Sunday, June 26, 2005

Wonder Woman vs. George W. Bush

by Max Gordon

(a work in progress)

“In the Fifties and the Sixties, the Adenauer period, politicians didn’t like to speak about the past, or if they did speak about it, they made it out to be a demonic period in our history where devils had betrayed the pitiful, helpless German people. They told bloody lies. It has been important to tell the younger generation how it really happened, that it happened in daylight, and very slowly and methodically.”

Günter Grass


It is May 2005, more than half a year since the 2004 presidential election, and I think it’s safe to say that it is finally over. George W. Bush has won. November 3rd is a vague memory. Days after the election, John Kerry seemed to have disappeared off the face of the planet as if he’d only existed in my imagination; John Edwards, who was supposed to put the unfair voting-practices of the United States on trial, disappeared before the campaign was even halfway through. Democratic hopes evaporated like the images on a Diebold voting screen. Al Sharpton was putting the finishing touches on his TV reality show, Clinton was giving speeches blaming the defeat on the party’s weak stance on “moral issues”, and some Democrats were blaming Michael Moore for being fat and loud and scaring moderates away, even though we were happy for him to be fat and loud when he was bullying Republicans and we thought we were winning.

An analysis of Gallup’s final pre-election poll showed that George W. Bush’s victory over John Kerry was led by strong support among men, whites, Southerners, married voters, churchgoers, Protestants, gun owners, and veterans. I was fundraising before the election, canvassing on the street to raise money and encouraging supporters to give generously for all the lawsuits we were going to file when the Republicans stole black votes again in Florida. A rabbi gave me a check for $1,000. The day after the election, Kerry conceded, no publicized lawsuits were filed and I was terrified of running into my rabbi on the street. The Wicked Witch of the Left, Ralph Nader, appeared in my nightmares in a cloud of orange smoke. With a crooked green finger, he cackled his delight - Democrats had sold out their hardcore values, justice and integrity to court moderate conservatives and, legally or not, we’d lost again. We were despised by all – the moderate conservatives who thought we were whores who only pretended to be moderate and conservative to get their votes, the real conservatives who seemed to recoil at anything Democratic these days, and the radical left who, sick of our compromises, tepid stances and last-minute concessions, barely recognized the party anymore. With Democrats like Joseph Lieberman, who needed Republicans anyway?

The first week after the election results were announced I refused to leave the house, and wore the same sweatpants for more than a week until they had that unmistakable “ballsy” smell that some men require before they will admit to either laundry day or chronic depression. I envisioned close friends coming over to my apartment, gently pulling back the bedcovers and helping me get dressed while prying Kerry/Edwards buttons from my tight fists. “Dear, it’s all over now. There’s not going to be a recount. Go ahead and cry. That’s right, let it all out.”

Convinced of a Kerry victory on November 3rd, I had no plan B for November 4th, and fell off a cliff. Like women married to men they find repulsive, who stare at the ceiling counting the remaining minutes of unsatisfying sex as they make lists of what they have to do the next day, some Democrats had skipped the grief stage and were already talking about raising money for the next election only days after our defeat. The next election? There were no other elections as far as I was concerned. This was the election, at least of my lifetime. Other traumatized Democrats flashed strained smiles and glazed stares. With a tenuous grip on their sanity, they mumbled, “Hillary 2008” into the abyss. I considered that we were probably going to be screwed by this administration a few more times by 2008, and if the last four years were any indication of the next four, the sex was still going to feel pretty lousy. When I finally made it to the street, I tried to identify the little more than one half of my countrymen and women who’d betrayed me. I wanted to walk up to someone who looked Republican and grab him so he would have to face at least one Democrat’s bitter tears. You wanted four more years? Well you got them, baby, and a whole lot more. America, I thought, you deserve exactly what’s coming.

I sat on the subway and watched the stops go by as New York got colder in December, and wondered how I was going to get through the winter feeling this discouraged. It occurred to me with a steadily increasing horror that I would be two years short of forty years old, a landmark age, by the next presidential election. In my lifetime, I will have had eight years of George W. Bush, eight years of Ronald Reagan, and four years of George H.W. Bush. A total of twenty years of Republican psychological, environmental and economic warfare, more than half my life. An article in the paper said that Jeb Bush, Governor of Florida, was being groomed for 2008. I dismissed the idea at first as an improbability, but remembered that Karl Rove had proven in 2004 that the results of the 2000 election were no fluke. Rove could manipulate Americans the way hard gamblers worked casino tables and slot machines - when he pulled the voting lever, lights flashed, bells rang and nickels flooded into his cupped hands. Rove had proven that he could get Americans to believe and do anything he wanted, if he was inspired enough, ruthless enough.

It just isn’t fair, all these Republican years I’ll never be able to get back. There is no Bush ideology, anyway - it’s all Reaganomics. George W. Bush’s only distinction as a leader is his departure from the attempt at subtlety that politicians usually have to apply when committing economic and corporate evils. His is an administration of blatancy. Maybe this approach has a crude honor to it – at least the people who are fucking you these days aren’t pretending to be doing something else. Rove should be commended; for an administration to be this dissolute after Watergate and still have the majority of public support is no small feat.

I want to file a complaint, but to whom, the President? My Senator? God? In an act of childlike defiance last November, I began to grow a petulant, immature, “I don’t like you, Mr. President, and you can’t make me” rebellious beard and afro that I still haven’t shaved off six months later. It’s going to have to come off soon, however, or I’ll start getting the looks that Arabs get these days when they walk through airports or sit on subway trains. I’m not Arab, but I’m black, which is close enough. White America keeps its eye on black hair – it’s a great way to track black political consciousness. When afros get past a certain height, white people know black people in America are getting, or going, mad. Black men in corporate America all know: if you want to make any money on Wall Street, you keep your hair short and your smile wide.

An announcement on the train says, “If you see anything or anyone suspicious, please report it immediately.” An older white woman sitting across the aisle pulls her bags closer and gives me a slightly dubious look. I want to remind her that black men have always been suspicious, even before 9/11 and the war in Iraq, so she can just calm down. I’ve been demoted, anyway - Arabs are the new black men. I’m ashamed of myself. I know what it’s like to be profiled, and yet my sphincter tightens too when we both see a man with a turban and a beard step into the subway car. Last week, the A-train screeched to a halt in a tunnel and there was a strange burning smell. All eyes went wide with panic and stared in the direction of a man sitting at the end of the car who looked dangerous and evil (i.e. Middle Eastern). Our terrifying incident turned out to be acrid-smelling track work. As the train moved and the smell dissipated, we were able to shrug off the imminent disaster and smile self-consciously at one other, feeling silly and relieved. Our man in question wasn’t smiling. There is a hysteria in New York that exists just inches below the surface, a rising sea-level of fear that threatens to engulf us all. Instead of trying to figure out who the “good guys” are, it’s easier and saves us all time not to trust anyone anymore.

I consider myself lucky. Even if I do die under this Republican sky, at least I got a child’s taste of the 1970’s. Of Ms. Magazine, Marlo Thomas and Friends singing Free to Be...You and Me, Big Blue Marble, Schoolhouse Rock, After-School Specials on television, vinyl records with album covers that printed the lyrics inside, Bea Arthur as Maude, and all the great Sixties leftovers: the black civil rights movement, the women’s and gay movements; the residue of an America struggling to be fair and better and kind. Even if Watergate, Vietnam, the violence at Kent State, COINTELPRO and the murders of Martin, Malcolm, Medgar, John and Bobby had irrevocably soured the nation’s optimism, there was still something nutritious in the decaying soil, enough to grow some things. Raised in the extended shadow of the nation’s grief over back-to-back assassinations and an unjust, protracted war, my generation was playing in the sandbox as the storm clouds of the Eighties, the Reagan administration and the AIDS crisis, gathered. I grew up knowing as a child that we would be able to change history, and I truly believed that I would live long enough to see world peace and the end of hunger. Now I grieve anyone born after 1980, for whom the Sixties and Seventies would only be a fairy tale or amusing bedtime story (yes, dear, once upon a time in America people actually marched in the streets for human rights). Material girls and boys who were born in the years when MTV refused to play any black performers except Michael Jackson, when the blackest female on MTV was Annie Lennox. That time was characterized by newspaper clippings of black boys being murdered on the street by each other for their sneakers, when society’s first question was not, “Oh My God, who was shot?” but rather, “What brand of shoes were they?”

The only things that can make this kind of pain go away are sex, food and shopping. But since no one, even the most determined, can fuck non-stop for four years, I load up the house with junk food and give myself a shopping-spree. I end up buying the recently released DVD of Wonder Woman and carry it home thinking my inspiration is nostalgia. The last thing I expect to feel after watching Wonder Woman again is a longing so great it spreads through my chest like heartburn. It occurs to me after the first episode that my soul is soaked with grief at what is happening in the country right now, and I’m watching Wonder Woman because I’m craving a hero, even an imaginary one, in what too often seem like hero-less times.

I pop the DVD in and I am ashamed that the first thing I think of, when Wonder Woman runs by in her star-spangled suit fashioned from an American flag, is that an actress could never get away with thighs that big on television today. Linda Carter’s body is sumptuous and fleshy, womanly, not starved. Her Wonder Woman has absolute authority which you can see in the strength of her leg muscles. Wonder Woman is an Amazon, a big-boned country gal with thick legs (what southern black people call “healthy”), who picks up bad men and hurls them over trucks, dusting off her hands efficiently as if she’d just taken out the garbage.

As I greedily watch the episodes, not having to wait an agonizing week in between each one as I did in the Seventies, I’m transported back: I’m seven or eight, lying on my stomach in front of the television, kicking my legs in anticipation and eating a huge bowl of ice cream. The experience of ice cream and watching Linda Carter’s body, the splashes of red, blue and yellow across the screen, Wonder Woman’s narrow escapes from danger, her funky theme music and her voluptuous courage are all a sensory overload; it may be the most pleasurable experience I’ve yet had in my pre-adolescent life.

The plot moves along uneventfully and then suddenly someone sinister does something evil or Major Steve Trevor is in danger again and Diana, Wonder Woman’s staid, efficient alterego, goes off to a place where she is sure no one can see her. After a graceful pirouette and an explosion of intense white light, Diana’s ugly round glasses disappear, her hair tumbles out of its bun, the funky “black” music plays and she is transformed into Wonder Woman, hands on hips, ready for justice. Bullets ricochet off her silver bracelets, and her golden lasso ensures that everyone who is wrapped within it tells her the truth. It gave me endless joy when one of the villains on the show thought they could outrun Wonder Woman. She would twirl her lasso over her head, cast it forward and snap it taut. The bad people stood stunned and immobilized, caught like roped steer. Wonder Woman was always fair – she never hurt anyone or sought out conflict; in fact she could be very gentle at times, especially with children and animals. But she would absolutely and methodically kick a villain’s ass if someone weaker was threatened or needed her protection.

In the pilot episode that aired November 7, 1975, Wonder Woman has one hour to stop the Nazis’ plan to blow up the Brooklyn Navy Yard and the Nordon bomb site at the same time, while also having to reach a hidden location where Steve Trevor will be killed by midnight. She captures a female Nazi spy who tells her while tied to a chair by Wonder Woman’s golden lasso, “You may have me, Wonder Woman, but the Third Reich will never be through. It will go on a thousand years. We’ll get even with you. My people will send more agents.”

Wonder Woman replies, “No. The Nazis don’t care about women. They let you fend for yourself. And any civilization that does not recognize the female is doomed to destruction. Women are the wave of the future and sisterhood is stronger than anything.”

Watching Wonder Woman for the first time since the Seventies, I am amazed to see how crude the production seems to me now, and that I was ever able to give myself over completely to something that looks at times stagey and false. It’s been thirty years since the first show aired, and most television from those years looks like that to me now, probably because as a child I absorbed everything, believed in everything. The producers had the wisdom, at least, to keep the first season of the series true to the comic strip: Wonder Woman saves America from the Nazis and the perils of fascism during World War II. Watching her flying over the U.S. in her invisible jet, preparing to land and face another group of Nazi bullies, it occurs to me that we are at war again, there’s a new fascism to defeat and we need Wonder Woman right now more than ever before.

In my contemporary fantasy, Wonder Woman’s jet descends on the White House. She senses America is in trouble but she’s bewildered - this time the danger to America is Americans. She runs down the hall to the Oval Office in her shiny red boots, kicks the president’s door down and wraps her golden lasso around Dick Cheney and Condoleezza Rice. She then demands to know whether they really believed that there were weapons of mass destruction, what exactly happened in the months before 9/11, and what the real reasons were that we went to war with Iraq. When they try to feed her the same bullshit that’s had the rest of us scrambling after lies like dogs chasing hubcaps, she gets angry and yanks the rope tighter. They writhe and twist and something radical happens- they actually begin to tell her the truth.

I remind myself that it took wonder women (and men) to demand that there be a 9/11 commission, and to insist that Condoleezza Rice testify after she refused and the White House supported her decision. It’s a righteousness that is missing in the world today; women and men who are beyond fear of reprisal and take action. Wonder Women like Sojourner Truth, Ella Baker, Ida B. Wells, Fanny Lou Hamer, Susan B. Anthony and Harriet Tubman. What the country needs is a mother who has lost a child in Iraq, who believes the war is wrong and has been mishandled and doesn’t want a signed letter from the White House, but some answers. She would step off her porch in Kansas or Nebraska and decide to walk to the White House in her house shoes and coat until she either dropped or got the response she wanted from the President. Wonder Women like activist Cindy Sheehan whose son, Army Specialist Casey Sheehan was killed in Iraq on April 4th, 2004 and who continues to demand answers from Bush, or Lila Lipscomb of Flint, Michigan, featured in the film Fahrenheit 911, whose son, Sergant Michael Pederson died on April 2, 2003 while serving in Iraq. In the film, Lipscomb makes a walk to the White House, stands outside its gates doubled over with grief and says, “I just want my son back.”

My sadness instantly returns when the credits roll and the episodes are over – television is like that: the unpleasantness that makes you crave TV in the first place always awaits you when you eventually turn it off. I remember that Wonder Woman doesn’t exist, really, it’s not the Seventies, and I’m definitely not a child anymore. I stare at my reflection in the darkened television set. It’s 2005, I still can’t fathom how George W. Bush has been re-elected as the president of the United States, and I’ve just eaten two bowls of full-fat microwave popcorn and ruined my diet.


One afternoon, a few weeks before election day, I decide to go to to see what the other side is up to. It’s easy to spy behind enemy lines these days; all you need is their web address. I download an informational video on the President’s program “No Child Left Behind.” Laura Bush appears and smiles good-naturedly at me. I fold my arms cynically, physically blocking out her friendliness. I ask her out loud, “Why does your hair always have to be so goddamn perfect?” I refuse to give into the part of me that wants to like her. I’ve only been watching for thirty seconds, but it is long enough to see that Laura Bush has that special something every child responds to. She’s the loving first grade teacher that you remember to run back and hug on the last day of school, the teacher who has the warmest lap when you hurt yourself on the playground. I imagine Laura Bush probably smells nice, too. She sits in a soft, comfortable chair, speaking in a soft, comfortable voice. There may have been a log burning in the fireplace behind her. I feel sleepy. Some music starts with lots of strings, or keyboards simulating strings. My heart is already breaking from this music and I haven’t even seen a child yet. As I recall it, the camera follows some black kids running around, underprivileged and undersupervised. A small black boy colors at his desk, an American flag waves, a white child who might be poor walks around confused. The cinematography is, of course, flawless, the images clearly defined, the direction focused and to the point. In the end, I am moved despite myself, because it’s about kids, and America, and the right for every child to have a chance to succeed in life without poverty or emotional and physical danger, which is the sacred promise every society owes its children.

The president hugs a small black girl to his side. Yes, the video implies, she’s stupid right now - her school has no supplies, it’s closed half the year because of emergency repairs and asbestos removal, there are three times as many students as there should be in her classroom and she can’t get the teacher’s attention when she needs help (she’s a child who’s been “left behind”). Fortunately, the Bushes have come to her rescue. Laura Bush returns, her gaze so concentrated her eyes are crossed; her voice all honeysuckle enchantment and her smile so kind, it’s as if she could reach through the screen and pat my hand. “Don’t worry,” I feel she is telling me in her hushed hickory-smoked tones. “Everything’s gonna be just fine.”

But it’s not fine, Laura, and it’s not going to be. Only when the video ends am I able to break its trance and remember someone has spent millions of dollars and hired a roomful of consultants and professionals so that I will feel exactly as I am now – hopeful, trusting, reassured. And none of it’s real. I think about Bush’s little black girl in the video. He stands beside her now when she’s eight, but he’s come out publicly against the affirmative action programs which will help to close the gap of inequality that she will inevitably face being adult, black and female in the job market. He has made it more difficult for her to be accepted or to stay in college when and if she gets there. The message is clear: No Child Left Behind, but for any black woman who wants to continue her education past thirteen, she’s on her own.

If Bush really didn’t want to leave this child behind, he wouldn’t choose the National Rifle Association over her by allowing the federal ban on assault weapons to expire. He has now made it easier for criminals in her neighborhood to get a gun. In a heated argument, that gun may be used in her home, on her street corner as she is walking to school, or in her classroom by another student. If Bush didn’t want to leave this child behind, he wouldn’t send her older brother, who chose the military to earn extra money for the family and have his own opportunity for schooling, to an unnecessary war with inferior equipment which puts him at even greater risk of being injured or killed. He wouldn’t jeopardize or block this child’s ability to get reproductive health information and a safe abortion one day because it conflicted with his religious beliefs. He would understand that if Roe vs. Wade is overturned, she may have to drop out of school because of an unwanted pregnancy, or she may die when she exercises the only option offered to poor women and girls when choice is illegal - dangerous, sometimes fatal abortions. Leave no child behind, but don’t raise the minimum wage so that her mother and father have to work extra jobs to survive and can’t be home to read to her and help with her homework. How can you promise to leave no child behind and support policies that leave behind her parents?

Weeks before the election, Teresa Heinz Kerry asked whether Laura Bush had ever had a real job in her life. Despite the question’s being arrogant and fatally ill-timed, and despite Laura Bush’s rush to understanding that helped to secure her place in the forgiveness hall-of-fame just a few doors down from Mother Teresa, Kerry’s question did linger in my mind after I watched the Bushes No Child Left Behind video. Laura Bush had been a schoolteacher for most of her professional life, an admirable job, and in many ways she is still a teacher; only her job now is to supply the pastel-colored frosting and sprinkles for the Bush administration’s little cupcakes of evil. They may not be her personal recipe (I’ve always suspected that she is more liberal and generous than her husband), but like Jim Jones’ pouring his notorious Kool-Aid, Mrs. Bush’s job is to bake and serve their snack to the class, then monitor our naptime as the country drifts off to sleep.

