just to the left of an older woman, heading toward a cross walk light.

Suddenly, I felt my ass being squeezed! I froze. For a second I thought I had imagined it. I was close enough to the light that I was stopping anyway to wait for the intersection to clear. Then it happened again.

I look over at the woman...she had this look on her face that can only be described as shock and she was staring at something just behind I turned.

Behind me there stands a short man in a very white shirt, about twenty- or thirty-ish and he said, "What? You didn't like it?"

My only word was in outrage.


And I started toward him...

That was by far the strangest, rudest thing that comes to my mind when I think about what you wrote. That someone could think that touching someone (in any way) without permission would be acceptable, let alone someone you do not know.

by the way, I am a guy, I was six five then and about two hundred pound. And all I did was push him away from me and walked away from him as fast as I could...

Mark Jones said...

Re the Michelle Obama "Whitey" remarks. Yeah--I keep reading that people say there is such a tape, but nobody yet (that I've read) has claimed to have actually seen it. So color me skeptical.

Anonymous said...

Whether Michelle Obama used the term "whitey" or not some years ago is not all that interesting to me. What is interesting to me is how often (particularly in politics) middle aged people are judged by views that they held when they were in their twenties.

When I was in my middle twenties I remember having all sorts of views as to how the world and its people were and if only they would listen to me they'd have their shit together. Now that I'm creeping up on 50 I look at the viewpoints of a 20-someting me and just chuckle.

There are very few parents that haven't told their teen or twenty-something kids that their views will vastly change with age. And yet often times these same people read a piece written by a 20 something Michelle Obama, or a 20 something John McCain and assume that this is the REAL person.

I know very few people that hold the same views at 40 that the do at 20...and yet, if politicians say that they thing differently now, they are automatically accused of "waffling". Frankly, I don't want leaders that are so inflexible in their thinking that they cannot change a view based upon new data or new realizations.


Josh Jasper said...

This one is related to the supposed video of Michelle Obama ranting about "Whitey.'

Hah. You know what's actually ON that video link on YouTube? A video of Rick Astley singing "Never Gonna Give You Up". It's a phenomenon called >Rick Rolling. The whole thing was a joke by some blog satirists

Nancy Lebovitz said...

I don't know if this counts as strange rudeness since it keeps happening, but it still seems very weird to me.

I ride a bike with back baskets. I live in Philadelphia. A few times a year, someone will ask for a ride.

The two worst cases add up to race and gender balance. One was a white man past middle age who just kept asking and asking. Eventually his wife apologized for him. I didn't accept it-- I don't believe in taking second person apologies.

The other was a bunch of black teen-aged girls. I forget what I said that stopped them when one of them shoved me, but I'm glad it worked.

Some fraction of Philadelphians also think it's normal to sing the witch theme from the Wizard of Oz when they see a middle-aged woman on a bicycle.

This stuff didn't happen when I lived in Newark, Delaware.

Anonymous said...

The strangest rudeness I've ever been the subject of happened a few months ago.

I am overweight, and have a round belly. I was in the library (I'm a librarian), speaking with a student at one of the computers who needed help, and another student approached me.

"Are you gonna have a baby?" she asked. She spoke like a little girl, but she was in her early twenties.

I've gotten this question before, even when I weighed fifty pounds less than I do now. It's the way my body's built, I guess. I responded the way I've responded before: "Nope, just fat."

In the past, that's been enough to shut down the questioner. Not this girl.

"No," she said, tapping my stomach, "there's a baby in there."

I was shocked. When someone voluntarily says 'I'm not pregnant, I'm fat,' why would you not believe them? And why on earth would you not be embarrassed, but continue on this line of questioning?

"I assure you," I said, "I am not pregnant."

"Yes, you are!" she said gleefully, and patted my stomach again. "You're gonna have a BAY-BEE."

I stared at her. "No," I said. "I am not. And we are ending this conversation." And I turned my back on her.

From behind me, I heard a little voice. "You're not?"

I held up my hand in a don't-talk-to-me gesture.

"I'm sorry," I heard. I ignored her.

Three times. Three times she said this to me. Invaded my personal space and touched my body. If I had been thinking more clearly, I would have pulled her aside and read her the riot act. I was just too shocked to do so.

Steve Perry said...

