Children of a Lesser god

Everyone knows the film Children of a Lesser god.  Maybe what we don’t know is how badly we need this movie to be remade, and soon.  When it is, I suggest the filmmaker branch out and replace the beautiful, intelligent, heterosexual and yes, deaf, white woman with a new character.  There are many lessers from which to choose.

I didn’t understand the title of this movie in 1986.  (Only just now as I write this post am I aware of the intentional little-g god in the title)  I had not even entered college, much less struck out into the world.  I still didn’t appreciate that, if not in acknowledged polite conversation, in real practice there are categories of human value.  I’ve since come to understand that these very real categories permeate organized society, and they are not just gentle whispers of harmless bias.  These categorizations are deeply rooted, and deep enough to nurture a mindset that separates some people from others as the flawed offspring of a higher power that is — well — not the higher power than made people who are made “the right way.”

In the broadest brush strokes, the Greater God says that men are better than women; whites are better than blacks; strong bodies are better than weak; young is better than old; and so on.  This week we were reminded that this “God” of categorization says that being heterosexual is better than being homosexual.

When one is in the “right” category, he or she enjoys a pre-paid subscription to a life of privilege.  In this life, a protective force field surrounds the person in a cocoon of social safety and opportunity.  The cocoon protects so naturally and so well, the person in it rarely even knows it’s there.  This oblivion partially explains why someone who fits the profile of a Child of a Greater God becomes confused and even angry when the lessers cry out in pain. 

What’s the issue, ask the greaters?  Why do you need special attention?  We’re all children of God………..

When you are a child of a lesser god, you know it.  No reassurances from the cocoon people can help you, because you know they don’t understand, not even a little bit.  Even the well-intentioned greaters are clueless about the realities of your life, about the death by a thousand cuts that threaten you every day.  The lessers are always on the edge, always.

A young man from Rutgers is dead.  He is dead because he had no place to be safe, no refuge, no shelter.  When you are not a child of a Greater God, no one rides in on a chariot of fire to save you.  Your god is tired, and discouraged, and sometimes even hopeless.  On the battlefield of life, you are lucky if your god even shows up.

It is imperative that as a society we do more to understand the subtle and powerful ways we isolate and devalue one another.  My movie remake will star a homosexual girl with autism living below the federal poverty level in Appalachia.

Who will yours star?

Photo credit:  Backyard Butterfly Garden

When the Cavalry Doesn’t Come

Five years ago this week, as I watched Michael Brown stand shiny and clean on camera and receive one of the worst alleged atta-boys of all time, I knew in my gut he was being set up.

Life in the reality canyon.

I remember the physical discomfort between “Brownie” and the President.  I remember the way those words, “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job” came out of the mouth of the FEMA chief’s ultimate boss and the look on Brown’s face.  You can see in that instant he knows a hell of a lot more than he can share. It was painful.  The words were condescending, and artificial and inappropriate and awful on every level; and they highlighted a yawning reality canyon between those two men as well as between the federal government and the states.

Much has been written and expressed in other — often artistic — forms about how the nightmare of Hurricane Katrina removed any mask we might be wanting to put on our fundamental lack of progress around racial disparities.  I can’t disagree.  The literal black and white disgrace that was FEMA’s total disconnect with the very kind of situation it exists to manage is burned on our nation’s history.  No one can say the authorities on every level “didn’t know” it was going to be a disaster.  Extensive records exist that verify the proper people knew exactly what was poised to go down.

I still have no accounting for what exactly fell apart.  Michael Brown’s continued efforts to explain it only seem to make things worse by ripping off what frail bandage we had on the memories and yet leaving no more healing in its place.

Mike Hale of the New York Times said it well when he described Spike Lee’s portrayal of the aftermath (emphasis added is mine):

Released just a year after Hurricane Katrina swamped New Orleans, “When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts” was a thrilling achievement: both intimate and magisterial, angry and eloquent, an indictment and a testament, it represented a high point in the career of its director, Spike Lee.

It was definitively racial.  But as a West Virginian, I saw more.  I do believe it was racial in New Orleans, but I feel some of the same kinds of nausea at home, where the U.S. Census measures our population at over 94% white.  I think the most powerful common denominator is a profound disregard for human life when that life is uneducated and living in poverty.

I want to believe that if some natural disaster befell West Virginia, that the cavalry would come.  That the nation would turn on the television and see our plight and send every resource to save us.  What I saw 5 years ago in New Orleans scared the hell out of me, because I no longer have that belief.  I think some populations are considered disposable and not worth the effort and expense, and as much as I don’t want to believe it, Katrina took away my suspension of disbelief.

The Sago mine disaster was a perversion of this grinding fear.  Every day in West Virginia (and around the world) human beings go deep underground and risk their health and their lives so I can use my laptop (see The Short Ladders for some stats on our state’s educational attainment, or lack thereof).  There is a lot of drama around rescues once people are in trouble, but very little evidence that the nation is serious about reducing dependence on coal or that most coal companies themselves see these human beings as something more than replaceable commodities.

I’ll conclude where I began, with the “heck of a job” video clip and Michael Brown.  I don’t know anything about Mr. Brown.  He may be a negligent incompetent monster, but that seems less likely than he was one man at the helm of a critically important federal agency that the powers that be had no real interest in leveraging during Katrina. 

The question remains why, and if it would have been the same story in the Hamptons.