Just recently, Laura Bush brought the house down at the 91st annual White House Correspondents' Association dinner by roasting her husband. He began his speech, and she interrupted him, scripted, of course, with the fervor of one rapper snatching the mike from another, “Not that old joke -- not again. I've been attending these dinners for years and just quietly sitting there. Well, I've got a few things I want to say for a change." Her snappy, comic one-liners included a quip about the president’s bedtime: "I said to him the other day, 'George, if you really want to end tyranny in this world, you're going to have to stay up later,"' followed by her hilarious comparison of Barbara Bush to Don Corleone, from The Godfather. Her performance has made her newly adored and “hip” in the public eye. We always knew she was a fun, but sassy? And a little raunchy too? She even referred to herself as a “desperate housewife.” Peel back our enchantment, however, and one couldn’t help noticing how the occasion was timed perfectly as gas prices blast through the roof, support for the president’s social security program and the war continue to waver in the polls, and every day there seems to be new story about a fresh kidnapping and beheading, more mass-murdering of the new Iraqi police force, or suicide bombing in Iraq. When we look dreamily into Laura Bush’s sparkling eyes, we can’t see what the Bush administration is doing behind our backs. As she reassures me that the Bush White House will leave no child behind, I can forget that Vice-President Dick Cheney once voted against Head Start. She’s clever, witty, motherly, and intelligent, and when all else fails, you can get a feeling of order by gazing at her hairstyle.

America doesn’t give a shit about its kids. We care about children as potential consumers who have an influence on the money their parents spend on them. We care that they will often nag their mothers and fathers to death until they finally relent and buy the latest action figure or doll, or take them to a fast food restaurant for the third time this week so they can collect the set of toys that come inside their Kid’s Meals. We certainly don’t care about children enough to give them practical information about sex. Instead, we think if we don’t tell them how to use a condom, they won’t have sex at all, while doctors across the country continue to testify to an increase in thirteen and fourteen-year-olds who seek pre-natal care. We fight to keep sex education out of school and decide we will talk to our kids about sex only when we are forced to; when they come to us pregnant or with a sexually transmitted disease. We don’t want acceptance or acknowledgement of homosexuality taught in our schools because it might negatively influence our children to be gay; then we have the nerve to be surprised when our queer children commit suicide because of isolation and hopelessness. This cruel neglect makes us assholes. We don’t help our children manage the overwhelming violence in their lives and the world, or find out why they feel so enraged and in need of attention that they want to kill the rest of the kids at school. We just feed them more advertising, more junk food and junk ideas, creating kids who are too familiar with the porno cynicism that comes from uninterrupted commercialism, whether it’s Hustler magazine or Toys ‘R Us, whose lives are too harsh for intimacy, who are shut down and sarcastic, who go from a television screen to a computer screen to a movie screen to a cell phone screen, all day, every day, who walk upstairs after school and shut their bedroom door and don’t come down until dinner, if they come down at all.

As more soda and snack companies are used in schools as corporate sponsors because the financial kickbacks are needed for textbooks and salaries; as teachers, unable to provide proper supervision with staff cutbacks, eschew recess and physical exercise and park the class in front of television screens, our corporations are getting richer and our childrens’ asses are getting fatter. (Maybe the president’s program should have been called No Child Left Without a Big Behind.)


Wonder Woman would understand what we are up against. We aren’t really at war with any particular country; that’s only subterfuge for a greater conflict. The real war is the proliferation of patriarchal fascist dominance in the world, the triumph of patriarchy as the pervasive ideology - interpersonal, political, religious, sexual.

As a gay man, I have had a complicated relationship with patriarchy all my life. Fascist thinking doesn’t like faggots very much, never has – like women, our emotions are too messy. The homosexual often provides an interesting challenge to the definition of male dominance and has the power to subvert it. But this is only true for self-loving homosexuals who’ve learned to trust their inherent femininity without shame. In most cases, men have sex with other men all over the planet but absolutely no man wants to be a faggot, i.e. a man who has lost his power, or is, more simply, a woman. There are doubtless going to be gay men who will announce promptly after reading that line, “I love being a faggot”, and there may be those for whom this is true, but too often this public love of faggotry is accompanied by the most determined private self-destruction. None of us gets off that easy.

Men have played and continue to play macho games with a million monikers and definitions, as we avoid the inexorable failure of masculinity and patriarchy that is truly to be a “fag” among men. Getting fucked up the ass may be the real point of no return, the descent into finally being a “girlie man”; up to that point a man can have all the sex with other men he wants. He justifies getting a blow-job or penetrating another man because his girlfriend’s “being a bitch” and won’t satisfy him, his male friend is there and available, and they’re both drunk. The faggot stands at the doorway of possibilities; of patriarchy and traditional male-power transformed into something non-oppressive and non-hierarchal. Women were born feminine, but he is a man who has chosen femininity (powerlessness) when he had a chance to have full-male power within the society, and thus deserves the cruelest punishment. By patriarchy’s standards, he must be murdered because he is the ultimate traitor. If he can’t literally be killed, he is disempowered politically. Gay women are violated by having their sexuality perceived as existing only within the context of heterosexual male pornographic fantasy.

Gay men as boys look to our mothers for instructions on how to deal with men, how to navigate our way through and survive patriarchal oppression and overcome male dominance in our relationships with men. At the same time we are being initiated by our fathers, whether they are consciously aware we are gay or not, to take our place in the patriarchal configuration as oppressors. Sometimes when a father suspects his son is gay, the patriarchal indoctrination is that much more determined: intensive athletic training, military schools, sadistic punishment to “toughen him up” or “break his spirit” – in an almost frenzied attempt to get his son “on the right track”. Or the father may give up in disgust and ignore his son completely – “leaving him to his mother”. (The deciding factor is usually the father’s terror of homosexuality.)

Inside every gay man, because it is true of every man, there is a father who must dominate his mother, who attempts to destroy her or get her to submit so that male power within the patriarchal relationship remains unthreatened. In this context, heterosexual relationships are not democratic or balanced; the man rules. The patriarchal household runs like a mini-fascist state. In her essay, “Adolf Hitler’s Childhood: From Hidden to Manifest Horror” psychologist Alice Miller considers the home Hitler emerged from: “the family structure could be characterized by a prototype of a totalitarian regime. Its sole, undisputed, often brutal ruler is the father. The wife and children are totally subservient to his will, his moods, his whims; they must accept humiliations and injustice unquestioningly and gratefully. Obedience is their primary rule of conduct.”

As gay men, we may feel aggressive towards our mothers because of our perception that they have fought against patriarchy and lost. We wish they had been “tougher”, i.e., men. In our fantasies, we want our mothers to beat up or kill our fathers and we are disappointed and outraged at their inability to save us or themselves from harm. And although they seem like giants because they are our mothers, wonder women in our fantasies, we find out they are mere mortals, and that in many households under the threat of male violence, female heroism is usually found in manipulation and other indices of powerlessness. We are so angry at our mothers for not being able to overthrow the patriarchal system, they trigger our male aggression for not “fighting back” like men, and we want to beat them up ourselves. Our rage at them is our defense against the exasperation and sadness we feel at lives lost too soon to disease or co-dependency, both of which have something to with rage and powerlessness. We watch our mothers attempt to save their marriages and families and neglect to save themselves.

When gay men are self-destructive and unwilling to nurture ourselves, it is because we have rejected some of our patriarchal legacy by coming out as gay, but we haven’t necessarily come up with a relationship to our inner femininity that is non-dominating, or developed a new paradigm. There is an internal war or void where a healthy femininity could exist and a deep conflict where we haven’t yet rejected the old belief systems about men and power. In the patriarchal, macho fantasy, men don’t cooperate or concede; they either don’t have any conflict at all or they go to war. Gay men punish ourselves for being “weak” men, because deep down we know we can’t use this macho shit with the men we love – we will have to make some compromises in our partnerships in order for them to work. In the patriarchal context the willingness to cooperate in order to create possibilities of shared power is perceived as feminine and thus deserving of contempt. To compensate for our feelings of masculine inferiority, some gay men adopt ever more strident and aggressive sexist attitudes against women; or we objectify each other in an effort to reclaim patriarchal status and power and to avoid feeling “too faggoty”, which always means feeling too vulnerable.

Forgiving our mothers as victims, our fathers as perpetrators, and eventually ourselves as victims and perpetrators, means deconstructing all aspects of the patriarchal system, understanding every role and manifestation within its context, and resisting it fully. Only then can we finally admit to what all our lives attest to: that as a system of social organization for the majority of people on the planet, patriarchy ultimately fails. When we acknowledge this, we will finally be able to appreciate the extraordinary amount of interpersonal and international violence that is required to sustain it.

Gay men often cheer Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford in the film Mommie Dearest. Joan is told by the board of directors of Pepsi Cola, of which she is also a member, that they have retired her from the board after the untimely death of her husband and Pepsi chairman, Al Steele. Joan tells the rest of the board, who are all men, “You think you’re very clever, don’t you? Trying to sweep the poor, little widow under the carpet? I’ve fought worse monsters than you for years in Hollywood; I know how to win the hard way.” When the men on the board patronize Joan, and ask that she refrain from making threats she has no intention of carrying out, she slams her fist on the table: “Don’t Fuck With Me Fellas!” By the end of the scene, and as a result of her aggressive stance, the board rescinds Joan’s “retirement.” Decades later in January 1989, Madonna faced her own potential showdown with Pepsi Cola (what is it about strong women and Pepsi?). She had signed a five-million dollar contract with the soft-drink company to use her song “Like A Prayer” in a television commercial and to sponsor one of her world concerts. The commercial “Like a Prayer” was innocuous, and Pepsi was pleased with the results. However, in the music video version, which was released at the same time, and which Pepsi hadn’t considered screening first, Madonna kisses the feet of a black saint (the statue of St. Martin de Porres), makes love with him at the altar, receives the stigmata, sings in front of burning crosses and dances and claps her hands with a black gospel choir while wearing a negligee. Religious fundamentalist groups called for a boycott of Pepsi products. The Vatican denounced Madonna and called for a boycott of her concerts in Italy. Pepsi pulled the commercial soon after. Madonna triumphed by keeping her “artistic integrity” (the commercial itself sank without a trace), and the five million dollars. As usual, Madonna was the bad girl who out-patriarched the patriarchs when they tried to punish or exploit her and couldn’t; a feminist Brer Rabbit.

Examples of women standing up to groups of men with power inspire feelings of vindication and pride: “They stood up to the system and got away with it.” Watching a woman, or anyone, triumph against racist or sexist standards is always exhilarating, even when these heroes are imaginary. She is the older sibling whom the rest of the kids cower behind, who has finally decided to stand up to Dad (the mass political assassinations of the Sixties told us exactly what would happen if we stood up to Dad). We all watch to see what happens to her, and thus what will happen to us if we decide to fight back and resist.

One of the questions which resistance to dominance always brings up is this: what does an oppressed person have to become in order to feel empowered within the patriarchal context? What happens to the feminine in our culture when women or men have to shut down emotionally to “survive” or “beat the boys at their own game”? A hard woman, who has to become a “man” in order to cope, or who has destroyed all sensitivity in herself to get ahead, becomes a tribute to patriarchy, not a repudiation, rejection or challenge of it. When a woman submits completely to patriarchy and perpetrates its violence towards other women and those whom society renders less powerful - usually the poor and people of color - she is a monstrous female tribute to greed and power, a patriarchal Bride of Frankenstein. She becomes, in other words, Katherine Harris.

The irony is that the feminine doesn’t actually belong exclusively to women any more than the masculine belongs to men; we may be the temporary guardians of it by way of gender, but the integration of a healthy femininity is in everyone’s best self-interest, male or female. When the feminine is imperiled in a society, we see that addictions pervade the culture and ravage our personal lives, relationships fall apart with disheartening regularity or disintegrate into cold business transactions based solely on what you can “get”, and children are abandoned physically and emotionally. There is a remarkable absence of care. I have selfish reasons for healing the feminine in my own psyche: I want my life to work. Championing the feminine is definitely not about little girls sitting properly and starving themselves to become “perfect”, or men getting in touch with their “feminine side” in the way that TV psychics channel dead people; it’s about our daily relationship to the fierce gentleness which exists within all of us and which is slowly disappearing from the world. The most direct and blatant assault on the global feminine is pre-emptive war and the destruction of the environment; domestically, it is the killing of women and children by husbands and boyfriends, and the physical assaults and murders of gay women and men.

What the patriarchal, fascist-minded man is terrified to discover is that the rigid gender roles he insists upon, and homosexuality that he has barricaded his doors in defense against, really don’t exist in the form that he fears. There is only human sexuality, in all its varied expressions. In this way there are no homosexuals or we are all homosexuals. When we examine human sexual relationships more closely we see that the configurations of gender and sexuality as we have defined them are extraordinarily limited and may ultimately be useless. A heterosexual man and woman can experience a relationship with each other of “male” dominance and anger based on traditional definitions of masculine power that could be considered energetically “homosexual”, a gay male couple could both show traditionally “feminine” nurturing tendencies towards each other which would seem to suggest a form of lesbianism, a lesbian might find herself more aggressive as a counter to her more submissive partner, a relationship which more closely resembles our definition of the feminine-masculine energetic exchange of heterosexuality. If it sounds confusing, it should. The threatened fascist male who demands compulsory heterosexuality for everyone is not resisting homosexuality at all, in fact, and despite his sexual attraction to the opposite sex, is probably more inclined to be a misogynist and threatened by powerful women. He is resisting the experience of being made into a “woman” which he thinks male homosexuality is, the “loss of power” which means being accommodating and, ultimately, having a world where relationships are based on non-dominance and sharing. Many men can’t handle it.

We are facing a particularly determined war-machine in this country that understands and appreciates only what must be called aggressive capitalist white supremacist patriarchal dominance. The destruction of the feminine means nature violated, as environmental guidelines are consistently repealed or ignored to accommodate business interests, and use of slave labor continues in underdeveloped countries, workers with no unions paid pennies for 14-hour days, sometimes seven days a week, and unable to survive on what they earn. Sex, of course, is tolerated for procreation and the occasional entertainment of men - as the trafficking and sexual exploitation of women and girls thrive. Reproductive agency will be denied to women, based on fundamentalist religious grounds.

George Orwell’s 1984, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange are beginning to feel like prophetic visions of our times. When Atwood’s book about the religious right’s taking over America was published almost twenty years ago, it was a horrifying dystopia - now it’s starting to look like the Bush administration’s playbook. When we consider men like Karl Rove, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and Dick Cheney, and when we extend their ideology in our imagination, we have to imagine that their victory can only be the total eradication of the feminine from every corner of the planet. The legacy these men would like to leave behind becomes less one of politics and more that of pestilence. Their great achievement will be the end of spontaneous, non-capitalist, non-commodified, creative thought on the planet Earth.


Some people have compared what is happening in America right now to Nazi Germany. This may sound idiotic. Part of the problem with comparing history to current events is that nothing is ever a direct fit, which is one of the reasons why history is so easily repeated. There is no way that what happened in the 1940’s can be exactly compared to what is happening in the United States in 2005, but similarities do exist and must be recognized, even exploited at times so that we may draw conclusions about what may lie underneath the sufurace, because to not do so, to be too careful in our reverence is to be forced to make connections to the past only when a new tragedy befalls us, after it is too late.

One difficulty in comparing what is happening in this country now to Germany during World War II is that the only fascist dictator we know at the moment is Saddam Hussein. And since he is safely tucked away in jail and there are no concentration camps around, there seems to be nothing to fear. The fact that most people know only the result of a fascist takeover, but aren’t as familiar with the stages that often lead up to one may be why so few are panicking. For those who are inside detention centers like the ones at Guantanamo Bay or Abu Ghraib, or who have been extradited by this administration to other countries for torture, the comparison to a Nazi concentration camp is probably apt. What might seem more familiar to Nazi history is the lack of due process for prisoners, the loose standards for interrogation or no standards at all, the disregard for international law, the incarceration for indeterminate and arbitrary amounts of time, and the secrecy. For the rest of us shopping with our kids on Sundays and trying to get on with our lives despite a foreboding hangs in the air, we watch the news or read the newspaper and exist as some Germans probably did in the Thirties. We cringe at the Patriot Act which allows the government to tap our phones, read our mail, search our computers without due process, but in the end we believe what they tell us: that certain inalienable rights have to be suspended temporarily to protect other rights. We’ve heard the stories of people somewhere who were visited by the FBI because they were critical of the war or this administration, or how someone overheard an anti-Bush conversation they didn’t like and turned their neighbors in. But because it hasn’t happened yet on our street or to anyone we know, we aren’t out protesting - we don’t want to seem alarmist or embarrass ourselves by overreacting and drawing attention to our family. We pull down the shades, or go to the movies, and don’t ask too many questions. Occasionally a story on the news penetrates our denial and hysteria threatens to creep, but we pacify ourselves with the mantra: “Come on, how bad can things really get?”

In New York 1,820 people are arrested for demonstrating against the Republican National Convention. On August 31, 2004 alone, over 1,100 people are arrested in a six-hour period. For those of us in New York who demonstrated that weekend, the experience was mystifying - we were in a city we no longer recognized. To protest was a circumspect, sometimes terrifying experience of looking constantly over one’s shoulder, or anticipating what streets would soon be blocked off, or where the next trap was going to be set and how to avoid it. People were rounded up, caught like rats in the police’s orange nets that wrapped around entire city blocks, steered by the police into buses and taken to Pier 57. They were released, in some cases, 24 to 60 hours later, and only after State Supreme Court Justice John Cataldo delivered the mayor an ultimatum to release the protesters or the city would be fined. The 2004 Republican National Convention in New York City had the largest number of arrests associated with any American major-party convention in history. But how bad can it get?

The Microsoft Corporation, which has offered domestic partner benefits to same-sex couples since the early 1990s and has barred discrimination based on sexual orientation, recently decided not to support publicly a gay rights bill before the Washington state legislature. The bill, which would have banned discrimination against gays and lesbians in housing, employment and insurance failed by one vote in the Senate. The House had passed the bill months before. Microsoft’s Steven Ballmer denied suggestions that a February meeting with Rev. Ken Hutcherson, pastor at Antioch Bible Church, influenced the company’s decision. Hutcherson threatened to launch a national boycott of Microsoft products if the company did not take a stand against the bill. "I understand that many employees may disagree with the company's decision," Ballmer wrote. "But I want every employee to understand that the decision to take a neutral stance on this bill was taken before the session began, based on a desire to focus our legislative efforts, not in reaction to any outside pressure."

Soon after the controversial death of Terry Schiavo, whose husband had her feeding-tube removed after she had been technically brain-dead since 1990, House majority leader Tom DeLay threatened “activist judges” who had blocked legislation that would have intervened on her behalf. He was quoted as saying, "The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior, but not today. Today we grieve, we pray, and we hope to God this fate never befalls another” (DeLay’s own father suffered catastrophic brain damage and went into a coma in 1988. The family decided to withhold dialysis and let him die, like Schiavo). DeLay’s comments in reaction to Schiavo’s death ignored the fact that most of the judges who ruled in the case were Republican appointees, including all but two Supreme Court justices. They also made clear that in the current politic climate politicians feel comfortable replacing implied threats with real ones.

