Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Dr Martin Luther King Day - the Northern Irish Version

We don't celebrate it in the UK but this Monday was Martin Luther King day in the States. I discovered this last year when I was working in New York and I arrived in work, dutifully at 9am in the morning, to find the doors locked and the lights off :(. I was most disappointed, but did find other ways to amuse myself for the rest of the day. Although I was somewhat peeved peeved that my coworkers hadn't told me it was a public holiday. Maybe its like showing up for work on Christmas day in the UK or something.

Anyway, Peterson's blog is well and truly on form at the moment with this little offering about an African-American lesbian mother and grandmother.

Regina D

Her father sexually abused her relentlessly.
He referred to queer people as "those goddamn faggots!"
He cursed her for being lesbian.
He died in bitterness and alcoholism.
Regina never liked him.

But Regina's mother sat her down this past November to set the story straight.

"Regina, when you told me you were a lesbian, you may have wondered how I took it all so well," her mother began then dropped the bomb.
"Your father liked men."
Seems all his homophobia was aimed right at himself as part of his own self-loathing.
He never hated Regina because she was lesbian; he hated himself.

In spite of the mess she was given, Regina speaks of hope and healing and love.

Regina: "If we are not real, it will kill us and we will take other people with us."

Regina: "I want to expand the meaning of the phrase, My People."

Regina wants to include more than just other African-American Lesbian Women in her group. She seeks to embrace among "her people" all queer folks, Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Disabled, more and more, a wider coalition of humanity that she calls kin. "Everywhere I look, I need to see my people."

I like this line "Everywhere I look, I need to see my people". Too much damage is done when we don't see people as our own. In Milgrim's infamous study, "teachers" were less likely to give a high shock to someone they identified with. If they were told the person they were shocking was from the same town as them or the same school as them, they were prepared to resist demands to inflict pain on them. In short, they identified with them.

Back home I have heard Protestants say, 'She is one of them' or 'He is not one of us' meaning that said person is Catholic. Catholics say it about Protestants too. My family are Protestant, I remember moving to a mainly Catholic area when I was 9 years old. Even so young, other kids saw me as different. Kids whispered in the street and said, 'That's her, she's the one' and then asked if it was true, 'Are you know, a Protestant?' Then they'd kind of giggle and say, 'Well our mams say we have to be nice to you anyway, but is it true you don't go to mass? And there are no nuns at your school? Do you not believe in the Virgin Mary? And your church services last an hour and a half - do you not get bored?' Actually, on that latter question, maybe they had a point ;)

Of course, having never been exposed to Catholicism I was just as ignorant - I mean I didn't even realise that Catholics were Christians. 'So is it true you dress up and get loads of money for your first communion? And your priests wear big dresses? And they're not married? And you have statues in church? And nuns at your school? I wouldn't know what to say to a nun - what do you say to a nun? Do they all wear them funny outfits and are they really strict? And when you have communion, they put it right in your mouth - ewwwww. Is it true you pray to Mary - we don't, only to God. And really, you believe in Jesus do you? That's interesting, so do we...'

~Come on lads, shake hands - you're both my people even if you do, lets me frank, act the eejit...ahem.

But I wonder, how much conflict could be avoided, how many friendships formed, how much violence and injustice eliminated if we could just see more people as our people.


Lora said...

For some reason people always seem to find differences easier to see then similarities. I remember having the same type of curiousity when I found out that one of my schoolmates was a Jehovah Witness, quite an enigma.

MLK day is one of the understated holidays in the US. People have really fought to not commercialize it like they do every other holiday in the States, so it doesn't get a lot of press. It's only a paid holiday for 1/3 of workers. There are always some gathers that usual involved teachers and their students mentioned in passing, but that's about all.

Contemplative Activist said...

That's interesting. I quite enjoyed MLK day when I was in NY. Aside from having the day off work, I watched a couple of TV programs about MLK and found out what those two coloured cookies are (the ones with white icing on one side, dark chocolate on the other and a spongy base).

But yes, it did seem like an ordinary day for most of NY.

Any other American readers care to share their thoughts or experiences about MLK day?


Rach said...

I think "act the eejit" is the opposite of frank!! I'm going to kidnap them all and lock them in Stormount and they can sort it out and talk to one another or else!


Contemplative Activist said...

Rach - one the best lines from 'Give my Head Peace' (Northern Irish comedy/satire TV program, appreciated only by true Norn Ironers - isn't that right Rachie...)

Anyway, where was I? It was Ma, she said something along the lines of, 'We should take all the terrorists and stick them on an island so they can shoot each other until they're all dead' Then Dymphna said, 'But Ma, this is an island, and they are all shooting each other.'

Hmmm, it doesn't seem so funny in a blog comment. But it was funny on the porgram, and that my dear, is the most important thing.


Rach said...

lol!! That is such a good line. The thing that pisses me off the most about it all is the fact they're still be paid!! For WHAT?! Coming on TV every so often bitching about the other lot? *grrr...*

No one outside NI (or people who really know their stuff) could understand Give My Head Peace! I am really enjoying "Colin Murphy's TV Fads" at the moment too though, again, it probably is only truely appreciated by those who know their stuff. It is based in NI and he analyses different TV clips. It is so hilarious! Friday nights on BBC1 after the news. It is my weekly transition into the weekend! If you can, really try to catch it!


Contemplative Activist said...

Actually, partner dude really enjoys 'Give my head peace'. They used to run repeats on BB2 late on Saturday nights. Its one of the ways we met.

He said he had watched an episode of some really wierd Northern Irish comedy and had I heard of it. So the next week, I came round his house at midnight to watch it the next week :)

Ah, and then it was love.

The Christmas special this year was really good - the six counties bank robbery - GENIUS!

Rach said...

Aw.. A love story concerning Give My Head Peace!

I missed it this year - I was out at the time and forgot! Raging! But I'll maybe be able to catch the repeat next year...!


Lorcan said...

Dear dear dear... well, war is so much more difficult to boil down even to a them and us, where there is a them, us, and them and maybe even another them, if thee considers Britain as a separate player, and NATO and in the shaddows the US... them, and us, and them and them and them... and we have to ask, not so much why can't they be friends, as much as how can we find a space to talk

MLK? Well, I noticed that in most homes in the lower 26 counties, there was a photo of the pope and John Kennedy, in Republican homes in the upper six counties, there was a photo of MLK. Hmmmm.