Friday, February 24, 2012

THE HELP – A PERSONAL ASIDE

We have read much of The Help and now seen the movie several days before the 2011 Academy Awards presentations. The film has been nominated for Best Picture. Seemingly, everybody else has seen fit to offer some comment with most groups and individuals (aye, the great majority) enthusiastically supportive with others stating it didn’t go far enough while others indicate it went too far and was degrading to African-Americans. We have an opinion as well

Whilst the good author of The Help, Kathryn Stockett, is from Jackson, Mississippi, she attended and graduated from the University of Alabama, so don’t give Ole Miss any of the credit for the inspiration of this eye opener. It does, however, unflatteringly portray some former Ole Miss students as closet bigots or outright racists. The Help (film or book) probably won’t be used as a recruiting tool for the Jackson, Mississippi Junior League either. Having said that I never met anybody at Ole Miss that I could label as racist– at least by their overt behaviors. I would like to know where my Ole Miss classmates are now in their thought processes and overall value systems. Are they comfortable in the 21st century? I am confident they have evolved.

I guess those students that angrily approached a young and very na├»ve man as he ate lunch and later dinner with James Meredith in the Ole Miss cafeteria and demanded to know his name probably fit the bill as racists. Those experiences certainly changed my life and like a hot knife through butter opened my eyes to racism in this country – and not just in the Deep South. Before then, I just didn’t comprehend the nature and scope of racial discrimination.

Stockett opportunistically and intimately reflects what was routine in Jim Crow, civil rights-era Mississippi and punctuated the class and racial divide that, while leagues better, still exists - everywhere. So, the events portrayed in The Help are offered within the context of the times but are the tip of the iceberg – just part of the story - merely one aspect of the interaction between the races in a violent, disparate and fiercely segregationist Mississippi society. We feel that the movie can’t be all things to all people (or micro-analyzed), so let’s glean what we can and make that part of whatever ultimate solution we embrace - together.

I wasn’t surprised when The Association of Black Women Historians (ABWH) criticized the African American dialect used in the film. They may have cost themselves some credibility considering their very important work. It appears the ABWH wanted a documentary from their tone. I know many raised in that part of the country (including some African Americans) who say that the dialect was pretty much “right on” from their experiences though I surely understand the ABWH’s stereotypical concerns.

It seems that some may be embarrassed with their own linguistic history and now that they have arrived, carry blinders with them. We wonder out loud what they would say about the Gullah dialect of the coastal Carolinas, Georgia and Florida? Or how do they reconcile African American Vernacular English (AAVE), aka Ebonics with English as accepted and practiced in 21st century North America? Given their historical and cultural importance, I would like to see more studies in this area to include those from African American ethno-musicologist at Yale University, Professor Willie Ruff, who credibly maintains a strong influence from the Scots-Gaelic among early slave populations. It’s all about education.

One of the takeaways of The Help is that it offered the ABWH fodder for their press release and all the dialogue since. But, we need to take it further and address the issues they legitimately broach. The Help has garnered widespread acceptance and support so let’s harness that mainstream energy.

The mantra Lest We Forget works well here and we need to keep hammering away at our Youth in a world that seems to be getting more politically correct and divisive every day. We are amazed at the selective historical data the younger generation embraces. Few know little about how we got to the present times and seemingly don’t care since they think it doesn’t apply to them now (LOL). Better to sensitize them under the guise of entertainment? For me the book/movie is a reminder that we still have a long way to go and a great way to continue to grow the dialogue on this very important issue.

Many treat The Help as oral history though it is historical fiction based on the personal experiences and observations of the author. Would that Stockett was in her maturity in the 1960’s and had the courage and bravery at that time to compile those reminisces and life stories of the real heroines – the maids/nannies featured in The Help. We note that Stockett could have been legally arrested, tried and convicted under Mississippi law had she engaged her literary effort in 1962.

We need to remember, Mississippi then had a popular though pitiful clown of a segregationist governor, Ross Barnett, who told his constituents that, “God had made the black man different in order to punish him.” That horrifying statement formed the basis of thought for many. I well remember the Ole Miss vs. Kentucky football game on September 29, 1962 in Jackson where Barnett gave his now infamous halftime I Love Mississippi speech. Yea, there were flags flying but Ole Miss was beating Kentucky, there was a lot of bourbon flowing in the stands and it was a euphoric celebration. For all they knew it was just another Win in Ole Miss’ undefeated 1962 season. Truth: They had no idea what was really happening or what was in store for them. Barnett ran for governor again in 1967 and even over the space of five years he had become a pathetic joke placing a distant fourth in the Democratic primary. Like many other staunch southern segregationists he never changed his mind or apologized. Barnett is now gone and those of his ilk are also going the way of the wind. And now we have The Help

One respondent on a The Help internet thread opined for me when he offered, “I found it touching and emotional and not in the least bit campy, but really rather melancholic and I don’t think it trivialized anything. It was meant to tell a side tale or subplot taking place within a momentous time in US history, and it did just that.”