We know there is a rising aggression against gays and lesbians masked by the “same-sex” marriage debate, that hate against gays is justified by religious beliefs and political expediency and that there is strong resistance to protecting us by supporting anti-discrimination and anti-violence laws (if you want a good way to measure a government’s fascist ideology, always check out what’s happening to the gay people). The Texas House of Representatives has passed a bill banning homosexuals, bisexuals and transgender people from being foster parents. If the bill gains approval in the Senate, prospective foster parents will have to indicate their sexual orientation on an application form, and current parents will be investigated. If found to be non-heterosexual, they will have foster children removed from their homes. Representative Sid Miller has called it “The Defense of Families Act”, patterned after Clinton’s Defense of Marriage Act. Similar legislation has been proposed in Alabama, Tennessee, Virginia and other parts of the country. Still, we may tell ourselves that they would never start arresting gay people on the street, or imprisoning us for violating sodomy laws. We know that the right to have a legal abortion is seriously endangered in this country as more politicians capitulate to religious conservatives’ demands and threats, but we reassure ourselves that they could never really overturn Roe V. Wade.

We know that we have had two elections now where the black vote was critically sabotaged, where blacks were taken off the voting rolls, tricked into leaving the polls because they had “inadequate” identification, or told they were unable to vote because of spurious felonies, as America reneged on almost fifty years of black American civil rights gains and the protection of the black franchise. The Supreme Court decision in 2000 to stop the recounting in Florida was a pivotal moment in a world-wide cynical view of American politics, and is still perceived by many as our electoral crisis. We may never recover. When President Johnson introduced to Congress the idea of a Voting Rights Act in 1965, he said, "Rarely are we met with a challenge… the values and the purposes and the meaning of our beloved Nation. The issue of equal rights for American Negroes is such an issue…..the command of the Constitution is plain: it is wrong - deadly wrong - to deny any of your fellow Americans the right to vote in this country." The act outlawed literary tests and poll taxes as a way of determining whether or not someone could vote. The criteria were clear: American citizenship and registration on an electoral list. The voting fraud in Florida 2000-2004 was more than just an election debacle, it was a direct message to black American citizens – your rights are no longer protected and you do not matter politically. Still, we tell ourselves that they would never create the economic equivalent of a return of blacks to slavery, as we continue to be deliberately undereducated to provide a work-force for America’s service industries – fast food restaurants, factories, sweatshops, prisons, hotel laundries and kitchens.

One of the benefits of studying history is learning that every script has already been written, every role has been cast before. Many of us are repelled by learning history because we were forced to memorize insignificant dates, or certain historical events seemed irrelevant when not put into a contemporary context. Sometimes we were aware as children that the interpretation we were being given was skewed or racist, and we deliberately tuned out.

I remember that my eighth grade teacher with the help of our American History textbook, suggested that the only reason that Native Indians hadn’t exploited the land before the settlers was basically because they didn’t have their shit together enough to see the economic potential and profit; and that if we hadn’t done it, somebody else definitely would have. I thought that the reason Native Indians didn’t exploit the land was because of their relationship to it, and that the thought of selling someone a piece of land was anathema to them, as it would be to say to someone today, “Pay me for that sunlight you’re standing in, I bought the rights to sunlight on Tuesdays.” When we got to American slavery it was more of the same: the exporting of slaves to the New World was not good, she conceded, but Africans sold each other to white Europeans and had taken slaves for centuries within their own countries. What was not discussed was the fact that while no slavery could ever be justified, there was a distinct difference between a tribe taking slaves after battles and warfare – in some cases, enslaved people still had rights and were incorporated into the new tribe – and the American slave trade, a prosperous business venture that led to the deaths of millions of blacks just on the journey to the Americas alone. Blacks were never fully incorporated into society as slaves. If they had been, legislation like the Fugitive Slave Law could never have existed. (Some would argue we still aren’t incorporated today.) Using Africans’ enslavement of each other as a justification for 300 years of American slavery and unpaid black labor was like comparing any genocide before World War II to the unprecedented murder-complex and lucrative business venture that was the concentration camp at Auschwitz.

I didn’t know all of this at thirteen, however. All I knew was that while my eighth-grade history teacher was talking my stomach hurt and that I had a sneaking suspicion she was full of shit. When I confronted what she said about Indians in class, someone passed me a note unsigned that said I was a self-righteous asshole and should shut up. Years later my high school history teacher, when describing the Southern reaction to the 1964 civil rights act, wrote on the chalkboard, drawing lines first to indicate each letter and filling them in one at a time, hangman style, the word that Johnson’s detractors often used when referring to him: NIGGERLOVE_. He left the last one blank; perhaps so he could deny at parent/teacher conferences having written the word on the board at all. I felt conspicuous as one of the few blacks in the class, and ill at ease with my teacher’s almost sexual relish that he’d finally uttered the forbidden word. He needn’t have bothered; I’d already clearly seen it in his eyes when I asked for an extension on my term paper.

It is humbling, now, to learn history and literature as an adult, but worthwhile; as a child, most of my energy had gone to protecting myself from the imperialism in which the lessons were taught. Before we even cracked the book open, I knew something was wrong with my high school world history class which was a requirement to graduate. In that class, the world was divided into two sections: West and Non-West. From this I could conclude that anyone from the West was a real person and anyone from Africa, my ancestors, were non-people. We were still on first-day introductions and already we’d gotten off on the wrong foot. Unfortunately, I wasn’t like my best friend, a black woman who constantly exasperated our teachers because she was brilliant and rude; openly reading romance novels in their classes. She’d been taught in the British school system in East Africa for a while, so when they tried to catch her off guard by asking her questions during a lecture, she not only had the answer, but could expound with further meanings and without losing her place in her book. Miraculously to me, she told the teachers exactly what they wanted to hear and gave them back their own ideas on tests and essays without incurring any psychological damage in the process. I, on the other hand, took everything personally and was insulted and dismayed in class after class. My grades reflected it. I blamed my not wanting to learn on the fact that I was, at times, a flaky student. But Herbert Kohl’s book, I Won’t Learn From You helps one understand children who would rather daydream and will even choose deliberately to fail as an act of resistance, rather than internalize “poisonous pedagogy”, knowing it will cause them to self-destruct one day. (I blocked out some of the pedagogy, but evidently not enough - I later self-destructed anyway).

History can be studied as a preventative measure, like the way we learned how to put out a grease fire in home economics class. You may never have one in your life, but if and when you do you know exactly what to expect. When people don’t know their history, they are easily manipulated, and can feel that their daily struggle has no context or meaning. You don’t know when you are young and gay and dealing with homophobia at school that a society that condemns you because of your sexual orientation is not necessarily a given; that there have been historical moments where gay people have thrived, like Berlin, for example, in the Thirties, considered a liberal city before the Third Reich, with many gay bars, nightclubs and cabarets, and drag bars where gay and straight tourists enjoyed female impersonators. Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld was responsible for a burgeoning gay-rights movement, all destroyed by the rise of Hitler. Or in some ancient Native American cultures there was a designation for gays and lesbians called “two spirit” that acknowledged homosexuality, and in some cases gave it a high status, as a two-spirited person was sometimes seen to have the combined strengths of male and female traditional qualities. When history is not treated only academically, but assimilated practically into our lives, we are empowered to deconstruct our experience of powerlessness and understand that, while oppression may present itself to the person feeling it as an overwhelming inevitability; it is always a series of attitudes, beliefs and eventual policies that have been cultivated and implemented by a group of people. When you know this, you may suddenly realize that there are very specific reasons why you don’t want to get out of bed in the morning, and you begin to understand how these attitudes, beliefs and policies have been used against you. And if this is true, then you may also understand that you are not a victim anymore and that if you resist, these ideas which have been presented to you as inevitabilities can be changed.

When we studied World War II in high school and college, I remember there being a slightly condescending feeling when we got to the Holocaust, as if by learning about it we were doing Jewish people a favor. I didn’t know then that I could not only empathize with the Jewish persecution during that time, but that I had my own relationship and legacy to the Nazis as a gay man, that thousands of gays were sent to concentration camps during the war and perished. Or that Ernst Rohm, the leader of the SA, was gay. Hitler tolerated Rohm’s sexuality despite the party’s strong anti-gay policy until he wanted to get rid of him, and then had him murdered, using his homosexuality as a justification. Hilter created a special division of the Gesptapo that was used to track gays. On May 6,1933, the Nazis ransacked Dr. Hirschfeld’s “Institute for Sexual Science" in Berlin. The Institute had been founded in 1919 and sponsored research and discussion on marital problems, sexually transmitted diseases, and laws relating to sexual offenses, abortion, and homosexuality. Hirschfeld was himself a homosexual, and had led efforts for three decades to reform laws which criminalized homosexuality. Thousands of books were thrown into a huge bonfire as part of large public burnings of books viewed as "un-German". In 1936, Heinrich Himmler, Chief of the SS, created the Reich Central Office for the Combating of Homosexuality and Abortion. (The Nazis were certainly innovators; they knew, before the Religious Right, that the two issues might not galvanize people on their own, but put together, they are an inspired combination). Himmler said at the time, "We must exterminate these people root and branch... the homosexual must be eliminated."

Gay men were considered “degenerates" who threatened the "disciplined masculinity" of Germany. Paragraph 175 of the German penal code banned sexual intimacy between members of the same gender. By 1938, the Nazis had rewritten the criminal code and German courts ruled that any contact between men deemed to have sexual intent, even "simple looking" or "simple touching," could be grounds for arrest and conviction. Approximately one million gay men were victimized under Nazism. As the Nazis had the power to jail indefinitely anyone they wanted without a trial, gay were arrested, committed to mental hospitals, sent to concentration camps, subjected to lobotomies and castrated under court order. Nazis conducted medical experiments on some gay concentration camp inmates in the interest of finding a "cure" for homosexuality. At Buchenwald concentration camp, SS physician Dr. Carl Vaernet performed operations designed to convert men to heterosexuals using the surgical insertion of a capsule into the testicle which released the male hormone testosterone. Like most of the Nazi experiments, the results were often illness, mutilation, or death, and yielded no scientific knowledge. Gays were tortured and humiliated by the SS in ways specific to their orientation, beaten, raped with implements, and publicly executed and savagely murdered. We had the highest death rate compared to other anti-social groups because of the unique relentlessness of our persecutions.

I did not know in high school that the pink triangle was the Nazi designation for gay men in concentration camps, or that lesbians, as enemies of the state, were forced to wear black triangles. When the camps were liberated in 1945, some gay men were forced to serve out the rest of their terms of imprisonment, as they were still in violation of Paragraph 175. Others faced discrimination when they tried to find work. According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Nazi version of Paragraph 175 remained on the books in West Germany until the law was revised in 1969 and homosexual relations between men over the age of 21 was no longer criminal. However, the continued legal and social prohibitions against homosexuality hindered acknowledgement that homosexuals were victims of Nazi persecution. In 1956, West Germany’s Federal Reparation Law for Victims of National Socialism declared that interment in a concentration camp for homosexuality did not qualify an individual to receive compensation. It was only in 1990, four years after the re-unification, that Germany finally abolished Paragraph 175, and in May 2002 pardoned homosexuals convicted under the code during the Nazi era.

In 2003, during a debate on two bills he had brought forward to repeal gay-rights laws, Minnesota State Rep. Arlon Lindner said gays were lying when they cited the thousands of homosexuals who were exterminated or sent to concentration camps by the Nazis. The persecutions, he told the House, never happened.

I also learned that Hitler had a little something special for black people too. He wrote in Mein Kampf, “The Jews were responsible for bringing the Negroes into the Rhineland with the ultimate idea of bastardizing the white race.” After the First World War, France brought African soldiers from its colonies into the German Rhineland as an occupying force. Some of these black soldiers married white German women that bore children referred to as "Rhineland Bastards" or the "Black Disgrace". Hitler promised he would eliminate all the children born of African-German descent because he considered them an "insult" to the German nation. "The mulatto children came about through rape or the white mother was a whore," Hitler wrote. "In both cases, there is not the slightest moral duty regarding these offspring of a foreign race."

In her 2001 series of articles, “Holocuast: Non-Jewish Victims” Terese Pencak Schwartz writes, “The Nazis set up a secret group, Commission Number 3, to organize the sterilization of these [mulatto] offspring to keep intact the purity of the Aryan race. In 1937, all local authorities in Germany were to submit a list of all the children of African descent. Then, these children were taken from their homes or schools without parental permission and put before the commission. Once a child was decided to be of black descent, the child was taken immediately to a hospital and sterilized. About 400 children were medically sterilized -- many times without their parents' knowledge.” German genetic experiments had begun decades earlier, however, on black prisoners that had been taken from the 1904 Heroro Massacre when Africans resisted German colonization. As a child, I’d heard Hitler was racist because he left the Olympics in 1934 early so that he would not have to shake Jesse Owen’s winning hand, but I had no idea that there were Black Germans who were interred in concentration camps, that black prisoners of war were often segregated and singled out for brutal treatment and deliberately starved. Many of the propaganda films distributed by the Nazis to create a perception of horror about the Jewish race had music that sounded distinctly “African” in the background, and Jews were often shown in Nazi cartoons and posters with distorted “Negroid” features. Much of the art-work that Hitler would later condemn and remove from museums as “grotesque” and anti-German, also had an unmistakably African sensibility. There were courageous black Germans who led acts of resistance against Hitler as he came into power. Germany refused to meet compensation claims launched by Black survivors, their relatives, and victims’ families. As most German Blacks were stripped of their nationality by the Nazis, it was extremely difficult for them to claim reparations as citizens of the German state.

Mordechai Chaim Rumkowski ran the Lodz ghetto during the war as the Nazi liaison. The Nazis assigned “special” Jews to organize the Polish ghettos for them. Although history could present an argument that Rumkowski was victimized as well, forced by circumstance to do the Nazis bidding, he took advantage of his power and cast his own shadow of hell over those who worked for him. This included specifically the women he sexually violated and who knew that to reject him would mean being deported to a concentration camp. In 1942, Rumkowski complied with the demands of the Nazis to hand over all Jews under 10 years and over 65 years of age, and the infirm, for deportation (extermination). In a speech given to the mothers of the Lodz Ghetto, Rumkowski said, “Give me your children.” The mothers refused. There was a brutal round-up and 20.000 were collected and sent to be murdered in extermination camps. In 1944, after years of Nazi loyalty, when the trains came to empty the ghettos, Rumkowski wasn’t spared as a “helpful Jew”; even his desperate request for his own private car to his demise was denied. He, like the others who remained in the ghetto, was deported to Auschwitz.

There is no modern-day Rumkowski, of course, because there is no Lodz Ghetto in America, but there are overcrowded black American ghettos where our military offers economic opportunities to overcoming poverty. Sometimes I want to have a full-scale tantrum when yet another black person tells me that despite Condoleezza’s Rice’s reactionary, conservative politics, she is to be greatly admired. I wonder if they can’t see that Rice is our black Rumkowski, in charge of our “selections” for this administration. She says, “Give me your children”, and young blacks and Latino men and women risk their lives and die in Iraq for American business interests. Every fascist state knows that the chances for resistance are reduced when the people held down are presented with a rational representative who is “one of their own.” What the Condi supporters never seem to get is that without reactionary politics, there is no Condoleezza Rice – she doesn’t come in progressive flavors, and no left-wing black woman or man who fought for real social change in America could get within ten feet of the White House these days, not even to dust the antiques.

In 1933 the German Reichstag (Parliament) was burned to the ground. Hitler had his chance. Whoever did it (ostensibly him, but historians disagree on this) Germany now had not only a common enemy but an incident to rally around; any time someone doubted Germany’s need for a dominating, protective force, Hitler could point to the Reichstag, the need to be more circumspect and the reasons why civil liberties had to be temporarily suspended. The tragedy of 9/11 was so thorough, so inconceivable, Americans were similarly prepared to do whatever it took to keep 9/11 from happening again. Like the stereotype of the grieving widow taken advantage of by the greedy funeral parlor director who slips her his most expensive package; in her despair she will buy anything. Our shock took us beyond a place of rationality; what we knew was that we were being told that there were more weapons of mass destruction aimed at us, that someone was out there who might harm us again, and they needed to be taken care and quickly. It was this argument that helped Cheney push legislation through expeditiously, as he warned other members of congress that if it didn’t pass, they would be responsible in the event of another attack. We were told civil liberties had to be suspended because terrorists were everywhere - in our libraries, on the internet, using the television, radio and our cell-phones. The Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001 or USA Patriot Act was the answer to an America that the administration claimed needed to be monitored more closely after 9/11.

On February 28, 1933, Hitler sprang into action. Using the Reichstag incident, he convinced German President Paul Hindenburg to issue a Decree for the Protection of People and State, which suspended sections of the constitution. According to William L. Shirer's, Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, the decree put forth that:

"Restrictions on personal liberty, on the right of free expression of opinion, including freedom of the press; on the rights of assembly and association; and violations of the privacy of postal, telegraphic and telephone communications; and warrants for house searches, orders for confiscation as well as restrictions on property, are also permissible beyond the legal limits otherwise prescribed."

On November 2001, The Homeland Security Act is enacted less than a month after September 11. The Act suspends constitutionally guaranteed civil rights and had already been prepared prior to the time of the WTC and Pentagon attacks. Most Americans accepted the Act without significant resistance or debate.

If the Holocaust taught us nothing else, it should be that for the rest of human existence when the question is ever posed, “How bad can things really get?” The answer should always be: pretty fucking bad. There are laws and actions that are being put in place now that may not come into full manifestation for another decade, but when they do, there may be no turning back. How these next years play out, and our resistance to what occurs, will determine the political health and survival of democracy in the United States.

The more I learned now, the more I realized that my understanding of what happened in Nazi Germany was far too simplistic in high school: Hitler was evil and did bad things. He was the most horrible human being who ever lived. While all of this seemed true, it didn’t tell me anything in particular, and it certainly didn’t help me to take his personal and political evil and extrapolate it into an indictment on human evil itself and what I might be capable of in my own life, what might happen in my country. As tempting as it is to envision Hitler as a psychological monstrosity, which in many ways he was, it is his humanness which is actually more terrifying, the fact that any man could contain such hatred, call for the eradication of an entire people, and then compliment his secretary or smile and pet his dog. Alice Miller wrote about the decision to consider Hitler as a subject for analysis: “I had to free myself from thinking of ‘what is human’ in traditional and idealizing terms based on splitting off and projecting evil. I had to realize that human being and “beast” do not exclude each other.” As genocide has continued to occur on the planet since the end of the Second World War, as currently in Sudan, it is clear that we don’t understand what causes genocide enough to stop it in each other or ourselves; we haven’t learned anything from history, or we simply don’t care. To most people these days, as the writer David Rieff once noted, the expression "Never Again" when applied to genocide really means: "Never again would Germans kill Jews in Europe in the 1940s."

