Monday, August 27, 2018

So the church is embroiled in another sex scandal - What now?


The Catholic Church has been rocked by another scandal with charges of a massive cover up of sexual abuse perpetrated by trusted guardians of our children.  In the state of Pennsylvania alone there are at least 300 reports of priests abusing children that go back decades.

I try to understand how this could have happened as this is not the first time that the Church has come under fire for accusations of molestation and a subsequent cover up.  And while Pope Francis has condemned the actions made by priests that may be guilty of what they have been accused, he may not know the ramifications of those actions.  He may not know how those accusations impact the victims…children that have been scarred for the rest of their lives.  

Maybe he should know.  Maybe he should sit down with adult survivors that can tell him how they are living life now; how they have been changed and in those changes made choices that have impacted them adversely.  He may not know that life for them may have been filled with challenges and struggles.  He may not know that abuse does not end with the initial act; but that it continues and is echoed in the lives of the survivors, sometimes hiding and resurfacing around corners that may take the member by surprise.

I am an abuse survivor.

And although my abusers were not catholic priests, I can speak to what happens to a survivor on both an emotional and psychological level. I know firsthand what molestation does to a victim and the effects are long lasting.

There is no viable reason why the church would take the position that it should protect the priests as opposed to their victims.  In order to understand what is going on, you would have to understand the role that the church played in the lives of their parishioners.

As a boy who was raised in the Catholic Church, I remember the hierarchy of the church very clearly.  The 70’s were a completely different time.  Back then, you had complete and total trust in the pastor of your church.  The role of the pastor was not one where he was considered a leader, but it was also one where he was revered.  I remember that John Cardinal Krol was the leader of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia.  Although I never met him personally, I was well aware of who he was.  I knew that his ranking was well above my pastor.  And then there were the nuns…nuns that occupied the role of the principal and teachers within my elementary school.  What was clear back then is that you did not question any directive that a nun gave you.  If a priest told you to do something, you did it…no questions asked.  The clergy was held in high regard.  And at that time, I had this unrealistic expectation that they could do no wrong.  I was shocked to see a priest have a beer or smoke a cigarette.  I was certain that they had a direct road map to God and that they were in some regards better than the average person; that they were incapable of sinning since the rest of us were regarded as sinners that constantly needed redemption. We all assumed that they were leading by example and therefore worthy of the respect and honor that they were given.

A stunning example of the humanness of the deity could be reflected in the Netflix documentary entitled, “The Keepers” in which a nun was murdered to keep the actions of a rogue priest from coming to light.

While this is an extreme example of some of the corruption that may exist in the Catholic Church, one thing that remains crystal clear is that the role of priests and nuns is lost in the fact that they are human.  And it is within that humanness that they prone to make mistakes.  They have their feelings, emotions, triumphs and failures despite the fact that they have taken the oath to serve God.

I am not condemning the Catholic Church.  I’m condemning the actions that have been taken to protect anyone that would molest a child just as I would anyone who is not a person of the cloth.
The topic is one that makes us uncomfortable.  It is a topic that no one wants to talk about.  Parents don’t want to address this issue because to do so would mean that they failed to protect their child from harm.  This is not what this means.  A parent cannot protect their child 24/7. 

 As stated previously, I know firsthand what happens when this happens to a victim.  Regardless of whether the abuse was painful or enjoyable; regardless of whether the child has an orgasm or are left in tears, the results are the same...they are traumatized.

And the trauma carries from the time of the abuse to adulthood.  I know because I have lived this.  I have connected the dots regarding what happens when you are molested to the decisions that you make on the road to adulthood.  I know that the abuse always sits in the back of your mind…whether consciously or not.

We may drink too much; sex too much; drug too much…we may act out in ways that we wouldn’t think of had the abuse never occurred.  Your priorities may have been altered.  Your sense of trust may have been changed.  We may be prone to bouts of anger or depression and don’t know why. 
I know because this happened to me. 

 The person that I would have been died in that bed 50 years ago.  I have no idea who I would have been because that person no longer exists.  Instead, I am left with the man that I ultimately became.  I know that I have made many mistakes…mistakes that I can’t take back.  But I have also made good choices throughout my lifetime.

