Tarana Burke is coming to Penn State Behrend during Holy Week.
She travels the country, speaking up as the founder of the me, too. movement.
I have a church gig that night, but it should work out for me to finish my offering on cello, pack up, and head across town to catch the back half with the other girls.
The thing about being sexually harassed, violated, or assaulted is that there are no witnesses. If you reveal yourself as the victim, you have to rely exclusively on your prior reputation, so established, and the trust of those who have known you forever.
When you tell your truth, publicly, it can feel like you’ve stepped onto the surface of another planet. Many don’t want to hear stories like yours. It reminds them of things they don’t want to think about, like how one isolated event can ruin an entire life.
But, this meeting, while open to the public, will probably only be attended by those who’ve been there. Girls, like me, who seek their own kind. Fools, all, gullible and vulnerable, feeling alternately stupid, humiliated, and many still as pained when they are reminded. How did we know one encounter would alter the course of everything?
We will meet each other. Strength, in numbers, and in emotional support. If you live where I do, and you know this open wound, come to the meeting. 7:30 pm, April 17, McGarvey Commons, Behrend Campus, Penn State University.
Thank you, Tarana Burke. You started it. Let’s find a way to finish it.
What if we were all reticent and deferential? In America, we’d be stuck on a street corner, bowing and gesturing for the other to cross. Crowds would form. Traffic would stall. Chaos to commerce. Only the strong would survive. Finally, one lone person, likely among the shortest, would push through the throng and head across the road, shaking his or her head in disbelief at the inefficiency of it all. That would be the Italian.
For every proponent of tolerance, acceptance, and the next festival in celebration of diversity there’s an old Dago who sits, reading the paper and chuckling. Somebody brings him a sandwich. Talking with his mouth full, he’ll tell you what for. He knows. He’s Italian. We always do.
For the final decade of my twenty five in public education, I worked at an elementary school at the cusp of the county line. Demographically, there were few Italians living over there. True to their history in our town, the surviving generations were still maintaining their family homes closer to the center of the west side. I remember being told by my then very blonde and fair skinned boss that I was “a bit harsh.”
Nobody at the other school, over in Little Italy, would have called me by that moniker. Everybody who worked there or ran that building told it like it was. There was a happy extroversion in that climate. And, the faculty was the most cohesive social group in the entire city. I will never forget the night of my first all school program; there had to have been seven teachers there, all helping run herd, and they’d all organized entirely unsolicited by me. They were led by one woman. She was Italian.
For just under three years, I had a mother in law. She thought Italy was a third world country, and “loved my brown eyed grand children just as much as my blue eyed grandchildren.” Everybody tries, some more than others. But, we’re all different, it’s always easier to stay the way we are, and inherent bias is unavoidable. But, when you cross the line, the Italian will tell you so.
Well, back when civilization was trying to evolve beyond barbarism, there was a people who, though their motive was to establish power, were adept at assessing a situation, identifying its obstacles, and spending intelligent energy and willpower developing a solution. To expand their influence, roads were developed and constructed, the kind which could be traveled beyond the dusty sandal and walking stick. In fact, entire transport systems were created which ultimately established connections, yielding an increase in trade and cultural exchange. Prior to this, there were kings and their extended families, and land owners, and slaves, and the poor – the latter, in droves. These expanding road systems enabled pockets of civilization to become independent and self governing, by virtue of their access to resources which existed, well, down the road. These pockets became known as cities.
Yes. The very structure of workable American society is framed by transit routes and cities. And, we have the Romans, from Italy, to thank for it; their drive to achieve a dominating empire left behind what we now call infrastructure.
Oh, and the next time you look at something beautiful that did not occur in nature, take a moment. Be they paintings, sculpture, even cathedrals, much of the world’s most magnificent works of art were created by Italians. Inlaid tile. Stained glass. Frescoes. Even before Michelangelo and DaVinci, there were artisans. These swarthy, well oiled, slightly hairy brutes did their part to decorate the entire, known world. They frosted the cake.