The reason why the Holocaust must be studied in detail is that we need to know the inner workings of the fascist State, the calibrated clicks as they fall into place. It is too easy to think, “I would have known better if I had been there. I would have seen what was coming.” It is this kind of arrogance and false understanding that is the real crime against memory, the ugliest tribute to the vanquished and the survivor. Others argue that Hitler was a historical inevitability, while ignoring the fact that public opinion did matter to the Nazis; their actions had to be covert because they were aware that if more people knew what they were up to early enough, they could never have achieve their unimaginably evil legacy.

Hitler began the euthanasia programs in the early 1930’s with this secrecy – he tried to convince the German public through propaganda films that mentally disabled and physically challenged people were taking up too much space and were going to ruin Aryan gene pools. He never mentioned death specifically in these films, but as in the propaganda films used against Jews later, the message was clear: these are the people we need to get rid of to maintain the health of the German body. It was only when Hitler started gassing a few “normal” German soldiers who had come back brain-dead from the First World War that public outcry began, and the Nazi’s had to be more covert in their efforts. The Nazis change of course in this effort is significant and acknowledges the fact that when there is even the slightest moral outrage, protest or curiosity against an administration’s wrongdoing, evil can be at least temporarily derailed, and arguably thwarted altogether, depending on the level of resistance. As not enough German’s were concerned about these killings, not only did the Nazis continued, but by 1941, 70,000 mentally and physically disabled people had been gassed. The early gas chambers would serve as the basic model used for Jews throughout Germany’s concentration camps.

In school, we learned that Jews were despised in Nazi Germany, but we didn’t understand where the roots of this hatred had come from. We didn’t understand how hate could fester for decades or centuries before it manifested in unprecedented ways. German theologian Martin Luther wrote in his book, On Jews and Their Lies in 1543: “Their synagogues should be set on fire. Their homes should likewise be broken down and destroyed. Let’s drive them out of the country for all time.” There was the increasingly accepted belief amongst Germans that whoever bought from a Jewish person was a traitor to their race. There were signs posted everywhere that denounced the Jews and that had to be taken down during the Olympics so the visiting world wouldn’t know how rapidly things were changing in Germany, the depth of the growing hatred. German children learned songs in school with anti-Jewish lyrics, “When Jewish blood spurts from the knife, all goes well,” and played manufactured board-games, like today’s Chutes and Ladders called Juden ‘Rous ( Jews Out!). The rules of the game specified: “If you manage to kick out six Jews, you are the winner without question.” The Nuremberg laws in 1935 made it illegal for Jews and Aryan’s to marry, and began the increasing loss of Jewish rights as they were no longer allowed to hold government positions, to sit on park benches, ride buses, go to concerts, hold public office, or teach at universities. Anti-Jewish sentiment progressed until it reached a decisive turning point with Kristalnacht, “Night of Broken Glass”, in 1938. On that day, 1,000 synagogues were set on fire and 76 were destroyed. More than 7,000 Jewish businesses and homes were looted, about 100 Jews were killed, and as many as 30,000 Jews were arrested. The action was initiated by the Nazi police force wearing civilian clothes to give the appearance of an uprising of German citizens against the Jews. For German Jews who had fought bravely in the First World War, who believed themselves fully German, and knew that anti-Semitism would eventually pass, and for those Aryan Germans who were unwilling to see what Hitler had been putting into place for the last decade, who might have resisted earlier, but didn’t, there was no turning back. As Hitler had started putting politicals in Dachau concentration camp as early as 1933, the streets were empty by 1938 for massive resistance. Too many other Germans believed in the promise of Hitler’s ideology and supported his reign of terror, willing to follow his vision no matter what the cost.

We knew concentration camps were horrible places where people died, but how could we understand the full extent of what had really gone on at Auschwitz? My generation knows the Holocaust primarily through Hollywood movie making. This presents obvious limitations, since nothing is presented outside a movie studio’s conception. A student who wants to “understand” the Holocaust can do so only through an amalgam of sources - recorded testimonies, newsreels, museums, actual footage, visits to the camps themselves. In school, we couldn’t fathom or never discussed people being gassed to death with their children standing beside them, thrown into ovens sometimes alive, human skin used for lampshades and purses and drawing paper, the human head of a Polish prisoner who’d been hanged, made into a paperweight at Buchenwald and presented at Nuremberg as evidence. The rapes, starvation, hangings, perverse experimentations, cannibalism, the use of human corpses for soap, the human hair woven into fabric. When images taken from the liberation of the camps are shown, the mind recoils and doesn’t want to believe that those are human bodies stacked like firewood, that those are piles of glasses, suitcases, family photographs, shoes. The unimaginable greed. The slave labor used by companies like IG Farben to make a financial profit. It all seems beyond comprehension, unimaginable evil in a faraway land, until I remind myself of the public lynching of blacks in this country, the common practice of castration and the torture that occurred before cheering mobs that often included children who were allowed to stay home from school to attend. Of lynchings advertised in the newspaper like theatrical events, of black men’s and women’s bodies set on fire and roasted, then placed in front of stores where pieces of the charred remains were broken off and kept by families as souvenirs.

We need to understand every point on the circle; the victim, the perpetrator, the bystander. Each has a story to tell, something to inform us. You cannot study the history of Nazi Germany and not wonder how genocide against Jews in Europe might have ended if there had been more public outrage against Hitler; if the Roman Catholic Church had taken an aggressive moral stand against exterminations and the camps; if the United States had entered the war earlier, done more to stop the killing or if the world powers had made provisions for Jews to emigrate. The story of Nazi Germany is ugly on so many levels, so repulsive to consider, it is tempting not to look at it at all, or to study it in a way that allows our fascination with evil to distance us further. We need to understand in the deepest human terms how one group of people can hypnotize themselves into believing that another group is the source of all their problems, how jealousy and feelings of inadequacy can lead to the most unfathomable acts of depravity and murder. We need to see how terms like “gooks” for the North Vietnamese, “cockroaches” for the Hutus in Rwanda, and even “Axis of Evil”, “activist judges” and "liberals" are used to galvanize hatred against groups, how cartoons and illustrations begin the process of making people gradually appear more grotesque and less human. The Jim Crow image of the black American with elastic red lips and protruding eyes, smiling over a piece of watermelon has the same dehumanizing effect as the depiction of the Jew in Nazi propaganda as dirty with an oversized nose, and his hand in someone’s pocket. We need to understand how the media have historically been used as an agent provocateur by certain corrupt governments to incite and encourage hate. Media are crucial to people who put forth wars; a dictator has to get his message out somehow. In The Power of Myth series with Bill Moyers, Joseph Campbell described the reverential relationship that the native Indians had to their environment. “The Indians addressed life as a ‘thou’. Trees, stones, everything else. The ego that sees a ‘thou’ is not the same ego that sees an ‘it’. And when you go to war with a people, the problem of the newspapers is to turn those people into ‘its’, so that they’re not ‘thous’”.

In December 2003, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda found three African media executives guilty of genocide, incitement to commit genocide and crimes against humanity for the hateful reports and editorials they had published and broadcast nine years before. Their broadcasts on the Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM) radio station encouraged militias to kill Tutsi and moderate Hutu civilians and leaders. Names, addresses, and license plates were read over the air, leading to mass executions. RTLM is the first media outlet to be tried for war crime since Der Stürmer at the Nuremberg trials. Julius Streicher, the Nazi propagandist who published the Anti-Jewish newspaper, was found guilty after the Nuremberg Tribunal described his writings as "poison injected into the minds of thousands of Germans which caused them to follow the National Socialist Party's policy of Jewish persecution and extermination." He was given the death penalty.

In his book, When Presidents Lie: A History of Official Deception and Its Consequences, Eric Alterman writes about the print media coverage at the beginning of the Iraq War: “America’s most influential interlocutor of foreign affairs, The New York Times’ Thomas Friedman, wrote, ‘As far as I’m concerned, we do not need to find any weapons of mass destruction to justify this war…Mr. Bush doesn’t owe the world any explanation for missing chemical weapons (even if it turns out that the White House hyped this issue.)’ The editors of The Washington Post in large measure concurred: ‘While the Bush Administration may have publicly exaggerated or distorted parts of its case, much of what it said reflected a broad international consensus.’” Alterman claims that not only was this false, but that when journalists reported on the number of inconsistencies and deceptive statements in the Bush team’s presentations of the “facts”, journalists often used euphemisms like “dubious”, not wrong, or “the president’s rhetoric has taken some flights of fancy.” Says Alterman, “Indeed, the words ‘President Bush lied’ have not, to my knowledge, appeared in any major American newspaper during the president’s [first] term.” One wonders how history will judge our media one day and its treatment of our occupation of Iraq, the provocative programming in the months prior to the first bombing, and how phrases like “evildoers” spoken hundreds of times an hour on dozens of cable channels help us look at photographs of bombed Iraqi children and tell ourselves that what we are engaged in is an operation for freedom.

If you took a survey on genocide, you would probably find that most people are against it on principle. They believe, overall, that sending people to their death because of who or what they are, is basically wrong. Yet somehow collectively we still harbor hatred for Jews, homosexuals, “gypsies” (homeless people), politicals (liberals), artists, the disabled, angry women (feminists, lesbians and other “anti-socials”) – basically everyone whose lack of “moral values” keeps getting in the way of our attempts to create “order” in America, which really mean the establishment of a totalitarian state based on fundamentalist religion. Few want extermination exactly, but they wish someone would do something about the “noisy people” and get them to shut up, or just take them somewhere we don’t have to hear from them quite so often. When this aggressive sentiment exists, it merely lies dormant in a society, waiting for the right charismatic leader to exploit it. Then, when the noisy people are relocated to ghettos and camps, when others spit on them, call them names, throw things at them and take their belongings and homes, we say “this wouldn’t be happening to you if you didn’t deserve it.” Fascist dictators come and go throughout history, but somehow the categories of people who are enemies of the State always remain the same.


Leni Riefenstal’s Triumph of the Will begins with clouds. Words appear on the screen: “20 years after the outbreak of the world war, 16 years after the beginning of our suffering, 19 months after the beginning of the German Renaissance, Adolph Hitler flew to Nuremberg again to review the columns of his faithful followers”. The first frames of the film announce to us in visual terms: God has looked down on Germany and sent her a savior.

The movie is a commercial for the Nazi party. Filmed in 1934 at the Nuremberg rally, it might be seen today as a camp classic were it not for the unprecedented evil was to come. There’s genius in it and the film has been called a masterpiece, but it is also at times over the top and extremely self-conscious. Hitler’s plane lands and he emerges. He extends his hand and the sun winks off his pleasant smile - he is the Lightbearer, the Illuminated One. If you didn’t know who Hitler was before seeing this movie, you might think - why him? The music is portentous and cues you to expect someone heroic, but then you get this guy with a chopped-off caterpillar mustache and cheesy combover. Everyone has an outstretched hand, everyone is yearning to touch him. Even a little Nazi kitten underneath an SS flag turns its head as if to say, “Is that Hitler?”

Hitler’s Savior complex has really gone too far; even Jesus wasn’t this famous. Fires burn in the night – fires that Himmler (“When I hear intellectualism, I draw my gun”) will use to burn the books of Jewish philosophers and scholars. No one is burning books in this movie, however, nor are there any specific references to extermination or ridding the world of Jews. This is Hitler, man of the people, friend of the German State.

A church bell rings. Wake up! We are in the soldiers’ camp. They shine their shoes, shave, comb each others’ hair. The film emphasizes the camaraderie, as the soldiers bathe together, laugh, and horse around. As the men get in their uniforms, large kettles boil with breakfast. A beautiful Aryan boy laughs good-naturedly with a cloudless sky behind him. They are, in fact, all pretty blonde white boys with good teeth in this movie, and not a single one of them resembles Hitler. There is Bavarian traditional music and dress, the Pride of Germany. Hitler’s procession moves past the crowd. He shakes the hands of the farmers and townsfolk who participate in the festivities. The camera keeps finding women who peer anxiously over the heads of each another, licking their lips in anticipation. Their longing is almost painful. Isn’t Hitler delicious?

The Nazi soldiers have a roll-call. Where are you from, Comrade? And you? One nation, one Führer- Hitler is shown like a bust against a rolling, boiling sky. Comrade, where are you from? From Friesland. And you, comrade? From Bavaria. From Kaiserstuhl. From Pomerania, from Konigsberg, from Silesia, from the seaside, from the Black Forest, from Dresden, from the Dunube, from the Rhine, and from the Saar, One Nation, One Führer, One Reich. Germany!

It reminds me of something from my childhood that also smacked of totalitarian fascism and inclusion while being visually engaging in the same way: The Mickey Mouse Club. I don’t remember any of the specifics of the program, just a childhood reaction after watching an episode that the show had a cloying, grabby feel that I found repulsive. Or maybe it was another show I used to watch as a child called Romper Room, where a creepy white lady looked through her magnifying glass at the camera and said, “I see Karen, and Billy, and Susan…” Riefenstahl’s movie is about belonging. The crowd scenes show the unity, precision and order of the soldier, every head turned in perfect profile. There is no mistaking the film’s message: you are protected as long as you trust in Hitler; his authority is absolute. Hitler’s not even Jesus anymore, God in vulnerable human form. He’s given himself an upgrade since the movie started; He is God from the Old Testament, egomaniacal and capricious, looking down from the clouds, passing judgment, and expecting to be indulged and obeyed without any hesitation or he will mete out swift and thorough punishments. Germans will greet each other with “Heil Hitler” for twelve years to reassure him of their devotion.

Hitler inspects the crowd of soldiers, raising a salute to one man who stands above the others. The camera follows. The soldier is the palest, most chiseled-looking white man I’ve ever seen who wasn’t sculpted out of marble. We cut to a pep-rally, where all Hitler’s henchmen each get their five minutes of fame. Wagner, Rosenberg, Dietrich, Tovt, Reinheirt, Streiche, Ley, Frank, Goebbels. Streiche contribution is “A nation that does not value its racial purity will perish.” Goebels’ face looks like a dark jack-o-lantern days after Halloween when it rots and starts to cave in. As the film cuts over and over again from Hitler and Goebbles’ knotted faces to the prettiness of their male Aryan ideal, I realize that Hitler and Goebbels are like the nerds in high school who did the football-players’ homework so that they could be seen talking with someone popular and get a date for themselves. There is a significant desperation in their auras. Hitler, ironically, has that rare, fascinating quality that Marilyn Monroe also had. He is a huge flirt with a mystical madness that surrounds him. His personality creates a psychic vacuum or a blank screen onto one can easily project own loneliness. Women want to close close this gap by mothering Hitler; men see in him the eyes of a sad father they want to impress.

In Hitler’s raging, emotive face is Germany’s grief over losing World War I. A lick of black hair trembles when he shakes a fist for aggressive emphasis, he is the boyish spirit of a Germany that wants to be aggressively unified. There exists in him a voracious, adolescent quality that promises new possibilities and the guts to carry it out if you only trust him. Hitler’s complex brand of evil continues to elude historians, psychoanalysts, biographers and religious leaders, but in one way Hitler is not complex at all: he is just another man who deep down believes he isn’t man enough, a shy loser who also just happens to be a great narcissist with psychotic megalomaniacal tendencies. He’s sick, of course, and needs a lot of help, but there is no chance of his getting any. There is no one around to mirror back to him his psychological disintegration, and even if there had been, Hitler would have had him destroyed.

In The Burden of Guilt author Hannah Vogt quoted Hitler as saying, “My pedagogy is hard. I want the young to be violent, domineering, undismayed, cruel…they must be able to bear pain. There must be nothing weak or gentle about them.” John Toland later wrote in his biography entitled Adolf Hitler, “Hitler told one of his secretaries that he had read in an adventure novel that it was a proof of courage to show no pain. And so ‘I resolved not to make a sound the next time my father whipped me. And when the time came – I still can remember my frightened mother standing outside the door – I silently counted the blows. My mother thought that I had gone crazy when I beamed proudly and said, ‘Father hit me thirty-two times!’”

Hitler’s mental illness will progressively get worse. He will try to reconcile the fractures in his male psyche by starting a world war; he will compensate for his inadequacy as a man by transferring his extraordinary self-hate onto a race of people who are culturally “women” by his standards and thus deserve to die. He is on a mission to destroy the feminine in Germany so that it will become impenetrably male and never be violated again – as Hitler wished to be impenetrable to the hands of his own brutal father. He won’t be the first boy, nor will he be the last, to try and achieve this indestructibility to reconcile his own feelings of childhood powerlessness, though his methods will be the most extreme.

The Jews, by the nature of their historic vulnerability, were the most feminine group around, the physical externalization of Hitler’s idea of feminine and childhood weakness which had to be eradicated, with homosexuals and blacks soon to follow. And then there was that nasty rumor going around that Hitler’s own grandfather, of whose identity he could never be certain, was, in fact, Jewish, a detail that snagged throughout Hitler’s life because it could not be disproved and when considering the historical evidence, seems probable. With this “dubious” past, Hitler wouldn’t even have passed his own tests of racial purity, and somewhere in the dark attic of his troubled mind he knew this. Of all Nature’s creations, Hilter existed in a category of beings that was the most dangerous she had ever produced: a man with global power at his hands, a disapproving father and an insecure masculinity to prove.

Hitler’s most impassioned speech in the film is directed to the young. He’s getting to them early; they’ll be ripe for hate when he really needs them a few short years from now. There is a split second where Riefenstahl betrays Hitler, perhaps she can’t help herself – and his face is captured without his “führer” mask on; he could be naked. His face looks fleshy and tender. We know from historical account that some people saw a gentler face on Hitler from time to time, but a “soft” Hitler still seems unimaginable for most of us.

As he stares out from the screen, his eyes cold and opaque, his skin smoother than it should be for a man as hard as he claims he is, I am trying to unravel the mystery of how the fascist trance begins, how a man becomes a Hitler, and how people can follow a man like this and turn over their power, their sense of right and wrong, and their intelligence to a psychopath, simply because he promises to take away their pain. As I stare at Hitler’s face, I think it can’t be that simple, that he’s just another boy who wants to play king of the mountain and that somewhere he’s just as surprised as anyone else that he’s pulled this shit off, that the “beautiful people” are really listening to him, like a pathological game of Simon Says. He inhabits the body of a man and has a gentleman’s habits, but this is all boys’ stuff, the kind of possessive games that immature children enact when they fight each other on the playground. “We’re better than you are”,“You’re either his friend or mine.” “I hate you,” “I wish you were dead.” Hitler’s hate is shocking but it is his ordinariness that devastates. Hitler is every angry little boy who thinks he’ll feel better if he starts a gang. Gangs of boys rule the world, in fact, and there is no difference between the Crips, the Bloods, the Nazis and the white collar gang whose hideout is 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

It becomes clearer as the film progresses why Hitler’s words of unification and discipline might inspire. His message of hardness is perfect for a nation that felt “bitch-slapped” by the rest of the world after World War I and the Versailles Treaty, a nation that in order to mask its shame and embarrassment at what happened overcompensated after the fact, much like American homeland security after 9/11. No amount of tightened security, police or baggage scanners could achieve what we were psychologically hoping for: a return to the “innocence” of 9/10.

