stereotypes

Who knew M&Ms could wrap?

While in Toulouse, FroMan invited me to join him and his friends for supper. I had a great time. Somehow, while discussing Ramadan, multiculturalism and the pros/cons of accommodating vs assimilating vs integrating minorities into society, CAD vs Southern French weather, Trump, kizomba, sleep patterns, work, hair styling, annoying neighbors, I found myself on a rant about how Eminem is the greatest rapper of all time. Yes, Kendrick Lamar is an artiste, but Eminem! Eminem is just in a different class. True, he does not speak to the struggle and plight of a specific demographic; rather, he owns the individuality of his emotions, which can broaden his audience because emotions are universal and do not depend on specific circumstances. His lyrics are a form of vulnerability, and while he can be ugly, shocking, so angry and violent, his honesty is refreshing and is what allows his auditors to relate so strongly to him. His musicality is not lesser than Kendrick’s and… and somewhere after the 5th minute of my monologue, I noticed a blank look around the table.

Tentatively, I asked… y’all DO know Eminem, right? Oui, bien sûr. M&Ms. No. Eminem, bro, the rapper. You guys know who he is, in France, right?! Oui, we call him M&Ms here. M&Ms… as in the candy? Oui.

FroMan continued, “He’s the dude that sang, I’m Slim Shady yes I’m the real Shady all you other Slim Shadies are just imitating…” No. NON. Arrête. STOP IT. THAT is what you associate with Eminem? Not Rap God, where he raps 1560 words within 6:04 minutes, averaging 4.28 words per second? Not “mom’s spaghetti”, the lyric that spawned some of the most ludicrous memes ever, and is the reason why he won an Oscar? Not Love the Way You Lie, a song so powerful that even though radios overplayed it more than Despacito, it never got ruined and was a catalyst in lessening the taboo around domestic abuse, bringing that important topic out into the open?  Not any of his early underground freestyle rapping? Not that he is the only person in the world that can rhyme “orange” with “porridge”? Like seriously, watch this:

Y’all. Eminem is a wordsmith. A modern day poet. A genius.

FroMan listened to my outraged exclamations in silence for several seconds. Possibly a full minute.

Tu réalises qu’il rap en anglais, oui? On ne comprend pas ce qu’il dit.

You do realize he raps in English, yes? We don’t understand what he’s saying.

So, I asked, how do you distinguish good music from bad? You guys are French! The epitome of good taste! If you don’t understand the lyrics, what do you do? Just listen to the beat, the groove and the melody? WAIT, YOU GUYS DON’T THINK JUSTIN BIEBER IS GOOD MUSIC, DO YOU?! “En fait, il n’est vraiment pas si pire, le petit Bieber. Son album est très propre./ Actually, he really isn’t that bad, that little Bieberito. His album is quite on point.”

OMG.

OH MMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM GEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE.

I cannot live in a world where Eminem is less appreciated than Bieber.

It occurred to me to suggest FroMan use Google Translate, much like I did to understand how ridiculously over-the-top kizomba lyrics can be (for a prime example,  check out this music video of one of my favourite songs, Vai by Calema. Stirring music, heartbreak, but whyyyyyyyy must he flop about like a goldfish in a puddle of mud? That won’t make her come back to you, bro, and significantly decreases your odds of landing yourself a rebound chick.) But Google’s habit of mildly inaccurate translations (“Pinch me now, yes/ Good afternoon, no/ You are very crazy/ Kiss me in the mouth“) can’t do justice to Eminem’s wordplay. The site Genius is the way to go… but even so, Eminem’s greatness is rather dependent on one’s fluency in English.

How sad. How very sad. FroMan’s life, and that of most of the world’s population, is incomplete.

#noiamnotbeingadramaqueenATM

#Eminemisbae

#andthisiswhytravelisimportant #myhorizonsjustgotexpandedAF

 

Kizomba is a dance of the world. Until it’s not.

As the child of immigrants, I’ve often laughed at the culture clashes and distinctive behavioural patterns – My Big Fat Greek Wedding is almost an autobiography, apart from the small detail of the wrong country (Russia), and how I am still unmarried. I live in a world where race, culture, nationality are visible, identifiable, noticeable. I am not color-blind when it comes to skin: I celebrate the entire rainbow. However, North American society is not tolerant towards minorities, prejudice and bias run deep,​ systemic discrimination and white privilege are real, not debatable. Previous musings include:

The more I’ve tried to educate myself to avoid unconscious biases about minorities, the more I’ve learned about the commonly held perceptions about whites, and I’m uncomfortably aware of the weight of my white privilege and just how impossible it is for others to be color-blind when they see my skin color. #lossofinnocence #poorlittlewhitegirl


My eclectic tastes draw me equally to ballet as to African dances like kuduro/semba/kizomba. Unfortunately, not only do I have negative sensuality, but it is a well known fact: white people can’t dance. I mean, if Dave Chapelle says so, it must be true? Still, I can’t help it. The music makes me feel alive.