Yes. Every human frailty eventually makes itself known. There is weakness, right along side strength. Nothing lasts forever, not empires, not even life. But, for every moment constrained by decorum, there will be an emergent crisis. Let’s be ready to thank the personality which steps up. That will, eight times out of ten, be the Italian.
From us, you will get candor. We’ll smile at you in public if you deserve it, and reprimand you in kind. You’ll always know where you stand, with us. We are as proud of our heritage as you are of yours, and we know one more thing. We know the value of preserving that history. We are a part of the greatest generation, in this country we call home, and you can call us by our name. It’s pronounced exactly the way it’s spelled.
Born in Wilkes-Barre, PA, of parents who’d hailed from Cornwall, England, he’d brought his young wife, Mae, across the Commonwealth on or about 1915 to build cranes at Bucyrus-Erie. Yet, Erie, newly founded, was up and coming and this move – for a working class conservative – was, at its heart, progressive.
But, after having attended a tent meeting led by Christian evangelist Billy Sunday, this naturally gruff dogmatist had experienced a conviction of belief which would solidify his politics for life. He brought with him to Erie a Bible thumping, street preacher’s passion and, after meeting two elders of the Plymouth Brethren at the City Mission, would join their fellowship at the Gospel Assembly Hall on East Avenue.
But, Henry Thomas Sweet would not register to vote.
He and the rest of his fellow fundamentalists would populate a small, but ardent, segment of this growing town. Their teachings were the most extreme among conservatives; preaching that only those things due Caesar would be rendered, the rest would be left up to Almighty God – who would put into office whom He will.
Still, Henry Sweet taught his family all the values upheld by the Republican party. Hard work having yielded sufficient income, all resources would be put toward the sustenance of family and a tenth toward “the Lord’s work”, all capital kept close to the vest for just such purposes. The downtrodden were to be regarded as slacking, irresponsible, vagrant, and were admonished – from the street corner pulpit – to “Get up out of the gutter, repent, and get a j.o.b.”
What Henry and Mae did was work. Raising four daughters, they used their hands – baking bread, and delivering it door to door; hooking and braiding rugs, from old, discarded wool coats rescued from the Salvation Army; planting vegetable gardens, and fruit trees, gathering their harvest (had poultry been permitted inside the city limits, they’d likely have had hens and chickens); “slaving” over the stove, preparing meals for the entire, extended family for every holiday and birthday celebration. Mae also sewed, repairing and altering all manner of clothing, and creating from remnants everything from pajamas to suits and spring coats, draperies, and furniture slip covers. Henry, after a long day at the crane factory, maintained every inch of their humble property on East 29th Street, as well as their royal blue Chrysler.
In his final decade, disaffected and excommunicated from the Brethren for “railing”, sunken into his harvest gold La-Z-Boy recliner in the northeast corner of the livingroom reading his National “Geographs” and his Bible, listening to talk radio (and, calling in daily), he would brood.
Sympathy was not part of his lexicon. Compassion was merely a concept, to be contemplated while meditating upon the person of the Christ. Weakness was not to be indulged; one was given a life, and one must take up the reins of it and serve the Lord with all one’s might. Paying income tax was the bane of existence.
Three of the four daughters carried on the traditions of his closet politics. All honorable citizens they, nevertheless, also never registered to vote – raising their children to accept having come out from among them, being separate, avowing to touch not the unclean thing. There were us, the elect bride of Christ, and there were them, the reprobate, damned to hellfire lest they repent and believe the Gospel.
I don’t know what happened, but something did. Time, and its inevitable evolution. Being Republican of mentality used to mean such noble (if self centered) intent, even if it appealed to the most narrow minded among them. One wonders if the GOP was forever affected by those who would only vote for he or she whom their God had ordained. Being a Democrat came to defy such selfish, belief driven ideals. In between, I now find myself – a registered Independent, caught, without a closet in which to hide. We are all part of America, a nation of so many countries, fighting to stay socially intact, more exposed than ever before, members of a globe of earthly nations pushing and pulling and hanging on.