Hitler leaves the stadium waved to by the masses. There are thousands and thousands of people, the crowd seems endless. This is Hitler’s Wagnerian opera, his tribute to his love of theater. A speech is given outdoors and the lighting is glorious. Riefenstahl circles him as he speaks and he appears majestic, exalted. If Hitler were a singer, he would bore and irritate you, his voice doesn’t have any levels, it just rips at your ears. But it’s the intensity in that screaming voice that reaches out and demands to be listened to. “The German people are happy in the knowledge that the constantly changing leadership has now finally been replaced with a stabilizing force.”

Hitler was smart to get Riefenstahl - Mussolini or Stalin would never have had the insight to hire as talented a filmmaker as her. Hitler said to Riefenstahl, when she hesitated at his request, “I want an artist to make this film.” And Riefenstahl does her job smashingly; she sells her product: Hitler. At the first official viewing in 1936, the Nazi’s might have hugged each other – the movie was propaganda gold. The film is innovative in that it predates the ruthlessness of television advertising and its manipulative, marketing genius. With the outstretched hands that reach for him throughout the film, the message is clear: Everybody loves Hitler. It reveals to us that the relationship many German people had with the Führer was deeper than just politics, or faith in a charismatic leader. This is rock star territory. The distinction is important and helps explain a loyalty that people are capable of feeling that extends beyond all rationality. In Sir Kevin Isaacs’ series The World at War a German woman described how another woman from her village traveled to where Hitler gave a speech and managed to shake the Führer’s hand. When she returned home, she became a celebrity as people wanted to touch her and gave her a new special status within the community.

Hitler’s failed attempts to succeed as an artist are significant in deconstructing the elements of his creative passion. His sketches and water colors aren’t bad, exactly. Some are proficient and might even be considered blandly attractive, just right for the wall of a Motel 6 or a travel agency. Hitler failed to get into art school because his work lacked any range or sense of vision. But he showed greatness as a director. Drawing on his love of opera, Hitler knew how to put on a grand show, and he used this to engage people in his fantastical and fanatical vision for the German people and the Aryan race. In this, Adolph Hitler and Karl Rove, as a top strategist in the Bush White House, definitely have something in common: insecure white men with a sense of pageantry and waspy elitism on the brain. Rove is also a great director, the main difference between them being that Hitler cast himself as his own lead, and Rove has George W. Bush. Rove’s ability was evidenced by the suspenseful press conferences and news reports that led up to the war; the ultimatum to Saddam and the counting down of days and minutes as the America awaited his response; the exploding lights over Baghdad during “shock and awe” with its circus-barker title that promised to wow and entertain, and the eventual toppling of Saddam’s statue in Paradise Square. As an American flag was draped over the statue’s face and it was brought down to an eager Iraqi chorus that clapped and cheered its victory and then mysteriously and disappeared “offstage”, one had to admit the war on Iraq was at least great theater, if nothing else.

In our last election, Republicans and the Conservative Right took a page out of the Hitler’s handbook and “Nuremberged” (The Nazi version of “You Got Punked”) John Kerry. It wasn’t too hard: Kerry’s grandfather, originally named Kohn, was Jewish. Somehow, through the propaganda of the Swift Boat Veterans, the repetition of the phrase “flip flop”, his quotes which were taken out of context and made into incendiary television commercials, we were trained with Pavlovian precision to feel contempt and disgust for a man who had taken a moral stance against a war that we now collectively agreed had been a unwinnable mistake and had cost too much money and too many American lives.

For those of us who watched the first presidential debate and thought we were tripping on acid, it became obvious that something much more complex than a presidential debate was happening that night. When it was over, I numbly pondered what I’d just seen. Bush’s style the entire evening amounted to defensiveness, “I know you are, but what I am I?”, cut-downs, silent gaps, smirks, snorts, repetitive rejoinders and answers that seemed two questions behind. Yet some still said the next morning, “Bush and Kerry tied in the debates.” Something extraordinary was happening in America. Bush had established a rapport with his constituency that was beyond rational thought where he could do no wrong. This group, ostensibly the majority of the American public, wouldn’t need answers to 911 or Iraq or unemployment or anything else because the answer they were looking for was the man himself.

Michael Moore continues to advocate that Democrats run a “star” as their next presidential candidate. He’s been calling for Oprah or Tom Hanks, our most affable public personalities, as the Republicans continue to use actors like Reagan, Eastwood and Schwarzenegger. As a filmmaker, Moore understands the American trance is based on fame: we are whores for celebrity. A few nights before the events of 9/11, Americans weren’t thinking about terrorism; we were watching Anne Heche talk about the end of her relationship with Ellen DeGeneres with Barbara Walters. It seems surreal now. The fact that we see ourselves as incapable of becoming fascists is what makes us that much more capable of stumbling into fascism backwards. Like Hitler’s methodical rooting out of opposition and his lethal retribution against anyone caught listening to any media source other than German radio, we are watching a gradual shift in American media away from the option of getting opposing information and viewpoints. Fox News has been perceived as the right-wing extreme, but when one channel-surfs now, it is clear that many news channels are starting to follow Fox’s format; everything is Fox News. If you want a dissenting view, you go online and read newspapers from Europe. The sources of unbiased news are getting narrower, the radio and the newspaper and the news channels are owned by a handful of people, and Americans could care less, because we have our minds on Michael, Martha, Scott and Laci, Brad and Jen and Angelina.

If Jeb Bush is going to run in 2008, then Rove and company are probably working on him already, teaching him how to walk properly with a book on his head and sending him to political charm school at night. If he is charismatic like his brother, George, or is trained to be, then Democrats should be afraid. When Bush appeared on Oprah before the 2000 election, he shined. Gore did well also, but a talk-show format didn’t appeal to all his strengths the way it did Bush’s, and shouldn’t have needed to if the American Presidency was for a person of ideas, and not just a performer. Bush worked it for Oprah, and was visibly moved when he remembered his wife’s faithful commitment to stand by him as he faced the depths of his addiction. When his style was at full capacity, Bush had gut-power, like a preacher. He never rushed ahead, and never demanded his audiences work to keep up with him; he was willing to close the gap between himself and the person listening. Bush came with his own laugh-track and applause; he was a walking presidential sit-com. He may not have had to articulate his policies on Oprah, but the his appearances on the daytime and late-night talk-show circuit helped with the “isn’t he cute, isn’t he real, isn’t he loving” vote. He batted his boyish eyes and helped to close the margin of voters who were undecided or had been leaning towards Gore.

One night before the election I went to bed after reading an article in Newsweek and, against my will had a dream that George Bush was my friend and that we had a conversation as we walked across a huge field together laughing. I woke up feeling betrayed by my own subconscious. When I opened the paper in the morning, I knew I still disagreed with everything this man stood for, but fragments of the dream lingered and I finally understood what the fuss was about. I couldn’t use my Democratic elitism or snobbery to erase what I now knew on a visceral level; that Bush was indulging people in places where politics no longer mattered. If a candidate was boring, we couldn’t forgive him for not having more star-power and just listen to his ideas. One of our failures as Democrats was that we refused to face what the Republicans had already incorporated into their strategy. Ideas are out – people want action figures, cartoons, and ruthless promises of safety.

Nobody knew better than Hitler what made the grade for a people who had collectively decided to turn their brains off, a process he likened to being female. He wrote in Mein Kampf, “Like the woman, whose psychic state is determined less by grounds of abstract reason than by an indefinable emotional longing for a force which will complement her nature, and who, consequently, would rather bow to a strong man than dominate a weakling, likewise the masses love a commander more than a petitioner and feel inwardly more satisfied by a doctrine, tolerating no other beside itself, than by the granting of liberalistic freedom with which, as a rule, they can do little, and are prone to feel that they have been abandoned.” What people really want, Hitler knew, is someone to whom they can give themselves over completely without hesitation, an icon, a movie star, a Big Daddy who will take out the garbage (the Iraqis, the North Koreans) and check all the doors at night while they sleep soundly, who they know will stop at nothing, legally or not, to keep them safe and secure. Republicans understand that what most people want is a Führer, and for the promise of unconditional protection, we are willing to accept the baggage of hatred and occasional genocide that usually comes along with having one.


The 1988 film Blood in the Face, produced and directed by Anne Bohlen, Kevin Rafferty and James Ridgeway, deals with Neo-Nazism in America. Michael Moore didn’t direct the film, but his voice is heard off-camera in interviews and the film has the trademark Michael Moore cruelty: people bury themselves alive in idiocy simply by talking. The title refers to Adam, who, according to the white supremacist teachings espoused in the film, was the father and creator of the only people on earth who could blush - the white race.

At the beginning of the film, Moore interviews a group of Neo-Nazi’s in their early twenties. They are a motley bunch in their jackets, jeans and tattoos, hands crammed in their pockets and showing off their Nazi regalia. They are unemployed or have jobs in factories; one is an auto worker, another works in a record store. As they speak, their faces are withdrawn and tight but still hold some of the shyness and vulnerability of their youth. Moore asks where they see themselves in the future. “Hopefully smashing the skulls of communists, executing race traitors or shooting on sight anybody we don’t think is white.” “When is this going to happen?” Moore asks. “As soon as a nigger decides to make his move and this economy that the Jews have built up falls apart.” There is a woman in the group who is attractive with blonde hair. She looks like someone who would give children a friendly smile as she hands them their strawberry-dipped cone at the Dairy Queen. When told by Moore that she doesn’t look like the stereotype of a neo Nazi, she affirms that she is very much a Nazi and clarifies her position: “I’m not just against Jewish people, it’s also blacks, it’s all for white people. White power.”

Later in the film, a man with graying hair and hip-hugging jeans, sunglasses and cowboy boots can hardly stand still as he tries to articulate his half-baked understanding of already half-baked concepts. Having not quite integrated what he’s heard at countless sermons and KKK rallies, his bits of neo-Nazi wisdom are non-sequiturs. When his thoughts get too mangled, he looks confused and forces himself to pause, then laughs and points at the filmmakers for being idiots who cannot understand him. He eventually has to sit down for a moment – communicating has made him dizzy. He explains, “When God or when Jesus came down here…you’ll see the red lines in your bible, what he said to the Jews was that they were children of Satan. They were liars, thieves and murderers.”

Canadian fascist leader John Ross Taylor says in response to the idea that Jews want people to remember the Holocaust as Christians want us to remember Jesus’ crucifixion, “You’re talking about something that actually did happen, while we can claim that the Holocaust did not happen. All Christians know that Jesus was crucified. And yet, ever since the Second World War we’ve had this nonsense that there have been six million Jews gassed. From my point of view…we have all the proof...that there was not one gas chamber and not one Jew gassed.” Thom Robb, National Director of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, says, “One of the problems in Sodom, as you all know, was homosexuality. And Christ says that prior to his return that the homosexuals will become a real problem in society.” When Moore informs Christian identity minister Allen Poe that he will never see the day of white racist dominance he is looking forward to, Poe responds, “We have a leather bound book with gold gilt edges that says we can’t lose. And Mr. Man, we’re not gonna lose. I don’t care if there’s ten of us left. We’re gonna win.” He then points to the ceiling: “He says so.”

A young woman with short, dark hair sits comfortably on a couch next to her friend, and speaks in a thoughtful, relaxed manner. “When you love something you don’t want to see it destroyed. If somebody comes in and tries to hurt your family, you’re not going to sit back and let that happen. And our race is our family. And how can we sit back and let that be destroyed without doing something about it? People are too afraid to say, Hey, I don’t want to go out with a nigger, I don’t want to marry someone from a different country, I want to marry someone who is the same as I am. You don’t see grizzly bears mating with other animals, or dogs and cats or anything like that, they all stay to their own species.” (I suppose no one at the KKK meeting told her that niggers and white people are the same species.)

Her friend chimes in, “That’s the way God intended it.” This woman and her friend later admit in the documentary that they have never had a bad experience with anyone of another race. The first woman says, “[My teaching] came completely through reading and studying… out of the bible and literature and different books and things. And talking to people like Pastor Miles and Pastor Butler. A lot of people think it stems from hate, but I don’t think it really stems from hate. It stems from knowing that we should be separate.”

Blood in the Face includes footage of George Lincoln Rockwell, leader of the American Nazi Party in the 1950’s. He sits on a stage smoking a pipe surrounded by a group of men wearing swastikas. Rockwell is asked, “Commander, how do you feel about the allegations that the American Nazi party had strong homosexual tendencies?” Rockwell replies, “I will say this. In my organization, I have men who were homosexuals. They were sucked into that filth, just like drunkards or dope fiends, and I have been able to rescue them and I’m not a bit ashamed of that. I’ll stand shoulder to shoulder with any one of them any day. The one thing I will not tolerate is a homosexual who is still a homosexual. This is one of the biggest enemies. I’d rather gas queers than anyone else.”

A veteran describes his hatred for blacks after World War II: "I couldn’t get a job with the government if I wanted to, in those days, my younger days, so I went into construction work. You don’t see too many colored in construction...because it’s hard work. All they know how to do is play basketball or football or baseball, because that’s an easy life. You work three or four months out of the year and that’s it, they make six or seven hundred thousand dollars a year for their shenanigans, I don’t think it’s right. They are in all the movies now, they’re in all the advertisements, there isn’t one advertisement on the T.V. that there isn’t a colored involved in it and they are always saying how they’re being discriminated against.”

I hate to give these people any more space to vent their stupid ideas, and I want to dismiss them as fools. But that reaction is much too easy. For me as a black man to feel any pity for a group of people who would be more than overjoyed if I hopped in a box and Fed-Exed myself to Africa tonight feels grotesque. But in addition to being black and gay and a man, I am also sensitive to human tragedy, and there is a great tragedy here. We’re in Nazi Germany all over again; white Aryan people itching for anything at their disposal to feel powerful or to restore their dignity, and choosing hatred to compensate for low self-esteem. It is more than half a century later and we are still looking for scapegoats. Nothing has changed; Jews, blacks and gays are still at the top of the charts. The haters this time are the unemployed and impoverished working-class people of Michigan (although there are plenty of wealthy whites behind the solidly locked, polished door handles and immaculately watered lawns of places like Bloomfield Hills who also shared their views.)

I resist feeling superior to these people and try to understand how they came to this place. I know anger, poverty and dislocation have something to do with it. I refuse to believe that anyone is born hating, and hold a deep conviction that teaching children racism is a form of child abuse. When the supremacists’ little red necks bulge and they shake their angry fists about black or gay inferiority and Jewish conspiracies, I can’t help thinking, there is nothing going on with these people that a few more green vegetables a week and a high colonic wouldn’t cure (my fantasy neo-Nazi replies defensively: “Yeah, that’s how you gay guys solve everything, isn’t it? By shoving something up your ass”).

I’m from Michigan and remember vividly the car trips we took when I was a child, which towns it was okay to stop in to eat or get gas and which town you drove past because they were rumored to be heavily into the Klan. The town I grew up in, East Lansing, was remembered in The Autobiography of Malcolm X, published in 1964 “…he [Malcolm’s father, Earl Little] moved us into another house on the outskirts of East Lansing. In those days Negroes weren’t allowed after dark in East Lansing proper…East Lansing harassed us so much that we had to move again.” His family moved two miles outside the city, where, Malcolm’s father was killed. Little, a strong supporter of Marcus Garvey, and a black Baptist preacher who emphasized black liberation and the dignity of Africa in his sermons, had received threats on his life, and had already had one house burned down by the Klan. “My father’s skull, on one side, was crushed in,” Malcolm wrote. “I was told later, Negroes in Lansing have always whispered that he was attacked, and then laid across some tracks for a street car to run over him. His body was cut almost in half.” Little was murdered in 1931 when Malcolm was six. The family’s life insurance company ruled Little’s death a suicide and refused to pay the money the family was owed. By 1970, the year I was born, there were still 2,000 members of the Klan in the state of Michigan.

Watching the neo-Nazis in the film, I realize these people are exceptional, not for their hatred of blacks, but for their honesty. Theirs is the crudest form of a pervasive ideology which informs almost every aspect of American culture: white superiority. Before my mouth drops too wide open at their shocking pronouncements, I have to remind myself how many times as a child I opened a magazine, looked at a billboard, watched a television commercial, overheard an adult speaking and thousands of other ways that I probably didn’t consciously remember, and was told that I was inferior because of my race. The only different between neo-Nazis and the people who continue to make “Aunt Jemima” syrup and “Uncle Ben’s” rice was that the neo-Nazis don’t smile when they call you nigger and their products don’t taste as sweet.

The experience of racist ideology in pop-culture is so pervasive at times I often don’t register it at all until a familiar sinking feeling much later upon reflection on a particular event. In my old neighborhood there is a used bookstore where I managed to find a cheap copy of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William L. Shirer, having decided to educate myself more on the events that led up to World War II. On the way to the counter, I noticed the store’s section of used videos and selected a copy of Legally Blonde. I paused for a moment before I reached the counter and looked at the two items, trying to think of one of those clever things people feel they have to say when they are embarrassed by what they are about to purchase. Staring at the swastika on the front cover of Shirer’s book next to Reese Witherspoon smiling winningly as Elle Woods, I was a black guy who was into Nazis and chick flicks. The whole thing screamed Major Freak.

That’s when the irony hit me; the book and the film weren’t opposites at all, in fact, but actually thematically related; legally blonde and illegally blonde. Witherspoon’s Legally Blonde is a minor comedy classic because of her oddball ability to subvert an audience’s expectations of traditional white female characters. Her Tracy Flick in Election and Elle Woods might both have had patriarchy on the brain, but Witherspoon extended her own intelligence to both characters, infusing them with real pain. When this subversive element was de-emphasized or thrown out completely in order to appeal to a “younger demographic”, i.e. to make more money or confirm the viewer’s sense of superiority, then movies like Legally Blonde were just stories of privileged white “girls” who had everything, whom the audience was meant to like regardless of how obnoxious or self-centered they were (see Hilton, Paris.) The implicit assumption that a person was superior simply because she had money, power and blonde hair became something ugly and familiar to me as racist ideology - Hitler built a party around it - whether the movie called itself a comedy or not. (Witherspoon’s Legally Blonde II: Red, White, and Blonde and Sweet Home Alabama lacked this subversive element and were white-supremacist mainline shoot-ups.)

No matter how inured you become to hate or defend yourself against it, hateful comments can sometimes still hurt. I dismiss the views of the neo-Nazis as the insane ranting of “white trash,” because I want to see them humiliated too and because the genocidal trance is infectious. (Sly Stone definitely knew this: Don’t Call Me Nigger, Whitey. Don’t Call Me Whitey, Nigger.) There is always that part of hate speech, if it’s repeated often enough, where one starts to wonder if it’s possible that they’re right. Depending on the stability of the mind that ponders this question, one will walk away even more determined to fight the haters or decide it’s time to join them.