After one too many comments about how I can’t shake my hips like the other girls in the class, GT pulled me aside at a party and told me I should stop making such disparaging skin-based comments: it made the others uncomfortable. It was a silly stereotype, it wasn’t true, I was part of the team, not all black people can dance, just drop it Vanilla, ok? It’s in bad taste. Because I was too wrapped up in my insecurities, I didn’t listen to him. A few weeks later, following a constructive criticism during practice from Teacher, my response of “yes, well I CAN’T pop my hips any more, I’m white, I’m missing a few joints to have that kind of mobility” produced a tirade from Teacher.

I’m sick of this “white” business. There is no white, there is no black, there is just dance. You are not a white dancer. You are A dancer. Your job is to move to the music. Music doesn’t care what color your skin is. We all hear the same music, we all dance to the same music. Yes, kizomba is from Angola, but every country dances kizomba. One of the biggest kizomba festivals in the world is in Moscow. And in Sweden. And in the Netherlands. Are you going to tell me all those people can’t dance? Kizomba is a dance of the world. Stop with this stupid bullshit and get to work. I told you to pop your hips. Pop them.

Ok then.


Back when Beaut introduced me to Kizomba: “The music is so good! Except for the French Kizomba music, that stuff is crap. And there is so much of it! The French love to believe they invented Kizomba. They think it’s theirs now, they have quite the history of claiming whatever they like from other cultures.”

Walking home from dance class last week, I ran into a guy I used to kickbox with many years ago. Beautiful black guy from Europe, he always was a looker. We chatted a few minutes, catching up on each other’s life. When he found out I’d quit boxing for dancing, he was intrigued. “What kind of dancing?” Kuduro/Semba/Kizomba, with the odd moment of Salsa. “Lol, taking us over, are you? Hey, relax, I was joking. It’s cool, you have good taste at least.”

Kizomba is a dance of the world… a world in which whites have a long, violent history of cultural appropriation.


I love my school. I love how much enjoyment we derive from watching each other grow as dancers. We are all on the same journey together, regardless of our individual levels of competency. When I am with my team, I do start to believe that dancing is dancing, and kizomba/semba/kuduro is a dance of the world.

At the end of yesterday’s kuduro class we had a boys vs girls showdown. The cheering in these videos makes me so happy. (Same choreography as in this post.)

​​

Just like my boxing gym was a perfect example of what could be if tolerance, respect and acceptance were the norm instead of the exception, my dance school gives me hope that occasionally, as a species, we can set aside our differences long enough to listen to the music and enjoy a quick dance. Fun fact: my boxing gym and my dance school are in the same building. So maybe, this has nothing to do with Coach and Teacher’s leadership skills and values, and everything to do with the specific GPS coordinates of the location. The chemical mix of the cement used in the building – undetectable fumes produce abnormally peaceful & loving human behaviour?! Must be it.

Well. I forgot this still happened. Part II.

Yesterday I had another date with Young Boy (YB). You can read Part I here: it gives a little context about my mindset going into said date. A low-key affair, as we were both burnt from a long week at work. I like low-key dates because they often result in good conversations; useful in the getting-to-know-one-another stage, regardless of where that stage is headed (dating, naked gymnastics, friend zone).

Convo flowed freely, possibly because we have very different lifestyles and tastes. Even interests that we share, we approach from very different perspectives. For example, I exercise primarily because I need to remain mentally and emotionally stable: my appearance is bonus. For the longest time, despite exercising 4-6 times a week, I was rather thick (80+kilos), because of my emotional eating. Sure, that self-destructive habit made me ashamed, but thanks to my former therapist, I still felt some pride in investing the necessary time to take care of my brain and happiness. YB exercises because he feels it is a duty to remain healthy: anyone who lets him/herself go is lazy and signals to the world that they don’t respect themselves and don’t mind being a drain on society by clogging up the healthcare system with avoidable health issues. OYE. On so many levels. Yes, agreed that being overweight is linked to avoidable health issues. No, disagreed that it is a matter of laziness and lack of self-respect: those might be factors, but adulting is fucking hard, and the emotional and mental scars of life often translate into bad eating habits. Also? Life is a balancing act of conflicting priorities. To surmise a person’s whole character from their appearance?! OYE. Yet… I am not surprised. Many people share his point of view – hence my concern with maintaining my newfound #skinnybitch and #bangingbod status.