I get flak now and then from people who don't like dogs when I'm out walking my tow. The little critters are on leashes, I clean up after them, but even so, dog-haters feel the need to offer remarks now and then. I sometimes offer a quip in return, sometimes not.

Why they feel the need to bother amuses me. What, they think I'm gonna say, "Oh, you're right, they are nasty creatures! I'm going to go right home and drive them to the pound!"

My favorite rude moment a Randy Newman concert my wife and I had gone to see in Portland. There was a guy sitting directly behind us, thirty-something, with two young women, and he was talking loudly.

People kept giving him shut-the-fuck-up looks, but he was oblivious. Finally, I turned around and said, "Excuse, but you could keep down a little?"

"I'm just trying to talk to this little girl here," he said.

"Well, we're trying to hear the show, so why don't you talk to her out in the lobby."

"Maybe I should talk to *you* in the lobby."

"Fine. After the show is over, let's do that."

I turned back around. Two minutes later, the trio got up and left.

They weren't waiting in the lobby after the show. Just as well -- I had torn a calf muscle and was walking with a rather stout cane. I surely would have been tempted to use the stick had he hung around to give me trouble.

Did you see that thug attack that crippled old man? Served him right, the old guy whapping him that way ...

Marty S said...

Hey I wonder where all the comments about MSNBC and Keith Olbermann are on this site. How come Olbermann can make rude and make sexist comments about Katie Couric and nobody criticizes him and the network, Surely such a performance by someone on FOX news would have been blasted by numerous posts.

Unknown said...

Lots of strange rude encounters, but maybe the most memorable, since I was the youngest, was the obscene phone call I got when I was some age old enough to know the facts of life, but way too young for an adult. I answer the phone, and some man is saying a bunch of stuff I can't make out, about something called a "bojo," and various other words I can't make sense of. So, I politely say, "Excuse me? What was that?" and the like, and listen for a good while to a bunch of incomprehensible words. Finally, the guy says good bye. As I hang up, it slowly dawns on me that "bojo" might be "blowjob" - I have heard the word before, though not often - and other things fall into place, and I realize that this obviously adult man has been talking to me about sex. And I wonder, what kind of strange man is turned on by a kid's expressions of puzzlement and confusion?

Daniel Keys Moran said...

Marty, we spent a while working over Chris Matthews a while back. Not sure if you can find the posts via search, but they're there. As to Olbermann, I'm not familiar with his sins. Please share ...

Steve, sure, I get your theory about black men, and I don't disagree with it in substance, though probably on percentage. But what Obama's had thrown at him so far isn't as bad as what got thrown at the Clintons, IMO. (Not saying that won't change; he's barely been the official nominee for a few weeks. But so far.)

Most of the crap Obama's going to go through in this election cycle is going to have to do with being a Democrat, not a black man. I recall Jesse Helms telling Bill Clinton he better not come to North Carolina without bodyguards -- nothing like that's been thrown at Obama by any political figure of any standing. After Hillary was elected to the Senate, Trent Lott playfully suggested maybe she wouldn't get to be seated, because lightning might strike her --

I know you didn't pay much attention to politics until Obama showed up, and I won't criticize; people have different priorities. But this isn't new.

Ronald T. Jones said...

I would have challenged that fool. (verbally) I would have told him not walk away like a punk, but stay put and explain what part of my conversational input he considered bull...t!!! You gotta go street on these marks!!! LOL!

Marty S said...

Dan: Here's a link to one discussion of the Olbermann incident.

I'm really not trying to beat up on Olbermann or MSNBC. All I trying to do is point out that there really isn't much difference with respect to the quality of reporting or the amount of bias between the liberal networks and FOX. The only difference is that FOX is conservative in its bias.

Just because you don't like what you hear doesn't make it wrong or evil.

Anonymous said...

The only time I've heard "Whitely" used was on The Jeffersons sitcom decades ago. I can't remember hearing the term in real life and I suspect Whitely has become an rarely used anachronism.

Steven Barnes said...

You're right about the Clintons, in general--they had a gigantic amount of stuff thrown at them. I heard stuff just as bad from radio shock jocks on obscure stations...but not on a national network, or Television.
I hear filth spewn every election cycle, but some of it does hit me as completely over any line imaginable.

Brian Dunbar said...

And the question of the day is: what is the strangest rudeness you've encountered from a stranger?