On June 18, 1984, Denver radio talk-show host Alan Berg was killed by members of a white supremacist group called the Silent Brotherhood, also known as The Order. Berg, an early “shock jock”, wasn’t shy about approaching any topic: gun control, religious hypocrisy, hate speech, homosexuality or racial intolerance. He enraged some listeners by arguing with, and sometimes cutting off callers or getting into shouting-matches with them and voicing his contempt. Berg held strong convictions about the liberal viewpoint and the need for genuine, open dialogue. He denounced the Klan regularly and mentioned their names on the air, specifically, Robert Jay Matthews of the Order. Matthews had compiled a list of those who threatened the white race and Berg’s name was at the very top. He and others sat in a car across the street from Berg’s home, waited until he emerged from his car and shot him to death.

Former Denver resident and Klansman David Lane was convicted as the driver that night of Berg’s murder. He wrote about his early years in an autobiographical article, describing a childhood of family violence, where his father sexually exploited his mother to buy alcohol and beat his brother into permanent deafness. Lane recalled pretending to be a German soldier as a child. He chanted “Heil Hitler” and “Sieg Heil” while giving the Nazi salute during games of “World War II — the war to destroy the White race”. When Lane’s mother told him that the Nazis had killed masses of Jews, he refused to believe her.

Children need to be taught that the stew of hatred Hitler served the world in 1939 had been simmering for more than a decade, that he used a prepared stock of anti-Semitism that had existed in the world for centuries. What we need is a conversation that reveals more about the day-to-day particulars of hatred, so that when we think of Hitler, we also consider ourselves and the people we hate. We need a functional understanding of the Nazis—not as historical oddities, but as intolerant people, which we’ve all been at some point or another, who took their hatred to the ultimate level of human psychosis.

I have belonged in the past to political groups who were determined to bring an end to cruelty and political oppression in the world; meanwhile, in our interpersonal relationships we were unkind, sometimes even brutal to one other. We’d shout “Free Latin America” but if Meg forgot to pick up the posters from Kinko’s for the rally on her way to class, she might be taken into a back room and humiliated in a way that would impress any dictator. I experienced this from both sides too often, and believed there had to be another way. The hypocrisy extended to activists who used their commitment to political issues and social change to mask the damage in their personal lives, who believed that the personal was political in abstract form, but who chose never to confront their inner-fascism . They figured they’d wait until “world peace” was achieved to deal with the emotional violence in their relationships, ignoring the fact that being on the correct side of political issue was still no excuse for not going to therapy. I saw this play out daily with vegan men who lived in co-ops, ate organically and who would never hurt a cow or a chicken, but who mind-fucked every woman they dated. Or women who spoke of “sisterhood” as they spread the most vicious rumors about another woman’s sexual behavior to male comrades in order to compete for their attention. And who could forget the strident male-feminists on campus who hogged most of time in their women’s studies class to lecture everyone on how patriarchy silences; who called the professor a bitch or worse because she wouldn’t give them an override into her class.

If we want an end to war between countries, we also have to start with the wars between each other. In the patriarchal system nothing exists outside the domination purview. In this extended paradigm, date-rape and invading a country to “free their people for elections”, being sexually tortured by a superpower’s military and being incested by a parent, are comparable. Marianne Williamson said in a lecture during the eighties, “It’s not that long a trip from bitchiness to murder.” It may seem that these are petty examples when presented in the context of what is considered by many to be humanity’s greatest atrocity. But even the Nazi Party started with a conversation.


On Monday, March 21 2005 a boy named Jeff Weise from Red Lake, Minnesota went to his school and murdered five children in his class, a guidance counselor, a custodian, wounded seven others and then shot himself. Prior to arriving at the school, he had already killed his grandfather and his grandfather’s companion. His father had recently committed suicide and his mother was in a nursing home after a bad accident had left her paralyzed. He had been kicked out of school. He’d also had a suicide attempt himself and was on anti-depressants. Weise was allegedly a Native American neo-Nazi.

Now I know I have seen it all. We’ve mythologized Native Americans as a people whose culture is all-loving and wise, or who are “all-loving and wise” because we assume they are drunk. We don’t expect serial killing from Native Indians. It’s no longer teenage white boys you have to watch out for; now Midwestern black, Latino and Native Indian kids are getting in on the school-rampage killing action. I tried to follow Jeff Weise’s story the next couple of days to find out more about him, but his crime doesn’t linger in the press like Columbine. A week passes, and I don’t hear about him or his victims at all. This may be the result of the fact that the kids he killed were mostly of color, and less significant in the media’s eyes. The only other reason I can think of is that we are inured to children shooting up classrooms now; it’s become passé, so Nineties.

Weise visited neo-Nazi sites regularly and wrote in discussion groups that he could appreciate Hitler’s philosophy about racial purity. He wrote on January 13, 2004, “Recently though, (the past few years), I've been feeling a strong connection towards Nazi Germany, and it's not necessarily the most pleasing thought, though I can't help it. I feel like in a past life I was a German soldier during ww2, I feel a strong connection to it for some reason. Now, I'm not a skinhead, or a neo-nazi, or even a white supremacist, but I feel like I really was a German soldier...”

In a later entry he wrote: “(PS, I'm not a white supremecist, (sp) can't even spell it, I'm a Native American, Ojibwa, living on the Redlake Indian Reservation in Minnesota..I'm living every mans nightmare and that single fact alone is kicking my ass, I really must be ... worthless."

On May 13, 2004, Weise described himself in more detail. He spoke about being accused at his school of planning a mass-shooting. “I wear combat boots (with my pant legs tucked into them), wear a trench coat, and at the last basketball game my friend Mac, (who happens to wear a black trench coat like mine), did a "Sieg Heil" during the national anthem (for shock value), so they had us pegged as "Trench Coat Mafia." My "friend" Rose even said that I fit the profile of a school shooter that she saw on 60 minutes. They also pinned it on me because 4/20 happens to be Adolf Hitlers birthday, and I seem to be the only one who promotes National Socialist beliefs (not the stereotypical "White Power" bs you hear racists shouting, either). So it's not hard to label a school shooter. I happen to be "not so popular," Gothic…and happen to be an emotionally disturbed person, if you could call me that.”

Weise had created two animated cartoons which he distributed online. “Target Practice” drawn with simple black and white minimalist lines and red splashes for blood, showed a person shooting four people, blowing up a police car, putting a gun to his mouth and pulling the trigger. A second film, "Clown," depicted a sinister clown with jagged teeth and a man, lonely and desolate, who walks in his direction. When the man and the clown meet, the clown lifts the man off his feet and kills him.

In his MSN directory profile, Weise wrote, 16 years of accumulated rage suppressed by nothing more than brief glimpses of hope, which have all but faded to black. I can feel the urges within slipping through the cracks, the leash I can no longer hold...Weise wrote on the message board of a website called on November 5, 2004, “We put our men on foriegn (sp) soil to fight Terrorists in Afghanistan, we ended up in Iraq. So far I haven't seen any evidence to support the war in Iraq, Saddam may have been a ruthless killer but how will the US be remembered for all the innocent lives we've taken since our presence in Iraq. Will Bush be remembered as the man who carried out the very actions that brought our country to her knees? With all the civilian deaths Bush has caused since the war started, will he be remembered as one of the 'top 5 most evil dictators of all time'? Is the American flag the Swastika of tomorrow? There are some serious issues here people... ““

Some kind of bizarre psychological circle closes with the image of a baby-faced Native American Jeff Weise staring into eyes of Aryan purist Adolf Hitler. The most extraordinary mass murderer in human history, admired by one of the most extraordinarily mass murdered. We can only try to conceive what Hitler’s genocide plan might have looked like if he’d gotten away with it in the end as we did.

Weise was familiar with Neo-Nazi sites on-line and had probably read the anti-black, Jewish and gay jokes there, the articles and the videos that could be ordered or downloaded on Jewish conspiracy, black racial inferiority, homosexual sin. Racist video games on-line invite the viewer to shoot at blacks from windows and trees, or score points by running cyber concentration camps. One neo-Nazi game even has homosexuals cruising for sex in parks or wooded areas. A player carries a rifle and earn points as he shoots and kills each man who runs from the bushes naked and makes sexual advances towards him. If a gay men reaches him, the game ends and the animated character on screen screams while being anally penetrated.

I fight the desire to laugh at first, at the sheer ridiculousness and creativity some people will employ to empower their hate, but as these games are really too unsophisticated to appeal to crusty middle-age haters the purpose must be too engage and entertain teenage boys in games of simulated murder. Somewhere in the Midwest, a gay teenager will admit his attraction to a close friend, and will be shot with a hunting rifle, as his friend will have already exercised his “faggot killing” muscles in games like this. Other games allow one to kill “terrorists” in Iraq in order to save America. The problem is that the terrorists and the Iraqi civilians look disturbingly similar. Unable to resist, I played a game or two and discovered something unpleasant about myself. The aggression of shooting, of letting someone you hate really have it, especially when you have repressed anger, as I do, is a satisfyingly powerful, almost sexual release.

I’m a hypocrite, a psycho-pacifist. I don’t believe in the death penalty because, put most simply, it’s an issue of fairness: when you look at who is on Death Row in America, it doesn’t so much reflect who is killing in this country, as who can’t afford a decent lawyer. I don’t want the death penalty for murderers, but I do want a special electric chair for people who force you to overhear their cell-phone conversations. I’ve fantasized about beating down the man who talks on his phone while he eats dinner across from his wife in a restaurant. As she glances around embarrassed and moves her food around with her fork, he keeps lifting a “one more second, hon” finger at her. Or the teenager who put her phone on speaker at the grocery store. Everyone in the express line got to hear how her new best friend told her old best friend why she didn’t think they should be best friends anymore.

And finally the incident which calls forth a supernatural vengeance: the times when I, as a black man, try to get a taxi to stop for me in New York City. I practically have to hurl myself in front of it, while a white man with a Burberry’s bag need only to scratch his nose for a cab to screech to a halt in front of him. Basically, I wanted anyone to die who’d made me feel victimized or powerless.

A boy turns off his game where he has achieved a high score for killing Iraqis “terrorists”, and sees or feels no connection between the characters he’s killed onscreen and headlines in the paper aboutofficials in Iraq discovering 38 Iraqi men dead, blindfolded, bound and shot, execution-style. Once you’ve convinced yourself that the people you are killing need to be killed for a good cause, that you have to kill them first before they kill you, when the rage builds and you’ve convinced yourself that you have been offended for the last time, then war may not be unlike a slightly more realistic simulated computer game. As the visuals in many of these games are more like real movies these days, with state-of-the-art three-dimensional graphics and characters with human responses (pleas for help, agonizing screams as they die), and as our soldiers in Iraq shoot from their humvees as their favorite rock music plays to provide a soundtrack to killing, the line becomes so blurred that eventually there is no line at all.

In the film Hitler’s Secretary, Trudl Junge, who worked for Hitler from 1942 until the end of the war, said: “[It] is an area where Hitler did a huge amount of harm. He actually tried to manipulate the consciences of the German people. He convinced them that they had a task to do; they had to exterminate the Jews, because the Jews caused all our problems. It wasn’t Hitler’s own idea, it had been put forward much earlier, that they had to make a sacrifice. And I can remember a writer; she interviewed a solider who had been stationed in a concentration camp. He was a guard, and she asked him: “Didn’t you feel any pity at all…for the people you treated so badly there?” And he replied ‘Yes, I certainly did feel pity for them, but I had to overcome it. That was a sacrifice I had to make for the greater cause.’ ”

The racist hatred that still exists in this country can only be categorized as truly horrifying, but it’s not just on the fringe, or amongst a group of fanatics. That was the mistake, of course, that so many made with Hitler: he was a fanatic until he wasn’t, until he finally became terrifyingly mainstream. There are no fringe groups, ever; just those that haven’t yet found their membership.

Yet, of those who espoused “pure racial hatred” and an unwavering commitment to the purity of the Aryan race there will always be the man who still sleeps and hires black prostitutes and sex-workers, who grew up with a black best friend he’d dearly loved or who had a black athlete or performer as their childhood hero. A racist calls for the end of Jewish world dominance and forgets the Jewish teacher she loved in elementary school or the Jewish friend at work who she bums cigarettes from all the time. Men shake their fists with rage at the anti-gay marriage rally, or advocate for the death of homosexuals. They say goodnight to the man who offers them a ride home from a party and later fantasizes about what he looks like with his clothes off before downloading and masturbating to some gay porn for the night.

Nobody feels any shame about their little “compartments”, no one is haunted by their sexual or racial hypocrisy, because the puritans taught us all so well: what you think, how you pray and whom you fuck are completely separate things that never have to be reconciled. Your moral authority doesn’t come from your behavior, but from your intention. So a staunch segregationist like Strom Thurmond can have a black daughter, and still advocate for white superiority. He may truly have felt while he stood at the segregationist podium that whites were elevated in relation to blacks, and the man was entitled to his view. But biology is the great egalitarian. For him to have had a negro child could only mean that for the time it took to create a baby, either she climbed up, or he stepped down, but a black woman and a white man had definitely been on the same “level” for at least one night.

The tangled knots go so far back in our history, back to a white slave-owner who could look at the green eyes of a child that had his face and smile, only with a darker hue, and sell him to the highest bidder; a man who could claim to “love” a black female slave as a his mistress, and still sell their children for profit. This man could potentially be brilliant, even a genius. He could, in fact, be the architect of one of the greatest documents of liberty that has existed in the world to date. Can we ever overcome the contradictions? A white child raised in the South with a black woman as his primary caretaker, who’d grown up under his “mammies” watchful eye, becomes an entitled young adult who suddenly had the same woman as a servant to whom he can give orders, as he took his place as her master.

Now she could no longer look him in the eye in the same way and the sound of her voice had a veil over it when she said “Mr. Tom or Miss Susan” along with a new hesitation. And that Southern white child had to feel some panic because what he really wanted is to be unconditionally loved, to sit on her black lap, or be yelled at while he plays as a child with her babies. She may have been the only one to love him; loving in the sense of really seeing him, asking his opinion, bothering to instruct him about life. Southern children eventually grew up and took their place within a racist, patriarchal structure and traded intimacy for ownership.

And how the schizophrenia began and the bewilderment! Because every Southerner raised by a black woman had to have a little nigger in him; it was in the breast milk. It was a black woman who had rocked him to sleep, and sang him a song when he fretted, and he knew that song somewhere inside his mind before he had a conscious thought, especially a conscious white thought. And if he knew this black woman’s song while pressed against her breasts, that meant he knew her language, some of which had to have been African or at least had an African hum. And that meant that at one point in this relationship he knew her, which means we all belonged to each other, and that the nigger he hated and needed to destroy was himself. Like Hitler, who went to sleep at night knowing somewhere in his mind that the rumors were true, that his grandfather was Jewish, that he was himself part Jewish, as American racists it is always easier for us to subjugate or try to eradicate an entire race, than cut a history out of us that shames and calls out to us and that we can never change. Adolf Hitler may not have succeeded in his intended endeavor to annihilate the Jewish people, but he definitely carried out his vision to the very end: the last Jew he killed was himself.

I desperately want to believe the mass-murders committed by 17-year-old Native American Jeff Weise are an aberration, the story of a sick kid in Anywhere, America with Nazis on the brain, Adolf Hitler as his superhero, and too much unsupervised computer time on his hands. But in just one week’s news, two teenagers in Holly Hill, Florida are charged on May 29, 2005 with kicking a homeless man to death“ for fun,” because they were “looking for something to do”; a 9-year-old girl in Brooklyn, NY has stabbed her 11-year-old playmate to death with a steak knife during a disagreement over a ball they were playing with; a 12-year-old girl from Freeport, NY chokes her mother to death over a disagreement about cleaning up her room, and in Bellefontaine, Ohio an 18-year-old boy who was preparing to graduate from high school shot to death his grandparents, his mother, two friends and wounded his sister before killing himself.

A speaker I heard once said that if birds in some part of the woods started to eat their young, ecologists and scientists would know that something had occurred in the environment to create their pathology. They wouldn’t blame the birds. We think we’ve taught our children to respect life and each other, but clearly something in our social values is telling them something different. They go to school with guns and ask their classmates questions like, “Do you believe in God?” before shooting them point blank in the head, killing as many of them as they can before blowing their own brains out. It would seem that after the first incident at Columbine High, when Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris killed 12 students, one teacher and themselves, it was time for America to stop making money and shut the entire nation down, as everyone from the postal worker to the President asked each other, “How did we get to this place? How could this happen to our children and how can we keep it from happening again?”


Maybe we are all waiting for a Deus ex machina, an Old Testament God or a Savior to come down and fix everything that’s wrong here or just punish or crush us when He’s had enough of our crap. But until He gets here, I guess, anything goes. The greed these days isn’t just about money, it’s an ideological greed; the unwillingness to see what someone else’s pain might be like. We watch people suffer and never make the mental leap to how it would feel to be in their place. So some heterosexual people continue to fight to make it impossible for gay people to get legally married as they themselves enjoy the economic benefits of having a spouse, of never having to worry about an estate dispute with their in-laws or being turned away from a hospital bedside because they aren’t ‘immediate family’. (These are the same people who want gays to stop “shoving their sex-lives down everyone’s throats” and “pushing their relationships in everyone’s faces all the time.” They will remain homophobic until gays learn to be as discreet as heterosexuals like Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes.) White female professionals support the empowerment of women in general, but underpay and overwork their “illegal immigrant” nannies; some gay men use “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in their sex lives, deliberately avoiding the topic of safer-sex with younger gay men, knowing this denial was how they got infected themselves; some black men shoot other black men casually over an act of disrespect in a club, familiar with the effects a murder or incarceration could have on a black family’s survival.

Killing is more popular now than ever; every day in the paper a jealous man has murdered his wife or girlfriend and then killed himself. It happens on the East Side with millionaires and it happens in the Bronx. The stories in the paper are usually the same: he was abusive, she broke up with him or wanted a divorce, she got an order of protection against him, she said to a friend, “You know, he’s going to kill me one day”, a female relative said, “I knew something like this was going to happen one day”. The woman came home from work, or went to work, and he was waiting for her. Sometimes her kids watched her get killed or were killed with her, or they came home from school and found her dead. The rape, incest, sexual exploitation and murder of women and girls is so pervasive in America that it can only be seen for exactly what it is; a form of social control to encourage women to stay constantly terrified and therefore choose powerlessness over the threat of even more violence against them - a slight variation on the compulsive lynching of blacks, most particularly those who tried to empower themselves by starting businesses or schools or by voting in the American South.

