Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Homelessness, Racism, the Sports-Industrial Complex, and Dyslexia

Skid Row, Los Angeles

I've mentioned it before, but my son Oliver has a pretty severe case of dyslexia and associated learning difficulties. While the few months we've been homeschooling have done wonders for his self-esteem, he continues to struggle with his feelings for the disorder, and while the prevailing one is shame (and very common in dyslexics), he is also impatient with it and at best, angry, as opposed to accepting. Oliver is with me much of the time as I traverse this great and diverse city, and one of our favorite sights is in the heart of Hollywood, right at the intersection of Hollywood Blvd and Highland. If we're lucky enough to catch a red light, we look at the opposite corner to see the same elderly man holding up a cardboard sign that says, FUCK YOU. I don't know why this makes us laugh -- perhaps it's the audaciousness of it, mixed as it is among the crowds of tourists, the hucksters dressed as superheroes, the equally elderly man perched on top of a U.S. mailbox with the sign YOU'RE GOING TO HELL, JESUS SAVES (who I've always thought was incredibly hopeful and ambitious, given the location).  Yesterday, we were pulling out of a Chick-Fil-A (I know, we're not supposed to support a homophobic organization, but this is the Hollywood Chick-Fil-A), when we noticed a guy sitting on the curb across the street with his homemade sign that read I WOULD BE ALERT BUT I'M HOMELESS AND HUNGRY. I HAVE MORALS AND HERPES. Oh good Lord, I thought, steeling myself for Oliver's questions. Sure enough, he asked me what it all meant, so I told him. He thought for a few seconds and then said, Well, anyone who can spell those words is probably fine. That made me laugh out loud and then think in my mind about just how hard it is for Oliver to be dyslexic -- so hard that a man with apparently no possessions other than a dirty, weird sign would seem, to Oliver, to be in a better position. Then I worried that Oliver might need a little more perspective, so I lectured a bit, as I am wont, on compassion and perspective, and he tolerated it. Later on in the day, when I heard for the gazillionth time about the asshole basketball team owner and his sordid mistress and the outcome of his racist conversation being his swift dismissal and ban from the NBA, I wondered why some wrongs get such quick and relatively easy responses from the Powers That Be. Privacy issues aside, and trust me, I don't give a flying foo-foo about sports in general, much less the business of sports, what about that particular story warranted the enormous outcry that something like the growing number of homeless people living on our streets doesn't -- or children being denied medication like medical marijuana -- or women not making the same amount of money as men in similar jobs -- or people getting laid off when the CEOs of their companies pull in tens of millions of dollars in salary alone? Or, let's face it -- the growing number of citizens here who live in poverty alongside people who buy and drive $150,000 cars, or send their children to elementary schools that cost $40,000 a year?

Is it all relative?

One of my Facebook acquaintances (let's face it, not all of our Facebook peeps are friends) posted something about how awful it is that Obama had something to say about that basketball owner but, so far, hasn't said anything about removing marijuana from the Schedule 1 class of drugs. He was pretty angry about that as were most of his "friends," and if it weren't for the many racist comments on that string (not from him), I would have agreed with his frustration. I'm not a moral relativist and actually hate the expression it's all relative, but I have to wonder what, exactly, drives people other than money. I'm curious why, exactly, this particular instance got this particular enormous response. I guess it's a good thing, but it does make me wonder. Oliver's anguish over dyslexia seems to trump the homelessness of that man in his mind. Obama not taking a stand on medical marijuana trumps his taking a stand against racism for some. Freely using the word retarded which basically dehumanizes and denigrates millions of people is not nearly as bad, apparently, as denigrating millions of black people.

I don't know what to think, but I'm thinking. And it makes me think the guy with the FUCK YOU sign might have the answer.


  1. Hello from a fan in Alabama. I come to you from Mrs. Moon.I also do not know what to think but your post is making me think. Yes the guy with sign has it about right. I must add this: Go Sophie Go you are my hero and I share your story with all. Oliver; You are awesome and you will prevail. Hope your day goes well.

  2. If you get really sick of it all, you could join in with your own sign- "Fuck Alla Y'all" which sums it up real well for me some days.
    I like what Mary i said. Oliver WILL prevail. I wish he could talk to Jessie who had horrible reading problems and somehow (through real hard work, perseverance, and a wonderful teacher) managed to get through four years of nursing school with excellent grades.
    I think Obama WILL come out publicly for medical marijuana. He simply has to and being the man he is, he knows it's the right thing and will do it, just as he has done with other things.
    As to what drives people besides money- depends on the person, I guess. Money sure drives a lot of us, though, doesn't it?