And, The Help unhappily reminded me of a horrifying truth - that I remain acutely embarrassed and respectfully apologetic that I personally did not do more.

Aye,

Ned Buxton

Saturday, February 4, 2012

SUSAN G KOMEN FOUNDATION – TARNISHED

I have contributed to the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation (SGK) and despite all their good works and the restoration of funding to Planned Parenthood (PP), will never again. They have forever and a day brought dishonor upon themselves and the issues they purport to support. I just do not trust them anymore. I have contributed to Planned Parenthood and will now probably increase my giving to them. In fact, I already have.

Komen’s most recent action mostly terminating their relationship with Planned Parenthood was reprehensible and despite denials and the timing of their most recent, convenient, newly adopted “internal rules that bans grants to organizations being investigated by authorities at any level”, appears to be the obvious reaction to political pressure brought to bear by some right wing groups. Yes, this defunding (and the crux of the controversy) was all about politics and not women’s health issues. Their hastily crafted restoration of funding and “apology” only three days after their defunding announcement appeared insincere and will fall on many deaf ears. To paraphrase one blogger, “We’ve seen under your mask and we have seen the Dark Ages.” Major damage has been done.

Let’s evaluate this whole scenario. As above, many, including this writer, sincerely believe that Komen crafted this rule for no other reason than to eliminate Planned Parenthood from their universe. Present and former Komen employees cited by The Atlantic have said that to be the case. The surprising and most implausible aspect of this scenario was not SGK’s decision to do so, rather that they didn’t anticipate there would be thunderous repercussions over that decision. They had no plan and obviously no clue. That alone should send all sorts of red flags up. Perhaps it demonstrates the oblivious arrogance of the folks running the show. They appear to have been cut down a peg or two, or more…

Their outrageous behaviors given their mission statement were fueled by the pressures brought to bear by the pro-lifers and exacerbated by U.S. Rep. Cliff Stearns from Florida who engaged a politically motivated, bogus inquiry (not a formal congressional investigation, yet) into Planned Parenthood for possibly using taxpayer money to pay for abortions based on allegations made by a pro-life group, Americans United for Life, allegations that Planned Parenthood has vigorously denied and defended. This was a transparent attempt to intimidate Planned Parenthood and we wonder if part of an overall plot to oust Planned Parenthood from SGK ledgers, Stearns very public, avowed goal. How can we think otherwise when SGK crafted their new policy knowing that PP was already under the gun and the only one of their grant recipients so scrutinized? Think of it, just one unsubstantiated finger pointing at Planned Parenthood and all this happens? It certainly appears to be a set up.

I personally do not support abortion (certainly not as a form of birth control) though undoubtedly appreciate that we live in a world where varying and many shades of gray, not stark blacks or whites, are the reality. Every situation should be judged on its own merits and no, I am not going to tell someone else what to do with their body – whatever my belief. That’s between them, their God, Families and Friends.

PP clients, those mostly uninsured, vulnerable people (those without any real resources) who are sick, trying not to get sick and folks trying to plan their very lives are not concerned about politics or someone else trying to tell them how to live their lives. They do not care if they are “primary” or “pass through”. I have talked with several PP clients who stated that they received valuable assistance with none remembering any mention of abortion.

When I first heard the news I thought, “Oh my God, Senator Joe McCarthy is back and in full battle gear!” For you young people McCarthy was a US Senator from Wisconsin who in the 1940’s and 50’s saw a communist under every rock and up every tree. McCarthy paired up with the then and now very controversial head of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover, and instituted a reign of terror – a “demagogic crusade” that lasted from 1950 to 1954. McCarthy was a brutal and crass man who draped himself with the flag and violated the basic rights of many law abiding and loyal citizenry. He was ultimately censured by Congress and in the end died a discredited, broken man who was, “a disgrace to Wisconsin, to the Senate and to America.” Having said all this, lots of folks climbed on his bandwagon before they came to their senses though McCarthy was the point man.

So, what is McCarthyism today? We have obviously evolved, witness this definition, “The unfair accusation or investigation of people: the practice of using unsubstantiated accusations or unfair methods of investigation to discredit people.” We have seen it now as the everyday tool of politics – “politically motivated investigations exploiting mass hysteria.” Shoe fits…

The highly respected Jacquielynn Floyd of the Dallas Morning News recently and courageously opined that the Dallas-based Komen pink is, “now tinged with yellow.” With no disrespect to our troops who we heartily support or Ms. Floyd, it may be more like yellow with a tinge of pink.

We should draw attention to the events of late 2011 that already demonstrated to the world just how transparent SGK really is by quietly announcing that they were stopping their funding of cancer research centers at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, the University of Kansas Medical Center, the U.S. National Cancer Institute, the Society for Women’s Health Research and Yale University apparently because of their work with stem cells. That’s a loss of almost $11 million dollars in cancer research money to eradicate breast cancer this year alone.