The thing that I have come to understand is that you are not defined by what happens to you.  You are not defined by the mistakes or triumphs that you have made in your lifetime.  You are defined by the content of your character.  Your mistakes and triumphs are part of who you are.  You either learn from the mistakes or you don’t.

I’ve come to understand this over the years.

Most people don’t understand the ramifications of molestation. They don’t understand what the long term effects are.  They don’t understand the dangers of emotional suppression.

But we can address this.  We can deal with this.  We don’t have to remain stuck on the proverbial merry-go-round of whatever negative mindset that we believe comprises who we are.  We may need to seek counsel with a professional that may help us to address what has happened to us and take the appropriate steps to begin the healing the process.  It may help us to address the emotions that may have been thrown out of whack for us.  

There is healing to be had for all of us.  Regardless of the offender, there is light at the end of the tunnel. That is not to be confused with a happily-ever-after type of ending.  There is no such thing.  We can only continue to fight to be a better person and remember that we are not the sum of what has happened to us.  We can only deal with our mistakes and be a better man or woman.

~ J.L. Whitehead

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

What do we stand for?


What do we stand for?  As a Democrat, I want to know what our party stands for.  We all know that we are against the current administration as well as the president who demonstrates time and time again that he is not morally fit for the role that he currently holds.

Day after day, we as a people have a window seat to scandal after scandal coming from the White House.  We see evidence that the president does not have an understanding of the role that he should play in the administration of our laws outlined in the Constitution.  We know that he is vindictive.  We know that he may not have an understanding of the law.  His actions indicate that he is prone to authoritarian tendencies and that he may believe that the role of the president of the United States means that he has the final say in any action taken by his administration based on how he feels at that particular moment.

With all of this, we have to stand for more than being against this administration.  We need to convey a succinct message of what we can do to address the concerns of the American people.  We need to talk about what we intend to do about health care which is a primary concern for most Americans.
We need to talk about what we intend to do to protect the civil rights of all Americans.  We need to have conversations concerning what we will do to make continuing education affordable for our next generation of children.  We need to convey a message that we intend to take the necessary steps to protect our environment.  We also need to address what we intend to do to restore the confidence to all of our citizens regarding our judicial processes.  Another topic that is worthy of discussion is immigration.  We need to convey to the American people that we have a solution to address illegal immigration to our country. But that solution will be fair and honest.  We cannot and should not punish immigrants who are fleeing horrific circumstances from their homeland.  Instead, we need to outline a due process that will keep our country safe and at the same time allow people the opportunity for migrants to become legal contributing members to our society.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this of late because we are witnessing the president of the United States attempting to change the role of Commander in Chief into one of a dictatorship which is a direct threat to our democracy.

But simply because we see this does not mean that we can be against this and only this.  We need to speak to the American people and address their concerns as it relates to what their current needs are.
It is not enough to talk about a blue wave.  It is not enough to simply talk the talk. We have to walk the walk.  We need the American people to see our humanness.  We need to remind them that we intend to make lives better for all Americans and that each one of us deserves the chance to capture and live the American dream which right now seems to be out of reach for many of us.

As Democrats, we will be attacked.  We will be accused of doing the same things that this administration is doing.  We will be accused of being corrupt and morally bankrupt and be painted with the same brush of dishonesty where being a liberal is a dirty word.  Instead of responding to these attacks (and trust me they will come) we have to uplift our Democratic leaders.  Independents and Progressives need to review who they can get behind and unite their goals with the common goal of restoring our democracy.

We cannot afford to be divided because as you can see, division is what brought us to this point in the first place.  We need to see and be united by our commonalities as opposed to being separated by our differences.

Our common goal is to take the appropriate action and present a road map to what we can and will do to uplift the middle class.  We need to hold their concerns first.  We need to give voice to their concerns and then take the necessary actions to address them.  Even more importantly, we need to be willing to listen; because it is with the art of listening that we can truly engage.
We seem to be on the right track but we need to do more.  We cannot just stand for being against Trump.  That is a given.

We need to stand for what is right and implement a strategy that will make our intentions known.
Our message needs to be clear.  Our democracy is currently being attacked by our commander in chief…and since we know that 30% of this country cannot speak for the 70% that do not support this administration, the question is simply this:

What do we stand for?

~ J.L. Whitehead

Friday, August 17, 2018

Being a Person of Color in Trump's America


In 2012, my husband and I purchased our first home together in a quiet, tree-lined residential neighborhood in New Jersey.  We were welcomed with warm wishes and congratulatory statements by our neighbors, complete with gifts of cookies and gift cards.