  3. Well, first of all, it's okay to go to Chick-Fil-A now, because I listened to a piece on NPR the other day about how the CEO has changed his tune after meeting several times with a homosexual man who helped him understand that gay people are actually human. Many of the store policies have changed now, thanks to that (although I didn't pay attention to which ones, since we don't have the stores up here). Second, I love how thoughtful you were about Oliver's comment AND that he let you lecture a little about perspective and compassion. Third, the Clippers owner thing makes me ill, mostly because this guy has been kicking blacks and Latinos out of his apartments for decades because he's a bigot and he's even gotten fined for it, but the thing that pisses people off the most is when he tells his half-black mistress not to post Instagram pictures of herself with black people or bring them to "his" games? Why aren't we outraged that he is treating scores of minorities like shit every day for years but pissed off when he disses Magic Johnson? Seriously!

  4. I agree with both of those two wonderful Mary's above, and I may need to borrow that sign to hang on my office door.

  5. Oliver is where he should be right now (NOT in school,) Kudos to you both for getting that. I struggled against that sooooo long with C. And yes, spent some crazy high school tuition. Be where you are. Trust your gut, trust the love, trust Oliver's mad talents as an entrepreneur. xoxoxo I raise my glass (full of lemonade) to both of you.

  6. I used to teach reading/writing to children with dyslexia and so I know the anger, frustration and yes, shame that these very bright and creative kids feel. A shout out for your work with Oliver.
    Have you read this?

  7. I think this story had traction because it happened during the playoffs to a team owner whose team was in the playoffs and there was also the element of sex in his young Barbie doll girlfriend and also the attendant absurdities like he's racist but he's sleeping with an obviously black/Latina woman but wants her to pretend to be a "delicate" white girl and he was also supposed to get his second lifetime achievement award from the NAACP in a matter of days and good lord the whole thing was just too ludicrous and shallow for journalists to resist. As for the ban for life, while I wholeheartedly endorse it I do think it only happened because the powers that be were about to lose a whole lot of money which made it very expedient for them to stand on principle. This time. I think journalists also got a kick out of the girlfriend taking down the creepy old rich guy and on and on. Heaven forbid there should be any analysis of how sterling's longstanding housing bias against blacks and Latinos has helped create an underclass of people who are then told to just buck up and pull themselves up by their bootstraps as if the game isn't rigged. But I think I'll stop my rant now. I'm at the gate waiting for my flight back to nyc and I just caught a strand of wifi. Sorry to have used it to vent in your comments box. My god I love that kid of yours Oliver. I absolutely know he's going to be fine. His anger is probably going to help fuel him. I'm glad he has you.

    1. Well, that was one terrific rant, 37paddington, and a whole lot more coherent than my own! Safe travels to you!

  8. "Heaven forbid there should be any analysis of how sterling's longstanding housing bias against blacks and Latinos has helped create an underclass of people who are then told to just buck up and pull themselves up by their bootstraps as if the game isn't rigged." Jesus, yes, great rant.

  9. Elizabeth, I couldn't wait to read this post. You are always thinking and your thinking makes me think. There is so much to say here. . . .I guess I'll just leave it at I'm thinking, too. A lot.

  10. Your post: Sometimes I miss LA. I can see this all. I love your writing, you make me laugh, and think, and sometimes you make me cry.

    Lavender: The pic on my blog is from a farmer's market. When I have grown it I cut long stems with flowers and some green leaves and tie in bundles. You can hang them to dry and/or give them away. If you really want to get creative you can stuff them in small pillows, sew them up and viola! a sachet is born.

  11. I must admit I'm kind of in the dark here because I haven't followed that NBA story at all (I probably saw a sports-related headline and just skipped it) but it IS interesting that Oliver sees the homeless man as "probably fine." I guess we all see people's harships through a lens of our own hardships. Everything is relative. (Sorry -- I had to say it, because even though it's an annoying expression, with very few exceptions it's true!)

  12. I've been out of the world and kind of missed the whole basketball thing. I know I've said this before too, but Noah is dyslexic. I know it was hard for him at Oliver's age, and it's still a challenge in certain ways--his brain just works differently, he takes a different train of thought, he sometimes misses social cues because they don't make sense to him. But he also has a great job at a great company and is one of the most organized people I know--because of all the steps he had to take to deal with the dyslexia. I don't know if that helps Oliver to know that. Just tell him we all here love him.

  13. Elizabeth,

    Fellow Elizabeth here and longtime lurker.

    You pose a very interesting question. Truly the conversation about race is not the only conversation, just one we so rarely engage in. There are too many ugly truths in confronting white privilege. I think media coverage like this helps white America feel like they can check racism off the list. “See, we removed that racist man swiftly and immediately”. By focusing on an individual, coverage like this also helps the public avoid any questions about systematic racism. See Jay Smooth’s conversation about this very issue

    AND in the end, it really is about what issue is closest to the heart, what we are individually confronted with every day. Perhaps the only way to avoid relativism is to see these issues and liken them to ones near and dear to our own hearts, to deepen compassion. My own passion about closing the school to prison pipeline helps me to understand your passion for access to medical marijuana. I am fighting my fight, as you are yours and we are connected by our own passion and commitment to a just cause.

  14. I've been thinking the EXACT same thing about the R-word, but was too busy stewing about it to write something as wonderful as this. THANK YOU!



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