People used just to kill other people and go to prison. Now, the latest killing craze is to take out all the people you possibly can, saving yourself for last. In the popular video game, Grand Theft Auto a player gets points for murdering prostitutes. If you look at the missing person files and the unidentified remains of women found across the United States you will see that the murder of prostitutes and kidnapping of women is almost a national pastime. Ten-year-old kids can go online and look at pictures of crime scenes and autopsies that could make the most hard-boiled detectives and forensic pathologists flinch. Their parents are downstairs doing what parents do—cooking, cleaning, tending to another child or sleeping off their last alcoholic binge, while their child has an entire cyber-life which they know nothing about. One morning the school calls and says, “We regret to inform you that your son, John, just shot himself and his entire 9th grade class.”

At a press conference after the nomination of black Republican Janice Rogers Brown for the Supreme Court, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist stands next to a group of black preachers who liken liberal judges to the “Ku Klux Klan.” One wonders if they are referring to the liberal judges who voted Brown vs. Board of Education into law, giving black children the right to attend desegregated schools. The Bush Administration continues to collect conservative blacks and Latinos for their political glass menagerie; Republicans-of-color in “whiteface.” Rogers has a record that includes a firm stance against affirmative action and anti-discrimination laws. There is something gut-wrenchingly painful about an African American who uses the gains of the civil-rights movement which she has benefited, to support laws and an administration that is increasing hostile to blacks, protecting the White House as her master continues to make money. Slavery is over, but black flesh is still America’s greatest commodity whether it’s picking cotton, internet porn, or soldiers sent to protect our oil interests.

I am angry at the black Christians who refuse to look at the administration’s neglect of our children because they share the president’s religious beliefs, who refuse to face how much danger black children are in. If our kids make it without being shot in school or on the way there, then they are shipped off to somebody else’s mean streets. But all it takes is a few messages about God from a “faith-based president” and we are ready to climb aboard his ship, clapping and singing as we gospel-walk ourselves right off the plank. We’ve accepted the co-dependent relationship with Jesus and Christianity that was given to African people as a narcotic to keep them from resisting slavery. Evidently there’s no expiration date on that bottle of Prozac; it’s still working. It’s definitely not Jesus the revolutionary, the one who saw what the money changers were up to and said, “Oh, hell no,” and kicked them out of the temple because they were corrupt and greedy and exploiting people for their own gain; a Jesus who had radical change on his mind and not the complacency and denial that keeps church benches warm. If we as black people allowed ourselves to get angry more, we might need to pray less.


The news moves in the strangest configurations, kaleidoscopically shifting into deeper levels of incomprehension. Mel Gibson has re-released his film, The Passion of the Christ, about the final hours of Jesus’s life and crucifixion, in time for Easter. The movie is a marketing phenomenon, grossing $608 million in worldwide profit during its initial release and becoming the first #1 R-rated film in movie history. People even buy memorabilia related to the film; Passion of the Christ pewter bent “nail-from-the-cross” keyrings and necklaces. One has to assume that one of Gibson’s reasons as a Catholic for making the movie was to bring Jesus’ story and his message of unconditional love and forgiveness to a movie audience. However, when Frank Rich of The New Yorker suggests that Gibson used anti-Semitism in his film to create a controversy before its opening, Gibson is quoted as saying: “I want his guts on the end of a stick. I want to kill his dog.” Gibson promises to take out the line from Matthew 27:25 “His blood be on us and on our children” that has been used for centuries as a justification for anti-Jewish prejudice and murder. He removes the phrase in the subtitles, but the words remain in the film’s spoken Aramaic.

Jami Bernard of the New York Daily News called the film “the most virulently anti-Semitic movie made since the German propaganda films of World War II.” In his review for the Chicago-Sun Times, Roger Ebert said it was, “the most violent film I have ever seen.” The film’s detractors call it pornography, and compare it to a “snuff” film, noting that any movie with the same amount of violence that wasn’t about Jesus Christ would have received an NC-17 rating and children wouldn’t be able to get anywhere near it. As it is rated “R”, many parents bring their kids, who are subjected to watching Jesus relentlessly tortured for close to ninety minutes on the screen.

Gibson is certainly no stranger to on-screen violence or controversy. His academy-award winning Braveheart includes a scene where Prince Edward and his lover, Philip, are presented as “flaming” homosexuals. In one scene, Philip is brutally shoved out of a window by an exasperated King Edward. Philip lies smashed on the ground below the window as Prince Edward looks down on him mortified. There is no grief for the death of Philip is set up as it is purely for audience’s comic relief.

I remember being in a theater with my partner watching this scene from Braveheart in 1995, and the screams of hysterical laughter around us. American movies can be like that – you are sitting there eating your popcorn when something extraordinarily fucked-up happens onscreen, enhanced in its fucked-upness by the fact that no one else seems to notice or care how fucked up it is; or worse they are greatly amused and entertained by it. It is always a woman, a gay person, or a person of color who is humiliated, beaten down, or killed to the audience’s great delight. White people are beaten and killed in the movies too, but there is an extra little thrill when someone gay or female gets it in the end, especially one who is a little too loud or who has forgotten their place. This includes prissy homosexuals, opinionated women, and blacks who acts as if they are “white” (educated, wealthy, entitled). You can feel the rising tension in a scene as the movie makers jack up the crowd, readying them for the violence that will soon be unleashed on someone who has been singled out and “othered”: the obnoxious Asian man in the film Donny Brasco who is sadistically beaten for refusing to give the mobsters a table in his restaurant without a reservation, Regina King’s big mouthed black woman who gets punched in the face in John Singleton’s Poetic Justice and, of course, who could forget Quentin Tarantino’s “dead nigger storage” in Pulp Fiction. (Billie Holliday sang about dead nigger storage too, in her familiar protest song Strange Fruit.) Sitting in the theater during Braveheart and watching the audience enjoy their convulsive little orgasms of hate, I remember thinking how unsafe I felt sitting there. I’d never considered before to what extent movies in America instructed us on whom to despise, or that a movie audience can be a mob too.

Private Lynndie England has pleaded guilty for her role in the abuse at Abu Ghraib and faces eleven years in prison. At the time of this writing, a judge has thrown her case out, requiring England to submit a new plea, based on contradictory evidence provided during her trial. Looking at her solemn face, I just can’t believe the story as spun: England, an ex-chicken-factory worker, was just sitting around the prison one afternoon bored and said to herself, “I’ll get a bunch of Iraqi prisoners to simulate homosexual sex acts while someone photographs me standing next to them with a cigarette dangling from in my mouth.” As she awaits her punishment and continues to face the entire world’s incredulity and contempt, Donald Rumsfield is still gainfully employed in the Bush White House. He has taken his own action towards ending the atrocities of photographing torture: he’s banned the use of camera phones.

Terry Schiavo’s parents fought to keep her on life support until the very end of her life. What made the case exceptional was the extent to which George and Jeb Bush interfered on her behalf. With extraordinary, unprecedented action fueled by pressure from the Religious Right and the Bushs’ own religious convictions, there were attempts to pass legislation stopping the removal of her feeding tube. Men and women were arrested for trying to bring Terry a glass of water, swaying and praying for Terry in the hospital parking lot. They wanted Jeb Bush to break the law and carry Schiavo out of the hospital ward in his arms like Superman.

Maybe I would feel less judgmental of the Right-to-Lifers if I truly believed they wanted to save all human lives, but I just can’t abide their selectiveness. Why aren’t they outside AIDS wards, telling the dying they are loved no matter how stigmatized they are, where are those patients’ glasses of water? Why isn’t Right to Life petitioning politicians to intervene in genocide, or pressuring pharmaceutical companies to give more free AIDS medications to Africa? I’ve never heard anything about their praying outside state-sanctioned executions for the disproportionate black and Latino inmates there, or advocating DNA-testing in cases where the evidence was questionable prior to conviction. “Pro-Life” doesn’t seem to mean being part of an anti-war effort– where are the pro-lifers demanding that no more troops be sent to Iraq until we form a coherent military strategy? When a synagogue or mosque is burned down or defiled, do they arrive en masse and pray for the religious tolerance of others? What Pro-Lifers seems to be saying is that they are “pro-some lives” – unborn fetuses, brain-damaged people on life support, blobs of stem cells in Petri dishes - basically anybody or anything unable to tell them to mind their own fucking business. Perverts, sinners, criminals, Sons of Ham, and Christ-killing Jews need not apply. The Religious Right believes that a Jew died for their sins. The figure is probably closer to six million and one if we are counting.

Jesse Jackson unfathomably joined forces with anti-abortion activist Randall Terry in his support of the Schiavos, helping further to close the gap between Church and State as he also used his influence as a religious figure to encourage legislators to intervene. I was at Riverside Church after the 2000 election, when he and Al Sharpton were preparing nation-wide protests against the election results in Florida and the black disenfranchisement there. Soon after the joint press conference, a story “suddenly” broke about Jesse’s illegitimate love-child, a story some said had been around for years. Jackson dropped out of the public eye to do damage-control and take care of his family. Without a charismatic national figure to lead, the national protests against the blatant crimes in Florida were enervated, the public outcry disorganized and scattered, and for the cause for many of us was abandoned altogether. Rove was working his slot-machine again.

During the 2004 election, John McCain supported the same political machine that used innuendo and lies to steamroll over his own presidential bid in 2000; he looked sad and full of self-loathing while doing it, like a child forced by his parents to kiss an unappealing aunt or uncle. McCain spoke on the president’s behalf, maintaining that he was still John Kerry’s friend while making equivocal statements that kept him from estranging the Republican party, but unsettling enough that they were unsure what he might say next. McCain’s endorsement of the Bush ticket helped to tip the scales in the President’s favor; “If McCain could still support the Bush/Cheney ticket after what they did to him, maybe he knows something we don’t…” As one of the few high-profile Republicans who has actually been in combat and wasn’t granted a deferment during the Vietnam War, McCain sold out his potential as a powerful advocate for American soldiers in combat and as a credible critic of the mishandled aspects of the Iraq war. In a country of politicians and no leaders, it seems that the bottom line will always be career expediency. Americans intuitively know that our politicians are just like our favorite movie stars – no matter what roles they play, they will always be following some else’s script.

I refused to join the Dan Rather witchhunt. A mistake was made as Rather offered allegedly false documents that maligned George W. Bush’s history in the military. But as we have somehow found a way to forgive the President for taking us into a war with no material evidence, as Colin Powell stated in interviews that he regretted his presentation before the U.N. and blamed its inaccuracies on the “intelligence community”, I thought there might be at least a tiny shred of forgiveness left over for Dan. It seems to be forgotten that Marian Carr Knox, the 86-year-old former secretary of Bush’s national guard commander who typed the originals, told the Dallas Morning News that while the documents presented were false, "the information [there] was correct.” As Rather was the subject of vicious jokes and humiliation, the ignominious response will teach any journalist who plans publicly to criticize or accuse the President again to think twice. Another Rove Jackpot!

Barbara Boxer, Senator from California and a contemporary Wonder Woman, wraps her golden lasso around Condoleezza Rice during the confirmation hearing for Secretary of State and demands that she tell the Senate Foreign Relations Committee the truth. When Boxer suggests that Rice’s loyalty to President Bush and support for the conflict "overwhelmed [her] respect for the truth”, Rice replies, “Senator, we can have this discussion in any way that you would like. But I really hope that you will refrain from impugning my integrity." Boxer stands alone in her aggressiveness, a pit-bull tugging at the administration’s pant leg. It goes against all my life-training to root for a white person who is publicly undoing a black person on national television and I have to resist the internal cultural voice in my head when Boxer chastises Condi (“Who the hell does this white bitch think she is?”). But I can’t defend Condoleezza Rice, and her nomination and subsequent appointment have no resonance for me as an African-American, no victory. As Rice is surrounded by people shaking her hand and congratulating her when it’s over, I think, “Damn, she got away with it.” But Boxer is heroic in her stance and in her vote against Rice; Kerry too, even for those who will write off his rejection of her as sour election grapes. It has to be enough these days, even when outvoted, to make the machine at least pause. Watching Boxer reminds me that courage, like evil, can also be infectious.

In Dallas, Texas, an ex-Boy-Scout leader is expected to plead guilty to charges of possession of child pornography based on images found on his computer – some of the children were younger than twelve, and many, if not all of the images in the photographs were boys. Prior to his arrest, Douglas S. Smith, Jr. had aggressively supported actions to keep gay men out of the Scouts and had recently written an anti-gay message in a Scouts newsletter several weeks prior to arrest, supporting the ban on gays. Gay people are always forced to bear the burden of men like Smith of whom, when exposed and arrested, the world says, “See why we don’t want you teaching in our schools? This is exactly what we are afraid of.” The conversation is never about a society that mutilates everyone’s sexuality by its pathological standards of masculinity and which keeps men and women from having honest conversations about their sexual attractions; where a pedophile, straight or gay, could come forward honestly and get help. As gay people, we seem to get credit for all the heterosexual rejects and losers, as if homosexuals were failed heterosexuals who couldn’t cut it at being straight. Newspaper headlines are constantly dumped at our feet about gay priests who molest boys, or pedophiles in boys’ organizations. These men were called “gay” because of their obsessions, but they aren’t the gay men that I know, men who are in adult relationships with other men, who choose to come out to their families, in their jobs, or who even risk their careers or lives to live openly with their sexuality. Gay men and women are consistently thwarted from having equal rights by people like Smith, who remained upstanding and heterosexual, who drive in the carpools, water their lawns while waving to the neighbors, and pass the collection plate in church on Sunday, until they get caught.

Republican Mayor James West of Spokane, a staunch opponent of gay rights and a former Boy Scout leader, has been accused of molesting two boys decades ago. West was caught by Seattle-based The Spokesman-Review earlier this month using his office to try to court a young man on a gay Web site. West rose to become majority leader of the state Senate during a two-decade legislative career, consistently opposed efforts to expand civil rights protections for gays and voted for the Defense of Marriage Act, a ban on gay marriage, in 1998. USA today reported that West denied the molestation allegations, but acknowledged he "had relations with adult men." He admitted offering autographed sports memorabilia and a possible City Hall internship to someone he thought was an 18-year-old man on the website. The man was actually a private computer expert hired by The Spokesman-Review as part of a journalist sting operation on pedaphiles.

I’ve had it. I can’t hear one more story of a priest who tells his congregation about the sin of homosexuality and pre-marital sex, who takes an aggressive “moral” stance against abortion and the use of condoms and is then convicted of molesting boys; of right–wing Republicans who vote against civil rights and anti-discrimination laws for gay people and are then accused of hooking up with 18-year-old men for sex.

Religious leader: no longer will you be able to hide behind a bible and blame God or Jesus for your decision to hate gay people because of their biological attraction to others of the same sex. (I’m talking to you, Ratzinger.) This includes clergy where the gay person you hate the most is yourself. Politician: the prejudice of your constituency will no longer justify your depriving gay people of their anti-discrimination rights, even when the gay person you are most willing to deny protection to is yourself. Politician and religious leader, if you choose to use your platform to encourage hatred in others, then when you turn on the television at night and you see that another gay person has been bashed or murdered, or another adolescent gay or lesbian child has committed suicide, remember that some of that person’s blood is on your hands.

Anyone who has ever advocated hate has always made some justification for doing so, some doctrine to support why a particular group shouldn’t be allowed to live. And there are always leaders who preach that doctrine or vote it into law to make sure the group they hate won’t be allowed to live. If you make the choice to be an advocate for hatred, then be prepared to take your place in history next to the Great Hater Himself, you know who. There is no “little hate” anymore, just as the children molested by clergy are not “a little violated” – their lives are shattered. We’ve reached a point where there can be no distinctions made between a little friendly Sunday morning hate and the genocide of a people, because tiny hate is the ember that, when left to smolder, becomes the conflagration that is almost impossible to put out.

Jennifer Wilbanks, the 32-year-old “Runaway Bride” who disappeared and left her groom waiting at the altar, was found in Albuquerque, New Mexico on April 30th, 2005. CNN reported that “agents and detectives learned that Ms. Wilbanks had become scared and concerned about her pending marriage and decided she needed some time alone.” Prior to her return, Wilbanks had called 911 and told operators in a hysterical tone of voice that she had been kidnapped and assaulted by “a Hispanic man and a white woman”. Wilbanks’ story recalls Susan Smith, a South Carolina woman, who said in 1994 that a black man had hijacked her car, thrown her out and driven off with her kids. Smith was convicted of murdering her two sons by buckling them into their car seats, putting the car in neutral and letting it roll into a lake. When Smith and her husband appeared on talk-shows, I remember how false their story sounded at the time. Black men had been accused of wanting many things, right or wrong, in America, but a 1990 Mazda Protégé with two white kids sitting in the backseat wasn’t usually one of them. Smith and Wilbanks are modern-day “Miss Anns”, white women who have no compunction about endangering untold numbers of men-of-color with their false accusations. Smith’s story crumbled after more intensive police interrogation, and her brother later did damage-control in the targeted black communities. Fortunately, in Wilbanks’ case police hadn’t started interrogating Latino men in her area. Runaway Bride’s false accusation was even more appalling considering the memory of 14-year-old Emmett Till, killed in Money, Mississippi in 1955 for “disrespecting” a white woman, and whose body will be exhumed next month as part of a new investigation into his lynching and murder. Black men were still being lynched for allegedly whistling at white women, only now they didn’t even have to exist, as white Southern women like Smith and Wilbanks created Black male “imaginary friends”.

A 34-year-old woman in suburban Chicago named Tonya Vasilev has allegedly stabbed each of her two children to death more than 200 hundred times. Vasilev’s kids join Michael and Alexander Smith, Susan Smith’s sons, as children who are murdered by their parents. Although it has been more than a decade, some may still remember Lazaro Figueroa, named Baby “Lollypops” for the shirt he was wearing when his body was found, and allegedly beaten to death by his mother, Ana Cardona and her lover, Olivia Gonzalez, after being neglected, tortured and locked in a closet. Beaunca Jones was 2 years old when she died on September 4, 1997, beaten to death by her mother because she spilled her juice on the floor; Desi Irving, bludgeoned at 3 by her mother because she took candy from a dish without permission. Andrea Yates, the Houston mother sentenced to life in prison, said she drowned her five children in 2001 to save them from eternal damnation. “In true cases across the country, a child is drown by his exasperated mother for splashing in the tub, a 3 year old boy is beaten to death by his father because he couldn’t recite his ABC’s, and a young girl is beaten to death by her mother because she refused to clap to a gospel song. Sometimes children are killed because a parent believes the child is possessed by the devil, or a parent wants to give their children to God because “God told the parent their child was evil and needed to be cleansed”. Some children are subjected to poisons or scalding baths as their parents attempt to purify them and rid them of their sins.

Children’s lives are a holocaust. They are burned with cigarettes, abandoned in the home for hours or days, humiliated, tortured, starved, shot, kidnapped, smothered, slapped, tied up in closets or to bedposts, whipped with belts and extension cords, verbally humiliated, sexually violated as early as infancy and exploited for pornography, pulled by the hair, punched until their organs are lacerated, bitten, criticized, screamed at, left outside in cold weather, kicked, pushed down stairs, choked, dismembered; usually in the name of discipline or correction. Children are abused or murdered by fathers, mothers, step-parents, teachers, aunts, babysitters, strangers, clergy, uncles, grandparents, older children, siblings, foster parents, guardians, nannies and their classmates.