Confusingly, to this writer, Komen money has never directly funded embryonic stem cell research though a SGK press release was recently unearthed reflecting support for that effort. If this is another flip flop we have seen yet another major change in SGK funding strategy where they are now throwing the baby out with the bathwater. As one blogger put it, SGK, “has evolved from non-political, non-profit to a partisan advocacy organization.” Incredible - to pull the plug on one of the most promising therapies for cancer, stroke and Alzheimer’s, among others.

Today Komen Foundation founder and CEO Nancy Brinker said in a statement released on Business Wire. "We have been distressed at the presumption that the changes made to our funding criteria were done for political reasons or to specifically penalize Planned Parenthood. They were not. We want to apologize to the American public for recent decisions that cast doubt upon our commitment to our mission of saving women's lives."

Brinker went on to comment that SGK’s original motivation to craft their policy was a "fiduciary duty" to the organizations donors by not funding applications made by organizations under investigation. Brinker continued, "We will amend the criteria to make clear that disqualifying investigations must be criminal and conclusive in nature and not political. That is what is right and fair." Let us note that this statement is a tacit admission that they knew the criteria were politically motivated. We see no apology here, only remorse that they screwed up. Walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, swims like a duck and flies like a duck?

Brinker continued, "Our only goal for our granting process is to support women and families in the fight against breast cancer. Amending our criteria will ensure that politics has no place in our grant process. We will continue to fund existing grants, including those of Planned Parenthood," as well as preserve their eligibility to apply for grants in the future.”

To that last part we agree and compliment SGK on finally seeing the light – but at what cost? They have alienated a substantial block of their most rabid progressive supporters and now the right-to-lifers who had been so gleefully taking credit for choreographing Planned Parenthood’s demise. Witness Penny Nance, president and CEO of Concerned Women for America who responded to the restoration of funding, “For Komen to buck the pro-abortion system and question Planned Parenthood funding at all shows how far we’ve come as a movement. To watch Planned Parenthood’s very public mafia-style shakedown of the Susan G. Komen Foundation shows the extremes they will go in bullying to keep their funding.”

I bet she said this with a straight face too – just extraordinary and revealing. OK, deep breaths. My head is new world erect and I am trying to take the high road… Let’s hope that SGK will continue what good work they do and maximize their pass through benefit to their clients and recipients of their grants, including Planned Parenthood. Based on the financial response and windfall of just the last three days, it appears that Planned Parenthood will continue their important work unencumbered with or without SGK’s grants. As I write this post PP and SGK are kissing and making up though I would counsel PP to be very cautious as this appears very temporary. Many believe that SKG will subtly and without fanfare ultimately defund PP while refining the delivery mechanism for their services.

Most folks I’ve talked to think the damage done to the SGK/PP relationship irreparable and that this trench warfare will continue via folks like Penny Nance, and pro-lifer advocate, now vice-president of SGK, Karen Handel. Maybe someday SGK will stop their spinning, peek above the trenches and realize that it’s all about helping those in need and defeating breast cancer, whatever your politics. Can’t you see that politically-correct future world where a health provider declines assistance because of their patient’s politics? Well, some pharmacists are already doing that today.

Right now supporters on all sides are still (and will continue) lobbing hand grenades at each other and for Penny Nance the message resonates that you can’t have it both ways. I’ve also noted some folks who neither support SGK or PP resurrecting the notion that there is a clear link between abortion and breast cancer so damn both PP and SGK! Don’t know where they came up with that poppycock but a substantial (yea overwhelming) body of medical research and evidence reflects that there is no established link between abortion and breast cancer. In fact, that conclusion came from respected organizations including the World Health Organization, the U.S. National Cancer Institute, the American Cancer Society, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Royal College of Obstetricians, among others. In fact these institutions state that any correlation made between the two were due to bias. No voodoo or fabricated research here - just facts… and the political shenanigans of those few determined to forward their agenda.

Now having said all this we think that SGK has the absolute right to support anybody they want though they have surely realized that we, the people, have that same right. If SGK wants to change their mission and service delivery that is their prerogative. What most people find reprehensible was the way they tried to effect that change – by politics and subterfuge. Simply, those organizations that fairly, without deceit and discrimination legitimately service their target populations will get all our attention and support.

What if SGK had gotten together with PP and those cancer research centers and related that their position was becoming politically untenable and could they collaborate on a way to continue a productive relationship where all their mutual clients would be well served? What if… Komen by their imprudent and foolish actions has split the donor community and ultimately hurt their mission and client populations. As the marketing folks say, their brand is tarnished – they have unleashed the beast.

No, I will not stop wearing pink… I wonder if any NFL players in the Super Bowl are going to wear any SGK pink paraphernalia? For now I remain totally disgusted with this whole debacle and think I’m going to throw away my SGK coffee cup. It leaks anyway.

Aye,

Ned Buxton

PS – Yes, they’re ping pong paddles.