We started comparing Instagram profiles, and sharing the backstories of some of our favorite pics. I showed him a pic of me and Coach, after a particularly good, sweaty booté workout at the gym – seemed like a good choice, especially after our convo about exercising.

That’s one big black guy. How much does he bench/squat? Cute pic. Wait, you don’t fool around with black guys, do you? You DO?! Oh.” [Accompanied by a slightly nonplussed look.]

Oh, indeed.

Remember how my emotions are overwhelming, I can’t always properly identify what I am feeling, and as a result I have slightly delayed reactions? I had NO PROBLEM identifying my anger, and the only difficulty I had was biting back the impulse to reply,

Yeah, going back has been tough, you’re my trial run, white boy, and honestly, I don’t know that I am ready to make the switch back. You haven’t sold me on the concept.

SO ANGRY. Because the question didn’t revolve around me fooling around with guys. No. Specifically, it was concerned with black guys. My willingness to expose my body to black guys merits judgment. What, boy, bothers you so much about the black part of the guys I have fooled around with? Lets break down some of the most common aspects of their reputation:

  • big dicks: so is this a sizing issue, boy? Worried you can’t measure up? That I have been stretched out and am a loosey goosey?
  • into dirtier, nastier sex: well, for someone who has boasted about having a broad range of naked gymnastics interests, surely my possible exposure to similar concepts (7.5!!) can’t bother you, can it? Or are you worried I’ll call your bluff?
  • aren’t legendary for their monogamy: worried that I might be crawling with diseases? Dunno if you understand how safe sex works, but it isn’t related to the moral code of the person you bang. It is only related to whether or not the dude wears a raincoat. Worried that means that I might not be the greatest at the whole concept of monogamy? Because obvi my character is influenced by sexual osmosis. I cannot maintain my own moral compass if there is a penis around.
  • can actually cook and dance: nothing to be said, really.
  • are BLACK.

Its the last one that bothers me. Because while I am sure the other items probably were part of his reaction, its the BLACK part that really was the sticking point. So shocking that a white girl like me might actually view black males as humans worthy of my attention, time and occasionally body… the same as I do white boys. Or Arab boys (only because I find the possibility of being blown up during sex to be extremely exciting, duh). Or any other male that is alive, taller than me and funny.

Unconscious racism. Soooooooooo sexy.

There won’t be a part III.

Well. I forgot this still happened.

Over the years, I have been told, repeatedly, that I am a bit of a tough sell in the dating world:

  • I’m tall and I ALWAYS wear heels;
  • My personality can be brash, especially once I have established a certain comfort with the person;
  • My personality can be extremely reserved (I swear!), if I don’t know the person and haven’t determined if I want to know them – the more someone pressures me to open up, the more I dig in my heels, get annoyed and shut them out;
  • I used to box -for every guy that says, “oh, that is so hot, I love a woman who can handle herself” and means it, there are 3 that PISS ME OFF by saying “oh, that is so hot, I’ll be sure to stay nice around you, haha, don’t want you getting angry” (thank you for the implication that I have anger management issues and am totally cool with domestic violence – in the face of such flattery, how can I resist?) and 2 more that lose all interest because “that isn’t very ladylike” (handle your frail male ego quietly, boy, without insulting me to restablish your testosterone. #brash);
  • I blog about my life and all the characters that pass through it – especially the absurd ones. As one guy told me, “I don’t want to be blog fodder.” Reasonable. Don’t be a ridiculous jackass and y’all should be safe;
  • I am extremely busy, and I will never ever drop my activities (boxing/dancing/writing/volunteering/friends/family) for a guy. I will get creative with my schedule, sure, but don’t expect me to be free, last minute. Get in line. As a guy increases in importance in my life, so will the time I allocate to him – within reason. I am a boxer/blogger/dancer/accountant. Presumably, that is what attracts said males to me in the first place – I cannot change who I am, and what I need to be happy. In my experience, most guys get ruffled at the concept of having to wait and of not immediately being a priority in a girl’s life. Unfortunate, as my purpose in life, surprisingly, is not to pander to a male ego.