We hadn’t anticipated such a reception but as the days, weeks and months stretched into years, we look at our neighborhood and smile because we realize just how fortunate we were.  We have hosted dinner parties to celebrate love and family; sometimes including just a few but always welcoming everyone.  And it’s in that ideology that we cling to the thought that people, with all of their idiosyncrasies are inherently good…that we believe that we all matter and that each and every one of us has societal value.

But in the age of Trump, that ideology is rebuffed in the guise of patriotism and respect.  In this last year, the America that I was born in has changed into something that I don’t recognize.  I see this America through the lens of an African American, LGBTQ perspective…and it’s unsettling what I see if not downright terrifying.

In this America, the disdain for me is no longer hidden.  Where at one time, I could walk in blissful ignorance of what some people think of me whether that opinion would be grounded in fact or not, I now no longer have that luxury.

I am a black man living in a world where I am responsible (at least in part) for another segment of the population’s problems.  I am living in a world where somehow, it is my fault that some people aren’t getting ahead and in that, I am a threat.  I am living in a world where my inalienable rights are regarded with suspicion and my very existence is to be questioned.  I live with the knowledge that there are people that perceive me, my intellect and drive for success as a threat and as a result view me through a lens of fear, apprehension and distrust no matter how eloquently I speak.

What is sad in all of this is at the end of the day, no matter how many accomplishments I have under my belt, to some, I will still be just another “nigger.”  And if that be the case, how dare I desire much less demand equal treatment.  But here we are in 2018…a year that I thought would be so much more different than the turbulent 60’s, and yet, the discrimination that people of color endured in that time period has morphed into something that I thought had been packed away in emotional history books.
I wish that I could say in all good conscious that these issues had been greatly reduced before Trump and that he is just a symptom of the hatred that some white people had and may always have for people of color.  But the truth of the matter is that Trump just provided a voice to tap into the anger of this demographic.  This is a demographic that feels as if they were forgotten…that other people of various religions and ethnicities have been given preferential treatment to something that they felt entitled to.  They are feeling the effects of financial struggling even if that struggle isn’t the same as the struggles that people have had to endure all their lives.

Trump has managed to tap into that anger and say the things that they secretly feel.  He has given them the right to vent their anger even if the source of their anger has been misplaced.  He has pointed the finger at people of color and different faiths and said that they were to blame for all of their problems.

Trump has to have an enemy and so do his followers, so they attack…and attack…and attack.
So what is it like being a person of color in Trump’s America?

I am on edge…and it’s like the pressure never stops.  I feel like some white people look right through me instead of seeing me as a human being.  I feel like people have made assumptions about me before they ever make eye contact with me and that they could care less what or that I feel.
I think about what I would do if I ever get pulled over by the police because I don’t know the mindset of the police officer and although I know that the likelihood that I would survive the altercation, a small voice inside of me isn’t so sure.

I watch the news and know that half the time, I am being lied to and that the press is under assault simply because they don’t heap glowing praise on a man who loves the press when they cover him favorably, but hates them when they don’t.

Patriotism is now equated with the men who decide to take a knee and protest police brutality being regarded as people who hate their country when no one questions or cares to address the reason why they are taking a knee in the first place.

People of color are referred to as “animals” on a regular basis…and day after day, we are reminded that what is important to us is not as important as the issues that the average Trump supporter has to endure if we even matter at all.

People that seek asylum here looking for a safe place to raise their children are now separated from their children…some of those children to this day have not been heard from again because they are not seen as people…and we all know that it is easier to place less value on a human life if you don‘t see that life as human to begin with.

But mostly, it’s the resurgence of the word, “nigger” that is being used with such commonality that you have to wonder if it was ever socially unacceptable to say it.  I say this because there are those that feel emboldened to say the things that they once used to keep to themselves because the leader of the free world has convinced them that it is okay to be this way because once again, I am to blame for their problems.

I am not seen as a human being.  I am from a “shithole” country or I have no value because somehow, I am branded as a drug dealer because I drive a nicer car.  Nothing that I do can be deemed as legitimate because I am viewed as not being legitimate.  And then there is being part of the LGBTQ community.