Maybe all these deaths couldn’t have been prevented, though far too many could have. But it takes money. And because kids usually can’t make money, unless they are the Olsen Twins, they aren’t considered worth spending money on. As long as we elect politicians who care more about American profits than American families, some of us will hear neighbor’s children screaming next door and then an eerie silence. We may not know what happened, maybe the child went to bed, and maybe they were only screaming because they fell off the couch or ran into a door. Kids do that sometimes. Because we can’t be sure, and because we feel powerless and horrified, we turn the television up louder. We will always be reassured by a laughing, healthy child on the TV screen who eats his breakfast cereal, hugs his mother, opens his mouth wide with surprise as he rips the wrapping paper off his birthday or Christmas presents and discovers he’s gotten everything he wanted because children on television always get exactly what they want. His favorite toy is, of course, the toy that is being advertised to us. We believe our commercials about America and think if we are able to watch happy lives on the television then they have to exist everywhere - gentle homes with gentle parents, and kids that are happy, and loved, and safe. Perhaps for some children this is true, but for too many more who suffer, it is just more Theater of the Americas - like Democratic elections and the American dream.

Pope John Paul II died - seemingly from embarrassment. Someone had the bad taste to let him mumble incoherently and choke his way through his last Easter service. Wasn’t there anyone “backstage” who was able to ask him if he could talk, and when he gasped his answer, take him by the shoulders and say, “That’s it, no arguing, it’s right back to bed with you.” I try to muster up a grand sympathy worthy of a Pope, but I find I don’t feel any more for him than I would for any other old man who’s sick and I hope isn’t suffering too much. I know that many found John Paul II great and noble, but I can only think of what his homophobic message has meant to young and old gay Catholics all over the world. How many gay suicides might have been prevented, how many deaths from AIDS might not have occurred if the Catholic Church had encouraged the use of condoms? I see tributes everywhere, but just as when Ronald Reagan died, there is too little honesty in the remembrances and hardly any mention of how one man was able to devastate the lives of so many working-class people. I guess it’s still considered bad taste to remind people that someone was an asshole at their own funeral.

Our new Pope, ex-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, given the sobriquet "God's Rottweiler" by his critics because of his stance against gays, reproductive rights, women’s ordination and religious pluralism, has promised to take an even firmer stance against abortion and pre-marital sex than his predecessor. It is a well known fact that Ratzinger was in the Hitler Youth as a child. As Hitler banned all other youth groups during his regime, it is unfair to assume that because someone was in the youth movement, they agreed with everything the Nazis stood for. The problem in Ratzinger’s case, however, is that as his stance on abortion and homosexuals hasn’t changed or shifted from those of the Third Reich, one has to assume that he was at least a little “onboard.”

In June 2004, Ratzinger wrote an anti-Kerry letter to U.S. bishops, specifying that open supporters of abortion should be denied the Catholic sacrament for being guilty of a “grave sin.” This included “a Catholic politician who consistently campaigned and voted for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws.” Moreover, anyone who would vote for such a candidate, would be “guilty of a formal cooperation in evil, and so unworthy to present himself for Holy Communion.” Kerry managed to get communion anyway, but what he didn’t get was elected. Many Catholics who ordinarily voted Democratic chose to vote Republican instead as a result of Ratzinger’s influence. As the year 2008 approaches, it is almost guaranteed that “God’s Rottweiler” will use his vast religious influence to manipulate another U.S. election.

Stories are appearing in the press about “the new Bush humility”, a quieter, more accessible President, willing to compromise and finally listen. They are meant for people like me who threatened to move to Canada or rip our hearts out with our bare hands if we had to live with four more years of this man’s arrogance. The losers are being invited back to the fold. Somehow, the Bush twins have managed to stay out of the papers, probably permanently chastened in a meeting with their grandmother - Barbara “Don Corleone” Bush. I haven’t seen or heard from Dick Cheney in a while, which really concerns me. Some of the media are less involved in the details of the war then than they are about the songs on Bush’s IPOD.

Like Hitler’s “Night and Fog” decree in 1941, as a result of which persons who were damaging to Germany’s security were to vanish without a trace, the Iraq war has created its own disappearing acts. On the eve of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the President moved to enforce a ban on photographing coffins at any of the military bases. According to Mark Benjamin’s article, “The Invisible Wounded”, wounded soldiers arrive at night in buses, ambulances and unmarked black vans. Journalists are restricted from photographing their arrivals at military hospitals. “…Patients arrive at Walter Reed after dark and after the hospital's clinics are closed. The wounded are unloaded into hallways empty of the patients, families and media who typically are present during the day…reporting on the size, scope or mounting cost of the war -- like pictures of incoming caskets or the seemingly endless stream of stretchers arriving at Walter Reed -- is almost impossible because of Pentagon restrictions.” Amnesty International has challenged the United States on the treatment of prisoners who have been detained indefinitely, who have been subjected to constant interrogation, and the general secrecy in our detention centers and the use of extradition for torture. Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights in the United States has compared the detention and interrogation installations at Guantanamo to the special concentration camps for interrogating enemy combatants conceived by Hitler’s German Armed Forces. The President has responded by saying the accusations are “absurd”, made by “people who hate America.”

World War II unfolded in radio broadcasts and newsreels, Vietnam was a war on the evening news. The Iraqi war, with the exception of the occasional headline, doesn’t exist as a visual, visceral war – we don’t see the children dying or the bombed-out streets, we don’t see our fallen soldiers. It is an “imaginary” war for too many of us; too easily forgotten or ignored unless we are affected personally by the service of a family member or friend. We decide that we don’t need to get involved or stay informed because someone is taking care of it for us.

The war in Iraq is an internet war – but with all the information that is there, all the conflicting sources, updates, speculation, and spin, sometimes there is so much information that nothing in particular stands out, and you keep reading until you begin to feel numb. Fallujah, detainees, mortar attack, infantry, combat, suicide bomb, beheading, Ba’athist, Shiite, reserves, enemy combatant, illegal enemy combatant, bridge, battalion, light infantry, air assault. I read this morning that more soldiers died today. A website had statistics of the ones who died. One solider was almost my age, dead from hostile fire – IED attack. I don’t know what IED is. I try to remember that it took more than 32 years to make this person and he’s gone. That is 32 years of birthdays, a first day at kindergarten, learning to let go of the handlebars when riding a bike, getting a job after school, learning to drive, being grounded for coming home after curfew, of homecoming parades and proms and being dumped by a girlfriend or boyfriend, of getting drunk and throwing up, having sex, joining the military and going to war. And when his family get the news about him, there will be a whole group of lives affected by this loss. He might even have had a baby who won’t know him now. His name doesn’t mean anything in particular to me. I don’t know him personally, and I’m inclined to think, “Well, that’s what happens when countries go to war, people die, period.” But deep down I know he’s not a fraction of those who have been killed because war causalities don’t work the same as mathematical equations. You can’t add up dead soldiers to mitigate the loss. He’s one, just as the man who died yesterday was one and the woman who might die tomorrow will be one. When a family loses a child, they don’t think 1600 people have died in this war so far and my son or daughter was 1/1600 of its casualties. Each family loses one.


The answer, I have now come to believe, will not come from politics and its cadre of star personalities and media provocateurs. Tom Delay has finally earned himself the distinction of being the first man to envy his own penis. Ann Coulter, our neo-conservative “girl gone wild” continues to make fascism sexy. They don’t matter, really, except that it has become so en-vogue not to care these days, to be viciously opposed to “progressive causes” or to helping people in need. We stand in front of the mirror, complimenting ourselves on our fascist chic. It is easier to be cruel and selfish when you label yourself “Republican” or “conservative.” But can there be “two sides” to an issue when people keep asking for our help? There are millions of children and adults who go to bed hungry every night in the United States. To a child who is hungry, or to parents who regularly face “food insecurity” and skip meals to feed their kids, there is no FOX news, no partisan politics, no pundits, no right-wing or left-wing conspiracies – there is only hunger and the desire for their family to eat.

I’m not sure exactly when I became a left-wing, bleeding-heart liberal. I guess I didn’t think it was possible for me to be anything else. I always thought black people were Democrats by default; choosing to be black and Republican was like offering to tie the knot at your own lynching. What seems to remain, when the debates are over, whether you are a Republican or a Democrat, are the cameras, the media, the new poses to strike. Ann Coulter says, “I think we ought to nuke North Korea right now to give the rest of the world a warning,” and winks and waves, and the flashbulbs explode around her and she steps into a limousine. Maybe our political system is the greatest American theater of all. The money of wealthy Democrats smells the same as that of wealthy Republicans and deposits in the bank just as fast. Meanwhile poor people are knocked languidly over the net, back and forth between party promises forever, like tennis balls; waiting for someone to “win”; waiting to be saved.

America will never change along racial lines because middle-class and working-class white people refuse to get it: the richest white people in America count on the perpetuation of a very specific racist fantasy: as long as working-class white people feel they are rich and white by proxy, as long as they feel a vicarious elitism watching the president or their favorite movie star on television, they will never empower themselves. The faulty reasoning is that since I’m already white, it only follows that one day I’ll be rich too.” The promise of America used to be that if you had white skin, whoever you were, you were automatically a member. But not only does membership not have its privileges anymore, the definition of membership has changed.

Change will only occur in this country when a majority of working-class white people realize that the experience of being “niggered” in the US is no longer about race, but class. To the wealthiest white people in America who split the majority of the world’s wealth, poor white people are niggers too. These days how much money you have has greater significance than your ancestry. This is evidenced by the fact that when blacks do attain a certain amount of wealth in America, they may not escape every form of racial prejudice, but a black basketball player with a multi-million dollar contract is a lot more likely to see the inside of the White House than a working-class white man ever will. One day poor white people will finally understand that “just being white” isn’t enough of a currency to keep a white family from being evicted from their home. One day the majority of working-class and middle-class white people in America will finally admit that they have more in common with the poor black family living in the trailer next door who is struggling like them to feed their kids, or who has a child fighting in Iraq, than they have with the white face in the White House - the face they keep identifying with just because it’s white even though it will never have to worry if its kids are fed enough or will serve in a war. Then they will discover that they don’t exist to that white face except as a vote once every four years, and that images on television screens only see one way. Until the day that a white parent can hear of a black mother’s pain and think of her own son or daughter, until a black child who is lost can safely walk into any white neighborhood, knock on any door and be given a glass of milk until her parents come to pick her up, the democracy in this country for which we congratulate ourselves, which we fantasize we are extending to other countries, but which somehow continues to elude us, is doomed.

I watch stars and politicians, white and black, congratulate themselves and each other on the TV, celebrating their new relationships, dream homes and cars, and giving each other awards while crying, blowing air-kisses and waving their thanks. They thrive; but when I get on the subway to go to work I see my America - homeless black men who sit in the corner of the train mumbling to themselves or shouting their rage, sometimes stinking, often barefoot, and hunched down with a garbage bag over their heads to hide their faces. They are everywhere, if you look for them, our walking dead; crammed in cardboard boxes, sleeping beneath underpasses in the park, standing on the corners like scarecrows, peeking out from under sleeping bags in the train station as people step over them to get to work. While these men may have lost their minds, they haven’t lost their politeness; they sit apart because they don’t want to make our clothes stink, they wear bags over their heads so we don’t have to see the despair in their crusty, milky eyes. We “professional people” move to the other end of the car, and hold a finger to our noses, convinced that their unwillingness to disappear is assaulting us. We forget, of course, that our bodies would smell exactly like theirs if we didn’t have a place to take a shower; that everything might change if we arrived at our “professional” jobs and found they suddenly weren’t there anymore, or if an unexpected illness left us broke or destitute.

But we are a mob now, standing together and exchanging dirty smiles. Mobs are never lonely. It is only when we step off the train at five o’clock that we will come home and get high to numb our pain, as we lock the door and put garbage bags over our heads. New York is a city of windows, millions of them, and if you could look inside each one, you’d see us; stumbling to the bathroom, drinking to sleep, drinking to stay awake. America is the greatest place to live on earth, one nation indivisible under God, in God we trust, sweet land of liberty. But when I look out of my window, when I see my black reflection in that window, that isn’t the America I see. Still, I won’t do anything to change it, because I want my piece of it; I want to be successful and popular and rich. So when a black man stands outside the train station and asks me for money, a man who, to my great discomfort, resembles a great-uncle of mine, I walk past him. I stand a little straighter when I board the train and adjust my tie, exercising the little disapproval lines that are now starting to form on my face at thirty-five. I didn’t have those when I was twenty and first came to this city. I remind myself that you can’t help everyone and that there will always be hungry people in the world. Society needs its devils and its niggers. I reassure myself that I, however, am not a nigger. It’s part of being black in America. I may not be accepted for who I am, but I am always defined by who I am not.


I ask my friend Kevin to meet me for dinner some time after the election is over. We ran into each other on the street, as people often do in New York, and promised to get together soon. Now as we open our menus silently, I take in his great height, dark hair and enormous, gentle hands, and realize I haven’t sat across a table from him for almost three years. I don’t have to be in touch with Kevin all the time; we trust the friendship to be there when either of us needs it. Whether I speak to him regularly or not, it is important to me that he is in the world. Having faced down the unimaginable in his own life, he doesn’t flinch in the slightest at another’s truth or sorrow, which is why it’s sometimes extremely hard to look into his eyes, and probably why I haven’t called him very often during my “full-of-shit I’m-staying-in-denial” years. I did call him once, however, when over the course of a few months I began a torpedo-like descent into serious drug-addiction. He listened and absorbed my story without judgment, told me I would stop using when I was ready to and we said goodbye. I didn’t call him back for another year, but went into treatment soon after our phone call. Having survived the suicides of both his mother and his sister, I know Kevin can put a disappointing national election into perspective.

We are celebrating tonight. When I met him five years ago, it was only a month before his big leap into the unknown when he gave two weeks’ notice at an office job he hated, got a temporary job and applied for graduate school. He had graduated and was now working in his new field, successfully doing what he loved and making money at it—a Herculean accomplishment. I listen to him talk about men and dating and work, and we laugh together more than we eat. Mostly I dominate the conversation, complaining about politics and the country, Bush’s stance on same-sex marriage, the future of America, a recent argument with my partner, the impossibility of forgiving my family. I feel self-conscious and embarrassed when I finally take a moment to listen to myself – all I hear is whining. As we are leaving the restaurant, Kevin touches my arm gently: “You know, Max, you can have a relationship with the Universe on your own.” He says it casually as we say goodbye, and I know instantly that I have come across town to meet him near where he works, walked six blocks in pouring rain without an umbrella and eaten a Caesar salad of mostly iceberg lettuce just to hear him say that sentence.

I’d had Bush on the brain so completely that, as usual, I’d projected the same need-to-please paradigm that had always ruled my life, whether it was cruel high school gym teachers, angry landlords, disgruntled bosses, ex-boyfriends, or my parents. Regardless of politics, or religion, or what was happening in the country at the moment, I was still waiting for someone else’s actions to propel my own life forward, for someone to agree that I was worthy. Kevin’s comment reminded me that I could choose to be completely for myself without taking a national poll or survey, I could be on my own side whether society believed it was a good time to love black homosexuals or not.

When the feminine is not endangered, people remember God in tiny, subtle ways - the ways that count. A breeze presses your dress against you as you walk along a pier, the juice from a ripe fruit runs down your wrist; a baby curls all her tiny fingers around one of yours and tries to put it in her mouth, two friends slap at each other, enjoying uproarious laughter over an old familiar joke, a really good bowel movement gives you the same spent feeling as a satisfying orgasm. There are so many discoveries, so many experiences of God one could choose from. I was embarrassed that Kevin had to remind me again, that the experience of God would come flooding into my life, not with magic words, or the benediction of any leader, but when I finally gave myself my own approval.

I was sure I knew this once, but I always managed to forget it somehow. The truly revolutionary thought, that no one else’s permission is required to have a fully sensuous experience with your own life, is the most threatening idea to the fascist, patriarchal mind - Jesus was murdered for it. When you are unable to face God in yourself because of shame, then you need the world we live in today, a world of bargainers and interlopers. Organized religion, when destructive, is like the experience of incest: it thrives on the compulsive shame that makes us seek out brokers to God. Unable to sever an unbreakable cord of divinity, the perpetrator uses his only power - the lethal microchip that works like a hypnotic trance over his victim and says: “You have no God (relationship to the life-force in yourself) except through me.” The idea that the man who so dearly espoused the concept of no brokers to God would have a religion created in his name that made him the Head Broker seemed like the ultimate act of spiritual perversity.

As most of us are survivors of some kind of physical or emotional abuse or incest as children, no-one calls on God directly anymore - we need operators to connect us. We are waiting until we feel good enough about ourselves to engage fully in our lives, which is never: I will come to God when I find the perfect relationship, when my parents forgive me, when I lose ten pounds, when I finish this line of cocaine, when I make more money, when I turn heterosexual, when my skin is lighter, when I give birth to a boy, when I’ve been punished, when I’m famous, when my penis is bigger, when I get breast implants, when I go to college, when my kids like me, when I’ve prayed harder, when I’m dead.

It all felt so desperate - my life of throwing gold watches, résumés, credit cards, bad sex, alcohol, drugs, ripped carpet from the floor and anything else I could find, to the approaching maelstrom, running up the stairs and into the house, bolting the door and hammering nails into it to escape the “killer” in the horror movie that was my life, only to find he was already inside the house - the killer I was always running from was me.

When Kevin leaves, I watch his tall retreating back and have to resist the idea that he is taking with him my new discovery and the hope from our conversation. I walk to the train, it is still raining and it’s cold. As usual, I haven’t dressed warmly enough. I am in midtown, and the streets feel empty—except for a cluster of women who shiver and laugh together under an awning while a member from their group ventures off the curb to hail a taxi. They are well-dressed and look successful. I think of having friends and how it is sometimes fun to be a little cold and wet, but only when you know that you will eventually arrive some place where it is warm.

It is finally clear to me tonight. No one is going to save me; I have to be my own Wonder Woman, my own Superman. If I can’t get my country to do what I think it should, then I have to continue to resist and tell the truth as best I can, and part of that truth-telling means exploring and trying to soften all the areas of my own life where I am intractable and shut down. The world may be a threadbare winter garment of immense cruelty and violence, of unimaginable sadness for far too many of us, but like the lint-covered peppermint candy forgotten inside a coat – hiding since last year, and a little soiled but still sweet - there is always love to be found in the pockets.

New York City
May 31, 2005

An excerpt of this article entitled, "Father Knows Best"
was published at Democratic Underground on July 2, 2005

© 2005 Max Gordon
All rights reserved