I should go into PR. Really, after such a sales pitch, what guy WOULDN’T wanna date me?!

Not gonna lie, for all my snarky irritation above, constantly getting the feedback that I am too atypical to date messes with my head. What is the point of being an Amazon if I gather cobwebs? Not gonna lie, I’m enjoying maintaining my #skinnybitch body, and improving my fashion and appearance, because a) I like getting compliments b) I enjoy feeling fabulous and c) men are superficial creatures and will overlook a lot of character flaws for the sake of a trim waist and a pert bum. Not gonna lie, I don’t miss the immediate tension that happened every time I mentioned I was a boxer – identifying myself as a dancer/blogger produces neutral reactions. Sometimes, I wonder if I’ve become a sellout – that is what being single for 6.5 years will do to a gal.

Anyhow.

I’ve run into a new road-block to my dating success. I don’t know why it surprises me, since it a known struggle for some dudes – it just has never happened to me:

I am a successful, ambitious, career woman, on a path to enjoy good professional growth (through a combination of hard work, some luck, and white privilege).

I’ve been on a couple of dates with a guy 3 years younger than me, who is still in the early stages of his career – he has everything it takes to make it far, and achieve great success, but at the moment does not have too much to show for it. I think that is impressive: it is so bloody hard to pursue a goal without tangible evidence that one is getting closer to success. Awful. Many people quit. So to me, his story and his circumstances are praiseworthy. Instead, following ONE conversation where I mentioned my job ONCE, he’s made a few comments along the lines of how hard my job is, his job is nothing special, how simple I must find him, etc. Aka, he passively wonders why I would be interested in him, given my career?

It’s so odd coming face-to-face with a variation of my own insecurities. I used to feel Beaut was too hot for me – why would he be interested in lil old nothing-special me, given his hotness, he could have any girl he wanted (lol, turns out I was closer to the truth than I knew. Sigh! #lessvanilla). While I am delighted to realize I no longer suffer from that particular insecurity – any guy, regardless of his abs and hotness, can reasonably be interested in me, because I am AWESOME and hilarious and smart and good people – I remember how there was no way of convincing former me of that. I didn’t believe it, therefore it wasn’t true. And here I am. My career (which is solid, but by no means spectacular – I ain’t no Richard Branson, Sheryl Sandberg or Beyoncé) is generating the same level of insecurity in boys as Beaut’s abs did in me.

I wonder if the Universe is laughing at me?

#Iaintspendingtimereassuringyouboy #brash

Body image mind-fucks

I thought I’d overcome a lot of my body insecurities, that I’d learned to accept myself and my body for what it is and what it can do. More important still, that I’d learned to find my own particular brand of beauty. I wrote an entire manifesto about it.

Well, I was wrong. I suppose that just makes me a woman – what woman doesn’t go through phases of complete and utter body-hatred? Find me one woman who can love herself truly ALL THE TIME, even when PMSing, and I will prove to you that she is an alien or a robot. This recent bout of self-hatred might be because of the time of the month, but I think it is related to my recent emotional instability. Historically, one of the biggest red flags of my dark phases has been body self-shaming, even flirting with eating disorders. As I feel my life spiraling out of control, I seek out areas over which I can establish rigid dominance (and what better than my own body?!) and then to the extent I (inevitably) fail, I use my failures as proof that I am an undisciplined, worthless, lazy fuck-up in all areas of my life. Oh yeah, my paranoid brain has this cycle down pat.

I recognize the signs. I am aware that I cannot trust the internal dialogue that my brain is feeding me. I know that my perceptions have broken away from reality: putting on 3-4 lbs due to a month of eating wtv I want (I never fully stopped my nutritional splurge from France) does not make me a hideous blob. I know that I have to wait this out, repeating positive messages to myself, even if I don’t believe them, until such a moment as the negative voices in my head quieten. I know the drill. I am determined to do it.

Part of me finds this curious. I am a modern day Amazonian feminist -I am aware of the patriarchy and do my best to reject it. Yet the negative voices in my head successfully bring me down using messages that are the very ones I rationally reject.

