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Conflicts

January 30, 2017

I missed last week because I was away on vacation. No, I don’t announce it on social media or send pics from places I visit while I’m gone.  Just don’t, because I don’t want to advertise when I’m away and my house is watched by neighbors and my alarm company.

I had a lot of time to think about whatever floated across my mind. One thing that kept coming back was memories of my childhood and youth when I was growing into an awareness that people are different. The fact that different people are pretty cool came later.

Going way back, my grandmother used to walk me to kindergarten every day. One mile each way (in California, so not walking uphill in snow both ways barefooted), wide sidewalks, and plenty of other parents, grandparents, and brothers and sisters walking the kids safely to the elementary school. My grandmother was a warm woman who would speak to fellow parents and grands. Over that first year, however, I gradually realized she never smiled at or spoke to the few black parents whose children went to my school. One little girl was my friend in kindergarten, but I don’t remember my grandmother ever greeting her mother.

When I came home and chattered about my day to my single, working mother, my grandmother would raise her eyebrows if I mentioned  the black girl’s name. Her frown, her slightly pursed lips, her averted eyes told me that she disapproved of something. At four and a half, I didn’t know why what I said upset her, but something did. I tried to be a good girl, but it was so hard when I realized she didn’t like my little friend.

Elementary school gave way to junior high (now called middle school) and eventually to high school. By then, we no longer lived with my grandmother, but her disapproval stuck. Living in California is like living in a huge ragout of races and ethnicities. My classrooms had a lot of Hispanics and Asian kids. I just thought of them as friends, not as my Japanese friend, or my Mexican friend, or my black friend. But, somewhere in the darker recesses of my mind, my grandmother’s disapproval remained.

By high school I was no longer living in Southern California but is a smallish town in Colorado out on the prairie. I cannot tell you how out of place I was. I entered a structured community that had two, count them two, Japanese families and three Chinese families. The Chinese families were stereotypes, running laundries and restaurants. All Mexicans were assumed to be illegal and were looked down on, even though they might have been the third or fourth generation ranchers on this prairie land. I talked with two girls on the bus my first day, only to be taken into the counselor’s office and told that I needed to watch who I sat with. There seemed to be an unwritten code that white girls didn’t sit with brown girls. Well, now.

And that was my exposure to racism in my formative years. I didn’t really perceive it as such, but it was there. I didn’t embrace it, but I didn’t play by the rules set up by teachers, grandparents, and others in my life. Thank goodness my mother didn’t care about those distinctions. She taught me that people were people and to be enjoyed for all their differences. And that set up a conflict between the teachings of my beloved grandmother and my dear mother. Which was right? How was I to find my way? How was I to chart my own path, to decide what I believed?

And then came the Sixties, when I saw the older rules bend, break, and morph into new rules. Was I going to embrace the inadvertent racist teachings of my youth? Or was I going to embrace and love differences? Talk about conflict.

To be continued next week.

Featured, Freedom of Expression, Freedom of Speech, Grandkids, Lifestyle, Writing

Empowerment

August 29, 2016

I want to talk about empowerment. Empowering women, to be exact. I often use an image of Wonder Woman as my avatar when I get up and don’t feel all that much like working. I take the stance, look skyward, shake myself and get to writing. I empowered myself to become a writer. No one gave me permission. Yes, I have a very supportive husband who long ago realized I wouldn’t make a million dollars in royalties and who loves me anyway. He’s my best critic, my best friend and someone who believes that each of us can make a change in our worlds. That’s empowerment.

I had a long conversation with a very dear friend who lives in Kolkata. She had recently finished my Mad Max #2 novel, UNCHARTED TERRITORY. She particularly liked how Mad Max saw something in the world around her that she could influence. She saw someone in need of help and held out her hand. She worked to help a shattered community rebuild itself. My dear friend saw how empowered Max was and how she acted. I’m pretty sure she is looking for small things she can do in her world in India to make life better for one person.

That’s all it takes. Do something for one person at a time. I’m not being a Pollyanna here but a rational person who thinks there are things in our world that need changing.

Let me cite another example. Earlier in August we went to visit the grandkids in New York state. After a full day, well full for them, we read stories to quiet a three-year-old and a five-year-old down for sleep. Eight was too early for my husband and me to go back to our hotel. We drove over to the only bar in town. For a Saturday night, it was remarkably quiet. We sat at the bar and ordered glasses of wine. Two men sat at right angles to us. At first, my husband and I talked quietly to each other. We relived the highlights of playing with the grandsons whom we don’t see nearly often enough.

One of the men stepped outside. The other one nodded. We chatted about grandkids and shared pictures. Very nice moment, until the other guy returned. His opening words were, “You look like liberals.” Really? I’m not sure what a liberal looks like, but I was in no mood for a political fight. My husband and I tried to be polite, but the drunk wouldn’t shut up. Even when the bartender walked over and told him there would be no talking politics in his bar, the man continued to run his mouth. He left again. Both his buddy and the bartender apologized. We took the high road and said, “He’s entitled to his opinion.” I would have taken him to task, except you can’t ever argue with a drunk. It’s an unfair fight , because a drunk won’t listen. When he returned, I turned my back on him even while he continued to yap at us. Finally my husband had had enough. “I don’t care what your politics are. I don’t care if they are the same as mine or not. We are each entitled to our opinions. What I care about is I came in here to have a quiet drink with my wife. And I intend to have one.” The bartender brought us refills.

How is that empowerment? What is greater than silently citing the Constitution for our right to self-expression and to our own opinions.

So back to empowering women. I haven’t forgotten where this began. Look around and see if there is a neighbor who needs help, or an organization where you can volunteer a few hours a month, or a student who needs tutoring, or a woman who needs a role model and mentor. Be that mentor you may have had when you were coming up. More important, be the mentor you didn’t have but wanted. Help save one more woman or girl by reaching out a hand. You’ll feel better when you do. And she’ll see a woman to emulate, one who understands her and one who can help her rise to a new level.

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Betsy Ashton is the author of Mad Max, Unintended Consequences, and Uncharted Territory, A Mad Max Mystery, now available at Amazon and Barnes and NobleI’m really excited that the trade paper edition of Uncharted Territory was released this week. Please follow me on my website, on TwitterFacebook and Goodreads.

 

 

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