I am part of an inter-racial relationship and in that, some people will assume that if we are out together that he will be paying for dinner and will be mildly surprised when I place my credit card on the table.

Indeed, even when I am doing all the right things, I will never be given the credit nor the benefit of the doubt that I am forthright, intelligent and honest because somehow, those qualities are not reserved for me or people that look like me.

Because this is Trump’s America…and in that, only the Trump supporters matter. 

~ J.L. Whitehead



Wednesday, August 15, 2018

This Will Not End Well


I am watching the campaign trail, anxious to make my voice heard as well as the voices of my constituents around me.  I am watching some of the Trump rallies and one of the things that I am observing is the anger that is being whipped up in the attendees.

The anger is evident…a permanent fixture in these events; and I keep wondering why.  After all, these are people who now believe that their voice is being heard.  These are people who not only believe that they won the 2016 election legitimately; they also believe that there is still a need to be angry because someone is persecuting their president.


It doesn’t matter that the president has serious character flaws.  It doesn’t matter that it appears that he may have committed treason to obtain the office of the presidency.  It doesn’t matter that the president is implementing policies that in theory appear to address the issues of the nation but in reality only address the concerns of the 30 percent that voted for him. 

None of that matters because one of the things that this presidency has shown is not just the flaws of this administration; but the societal flaws that we have as a nation.

What is happening in plain sight is that we as a nation are not who we thought we were.  We knew that bigotry existed, but it was okay as long as we didn’t discuss it out in the open.  Racism was okay as long as it was done in private; behind closed doors and it wasn’t obvious to everyone that it was still prevalent as it was at the turn of the century.  We didn’t have to discuss it as long as the recipients of racism didn’t say anything to address the illusion of fairness and equality.

But the anger that ran silently underneath the river of society is now bubbling to the surface in a way that seems to be reminiscent of the pre-civil rights era.  At these rallies, we are seeing people being whipped up into an angry frenzy of an attack that they perceive as being waged on them.

They are angry about the perception that a war is being waged on their very way of life…a way of life that does not have room for people of color.  They are angry that people of color are angry about this.  After all, why shouldn’t people of color be happy with all of the societal gains that have been made despite the fact that those very people will not be held to the same standard of our white counter parts?

The anger at the Trump rallies pose a problem much more dangerous than simply whipping people up into an emotional frenzy to attack a perceived threat.

The anger that has now come to the surface at immigrants, people of color, LGBTQ and Muslims will boil over should the 60% who did not vote for Trump attempt to take back our democracy.

This is not something that I look forward to but one that I anticipate, given the nature of the people that hold this administration in high regard.

In their mind, an attack on this administration is an attack on them.  They do not perceive that there is anything wrong with a president who projects the image that everyone is attacking him and therefore the enemy.

It has not dawned upon them that Trump could be emotionally and psychologically ill equipped to hold the office of the presidency.  They only see that this man is doing so many wonderful things in their eyes even if it is not apparent to everyone.

So just exactly what does someone who is filled with anger do when someone is attacking them? What happens when someone believes that the world is against them and they are backed into a corner?

Anger turns into action and people fight…even if the fight isn’t theirs.

 
If we take back our democracy and fight against authoritarian principles, do we not have that right as a people to do what we believe is right?  Do we not have the right to want to live in a land of equality and not perceived equality?

Do we not have the right to want to worship the way that we want to worship, marry who we wish to marry, work hard for the American Dream…whatever that may mean?

We do.

But on the flip side of the coin is that the people that attend these rallies do not believe that we do.  They are angry that we dare to challenge the ideology of someone that demands loyalty from all Americans even though he does not believe in the equality of all Americans.

And that’s what makes the anger at these rallies dangerous.  We are not dealing with people that respect other’s rights to their own opinions.  They view others that do not agree with them as “the other.”  They are the enemy.  Even more terrifying is that the media is equally deemed as the enemy.  Simply put, the media is supposed to report news..good or bad; positive or negative.  Unfortunately, for this president, much of what he does comes at the expense of other demographic groups.  And as long as it doesn’t negatively impact the livelihood of his base, then he will always be worth fighting for.

And that thought process in and of itself is truly frightening.

~ J.L. Whitehead

A tale of two Americas

Thinking back for as long as I can remember, I lived in an area of repression.  Someone always seemed to have their foot on the neck of my...