Example 1: I need male validation

Back when Beaut and I were a thing, I pointed out to him that he rarely, if ever, complimented me on my appearance. Occasionally, he’d comment favorably on some of my facebook pictures, but not nearly as frequently as he would do to a lot of his girl friends, and never ever to my face when we were together. (Aside: do you know how lame it sounds to complain “you don’t like my pictures on facebook?” EW. I can’t believe I became THAT girl.) At first he rejected my accusation, but a quick scroll through my Facebook wall easily proved my point – thank goodness, at least I had some grip on reality! He explained to me a very male way of thinking: “Vanilla, if I put my penis into you, and do so on a regular basis, that means I want to put my penis in you. I only want to put my penis into girls I find attractive. What more concrete proof do you need? You have the action, and actions speak louder than words.” Yes, that is true, but I like hearing it. More importantly, I need to hear it, especially from the guy I’m sleeping with. I need it so badly that without it, I stop enjoying the sex.

You guys. Wtf is wrong with me that a lack of compliments eats away at me so much that I can’t then enjoy clitoral stimulation or penetration? That’s one deep insecurity. I don’t get how this happened?! And ugh. What a unattractive burden to place on the guy.

I’ve noticed also that I don’t place the same weight on compliments given to me by my guy and girl friends. I easily accept, and just as easily forget, compliments from my girlfriends. I savor, and preen myself, on the rare occasions my guy friends compliment me. I think compliments from my male friends help me believe that I am attractive to the opposite sex. That implies that I am still in doubt about my attractiveness. I need that validation. And the reason for that is a rather limited and unsuccessful dating history and…

Example 2: I fundamentally don’t believe that my physique appeals to most guys

I’m tall (5’9”). I’m heavy (160-165lbs). I weigh more than most guys at my boxing gym. I have an athletic build. I easily put on muscle. I’m a bit of a tomboy – while I wear mainly skirts and dresses, I can’t be bothered to put on anything other than mascara, and high heels are optional (except at work). I box. I’m aware that guys are wilting flowers and hate being emasculated. I’m also aware that I’m reaching a point where I can lift the same as some guys, and out perform them athletically. Aka, where I will emasculate them by my very existence.

Its weird. I don’t want a wimpy guy that would be intimidated by my appearance. Yet it wounds me that my physical appearance is such that a lot of guys just won’t be turned on by it. I’ve spent my whole life thinking that what I wanted was a guy who would appreciate my mind, and my personality. And that is true. But I’m finally admitting what I never wanted to acknowledge, because it seemed too superficial. I want to believe I am hot and desirable – two attributes that just have never come up in all of my dating history.

I ran the Spartan this weekend. A friend took this picture.

When I saw it, I was taken aback. Part of me was proud that all my hard work in the gym is clearly obvious. But most of me was dismayed – THAT is what I look like? I look like a freak. This picture has garnered a lot of attention on Facebook and Instagram. Lots of likes from guys and girls. And people commenting “warrior woman”, “Amazon”, “look at those guns”, “awesome Vanilla, so fit”. Those compliments serve to confirm my worry: no one said I was beautiful. No one called this sexy. Impressive, yes. But not sexy. My paranoid brain whispers, “Maybe the reason why none of the guys you’ve dated have ever told you how hot and desirable they find you is because they DON’T find you hot and desirable. Just settle for being the girl with the nice personality. Accept yourself as you truly are. Know your limits.”

I’m aware hotness is a state of mind. It has to come from within. But currently, I’m at a bit of an impass, because I really don’t find my body type attractive. I look at Serena Williams, and I find her impressive, a strong woman, an example to follow, and I hope I never get as big as her. THAT IS STUPID. I’ve clearly internalized the message that thin, slim, lady-like, girly girls are the Hollywood ideal.

It’s gonna be an uphill battle, battling my paranoid brain on this topic.

#exhausted

#mentalhealthsucks

#teamsinglebecauseIamtoobusyfightingwithmybrain

Vanilla the social activist

Y’all.

I’m going to my first protest. Its not fully a protest, more like a social activist gathering, but imma call it a protest because it sounds more badass.

What kind of protest am I going to? Am I worked up about obscure changes to the accounting policies of leases? Am I frustrated at the pervasive lack of training in Excel at universties? Am I fed up at the insane amounts of red tap imposed by the provincial government when it comes to inquiring about tax assessments (I am, actually, and so is everyone who files taxes in Quebec)?

None of those things. I am going to a Black Lives Matters protest hosted by the Mtl chapter. That’s right. I feel like prancing about and randomly telling people,

See? See?! In this province that is always protesting, boycotting, striking, rioting about EVERYTHING, including the most mundane topics EVER, a conservative like me can still be an engaged activist, and attend protests about REAL ISSUES that matter… WITHOUT DRESSING LIKE A HIPSTER. It is possible to not look like a disheveled hippie, and still care about social causes. #ishowerandicare Ha! Breaking down biases ONE by ONE. Accountant in da house!