I was ordered to drive a gunnery sergeant too top of a hill. I guess he didn't want to walk and there was little ol' me with a government vehicle. I told him I'd get stuck - there were ruts in the trail deeper than my truck wheels. If I fell off the track I'd be stuck. He told me - as if I were an idiot 'well don't do that'.

Sure - except that it had been raining for about a week and the mud was deep and slick.

Up we went and about twenty feet up .. tires spinning and slinging mud into the ruts we went. All four wheels well off the ground.

He just gave me a dirty look, wrenched open the door and stomped up hill. I hope he worked up a good sweat doing so.

Daniel Keys Moran said...


I'm not seeing the stuff about Couric as being all that bad -- it's within the range of fair commentary, IMO. He criticized her professionally, not personally (not having watched the video, just read the text summaries.) But clicking around off that story, I came to this, Olbermann on Hillary, which I thought was vile:

Fineman said that, all the delegate math aside, ultimately it was going to take "some adults somewhere in the Democratic party to step in and stop this thing, like a referee in a fight that could go on for thirty rounds. Those are the super, super, super delegates who are going to have to decide this."

Said Olbermann: "Right. Somebody who can take her into a room and only he comes out."

Cheap, classless, sexist, vile. And not on Fox, which I imagine makes you happier. :-)

Just because you don't like what you hear doesn't make it wrong or evil.

Trivial distinction, IMO. Sure, you're right. And still some of the things I hear are wrong and evil. All I've got to work with is my own moral compass. I'm willing to live with the reality that it won't match up with other people's in every case.



I heard stuff just as bad from radio shock jocks on obscure stations...but not on a national network, or Television.

I suspect we're parsing degrees here, and it's probably not worth doing. Bad stuff has been directed at Obama, and his wife -- and was at Kerry, and his wife; and was at Gore (though I don't recall his wife getting much); and was at Bill and Hill.

IMO most of the race-related stuff thrown at Obama is going to come from people who aren't racist, but are looking to stoke racist fears in the elctorate. Which is worse in some ways ... but not qualitatively different, as a tactic, than what's been thrown at Democratic candidates my whole adult life. If there's a route to attack, they'll use it. Race is a tactic to them, not an ends, for the most part.

If you think they hate Obama now, boy, wait until he wins.

Marty S said...

There isn't one particular case rudeness that sticks in my mind, but I had a general problem with a lot of smokers for much of my life. They didn't care if you told them you had breathing problems and couldn't handle the smoke they just thought it was their inalienable right to smoke and force you to breath it in.

Anonymous said...

The "rudest" personal incident I've experienced was when two angry, inebriated bigots descended om me and two Mexican friends in a CA bar. Fortunately, we in the company of a White Mississippian friend, whose skin tone, pronounced drawl and shrewd tact probably preserved us short of an all-out brawl (of course, masculine Blacks and Browns in the company of a quintessential dainty Southern Bell may also have lit the racists' fuses..).

Obama supporters may take heart by the fact that Bush's policies and blunders (particularly Iraq) have incurred such loathing that otherwise conservative stalwarts, and even some avowed racists, are championing Obama to foil a victory by McCain, whom consider a Bush clone. For example, see e-columnist Freed Reed's latest piece. A review of Reed's previous columns suggests considerable loathing for both Bush and Blacks, where apparently angst over the prospect of more of the former won out. Suppose Reed speaks for vast unheard multitudes of like-minded Good-Ol Boys, who, sick of an ailing economy and an interminable war devouring many of their own, will make the same (to them) gut-wrenching decision and choose the lesser of two evil. Suppose those lynch-minded racist army toughs I encountered in that Costa Mesa bar are now thinking: Better a N+#$@R than a Bush successor who'll insure us a forlorn, muddy Mesopotamian grave.

Brian Dunbar said...

A review of Reed's previous columns suggests considerable loathing for both Bush and Blacks,

Know one can know the heart of another but .. I'm a casual Fred reader since before he put his stuff on the web. I've never gotten that he loathes blacks.

But then .. I might not since the loathing wouldn't be coming my way. What makes you think you think so?

Steven Barnes said...

"The Jeffersons" was mostly written by white folks--so my suspicion that the term "whitey" was created by Caucasians jumps a notch.
Dan--The Olberman comment about "take her in a room and only he comes out" isn't sexist, really--he could have said exactly the same thing about a man, and I've heard such. There seemed to be no modification of a Macho, posturing, asinine comment for sake of gender. Typical gunslinger mentality bullshit, and offensive. Sexist? Not sure about that--the "two men enter, one man leaves" trope is about aggression and power. When women play "mens" games, it isn't sexist if men treat them the same nasty way. Now, if he'd modified the comment to reflect her gender, or made a rape reference or something...that's very, very different.

Anonymous said...

"I'm wondering if anyone out there has actual experience of hearing a black person using this term. Just curious..."

No. Never "Whitey". Just white boy and cracka. Although not towards me. In conversations with the everyday racist attitudes the speakers had to daily put up with. (I always fit in that the fact I was white was always overlooked. Or forgotten about.) No matter how many times I heard the stories, it never ceased to shock and amaze me how whites could be so brutal and uncaring and feeling entitled to say and do whatever they damned well pleased. Steve's restaurant patron's "run-away rant" is case in point.

I can't help but wonder how many whites have ever had such an experience. And if so, what were the rude person or person's ethinicity. I have. And 99 percent of them were white, 1 percent black.

Josh Jasper said...

For some reason, almost none of the bottles or stones thrown at the GLBT center in San Jose I used to volunteer at registered as "rude". For that matter, none of the hurled epithets that weren't followed by physical violence I've had from marching in pride parades felt rude.

Rude is a lack of manners. Actual hatred just doesn't read that way to me.

That said, I see people get into shouting matches on subways on a regular basis over who pushed who. Me? I've been shouted at, and I generally apologize profusely, and tell the other person they were right, even when they weren't. It costs me nothing, and avoids the potential of making a scene.

Steven Barnes said...

by the way--this morning I heard what I would consider ugly sexism on the radio. Stephanie Miller and her male co-hosts were joking about Cindy McCain's apparent plagerism of a cookie recipe (!) and referred to her as a "media whore". They laughed about this quite a bit. I don't find that word funny, and I don't like it applied specifically for political impact. I hate this shit.

BSP said...

I was at a party in Las Vegas, talking to a drunk German woman.

Somehow the subject of where I'd lived came up and I mentioned that I'd gone to college in Rochester, NY.

She said, "Oh, you're one of those overeducated assholes then."

I left (it was her party) while thinking -Yes, an overeducated asshole like the ones who conquered and then occupied your country for 50 years, fascist cow.-

I was young.

Daniel Keys Moran said...

I've tried listening to Stephanie Miller; can't do it. She reminds me of a liberal, female Limbaugh.

Some partisans strike me as honest: they have strong opinions, but they're really looking for the truth. Others have stopped looking (if they were ever looking) ... and the truth, where inconvenient, gets mocked, ignored, or lied about. She's in the second category.

Daniel Keys Moran said...

Rude is a lack of manners. Actual hatred just doesn't read that way to me.

Yep. I couldn't really come up with an instance myself. I've been beaten into the hospital once, and just plain beaten a few times -- shot at three times, one attempted robbery with a knife -- but none of that was rude, per se. (I had a funny bit about Steve Perry here, but I have to pass on it; turns out he's rooting for the Lakers after all.)

Amy Casil told my stepdaughter that her younger brother's death was her fault -- my daughter was 13 at the time, and wasn't even in the house the day that baby died under really nasty circumstances. That's one of the vilest things I can think of off the top of my head, but "rude" really doesn't qualify there, either.

Steve Perry said...

Well, there was Sly and the Family Stone, circa 1969:

Don’t call me nigger, whitey
Don’t call me whitey, nigger ...

Anonymous said...

Pam Noles has a category called "Die Whitey," in her blog but she's trying to be whimsical/funny. Thus, I suspect it doesn't count.

Steven Barnes said...


You know, the Sly and the Family Stone reference is about as close as I've seen. My suspicion is that there was a period where blacks actually did try to come up with an insult with the weight of "nigger"...but couldn't do it. Without the social power behind it, words just don't have much meaning. Hell, even "Honkie" apparently is an acknowledgement of the fact that whites have the power and money to enter your community and rent your women ('honking" their car horns to summon them). Unless whites are outnumbered and/or seriously oppressed, there will never be an equivalent insult.

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