Except I don’t say that, because I suffer from social anxiety and people would think I am crazy.

I mentioned my intention to attend today’s protest at work, and was met by blank stares by my team (all accountants, all white). Why, they asked.

Because the last I checked, out of my close friends I have more that are visible minorities than are white. Are they all black? No, definitely not. They are a nice little rainbow of colors. But they all have stories. Facing constant ignorance, if not discrimination, is part of their reality.

Because of my gym, the most wonderful melting pot ever, a successful example of multicultural  and socio-demographic diversity. Would that the world could follow my gym’s example.

Because, out of all the guys I have ever dated (excluding 1-time dates -I’m counting the guys I dated for a period of 3 weeks or more), only two were white. The rest have been Arab or Black. Not on purpose, it just happened that way. They all were different, some were lovely, some less so, but they all had one thing in common: an omni-present low-burning anger. A burden that I don’t have to bear.

Because of my ex’s family, and his cousins from Barbados that never got a fair shot at integration in this province, and became part of the statistics of disaffected youth, high school drop-outs, and gang violence.

Because of I spent 6 years of my life being judged and treated poorly due to a physical characteristic. On a small scale, I have experienced what it is like to have my identity completely invalidated and superceeded by people’s preconceptions. As I recovered from my injuries and my crippled state became less obvious, I was subjected to less mistreatment. People cannot shed the color of their skin.

Because my parents were immigrants. They might have been born with the right color skin, but they struggled to integrate into their new homes, struggled to reconcile their parents’ culture and national identities with their new Canadian ones. Because of the stories they told me, of their interesting experiences growing up. Because of my 4 grandparents, each of whom experienced WWII differently, with varying degrees of suffering and horror, but all of whom had permanent psychic scars caused by a war that tried to eliminate targeted minorities.

Because black lives matter. And until that is a self-evident statement I will show up and witness their struggle.

#vanilla

#altonsterling #philandocastile #blacklivesmatter


I wrote about my experience at the BLM gathering here. Glad I went.

When nostalgia is impossible

My father was born in 1950. He and his two older brothers were born in Paris, right after the end of WWII. My grandmother’s family had fled Russia on the eve of the Russian revolution and settled in Nice. They lived in Occupied France. Eventually, she ended up in Paris, where she met my grandfather, who’s family had followed a similar trajectory, except via Finland. Both my grandparents lived through WWII; not specifically caught in the front lines, or in the big hotspots, but close enough for those years to have been extremely unpleasant. Poverty, constant fear, uncertainty, and low-key cruelty and spite were part of their daily existence. 6 years of survival, not 6 years of living.

In 1952, my father’s family emigrated to Canada, with close to nothing other than their luggage, to join my grandmother’s brother, who had established himself in Montreal a few years prior. They stayed long enough to become Canadian citizens, but then my grandfather’s role as an eminent proto-deacon (that’s a super duper deacon for all you non Orthodox peeps out there) brought them to Long Island, NY, to be closer to the seat of the Metropolitan of the Orthodox Church of America (aka, the head of the North American branch of Russian Orthodoxy). Therefore, my father grew up as an American. He’d moved back to Montreal by the age of 20, to avoid any possibilities of being drafted in the Vietnam War. From that point on, he has made his life as a proud Canadian.

It’s funny sometimes, listening to him. He can sound very patriotically Russian, chest thumping for the Mother Land; he displays deep knowledge about American history and culture, due to having spent his formative years and education in the USA; and of course a deeper conviction that Canada is by far the best place to live in the world due to our liberal policies, peace, and openness to immigrants.


My father and I are both very similar, and extremely different, which means we easily can push each other’s buttons. I honor him, and most days, I respect him, except when talking about politics and current events: as he gets older, he has adopted the bad habit of avoiding the news, because it makes him anxious, and informing himself based on conversations with people at church. In my opinion, he frequently exhibits an absence of critical thought, relying on trashy biased internet articles, the kind that present opinions as statements of fact, with no supporting arguments or evidence. After innumerable arguments about this, he and I have tacitly agreed to never talk about current events. He doesn’t “like” 99% of the articles or videos I share on Fbk, and now that he has himself a fairly prominent role in the church, he refrains from sharing anything on Fbk related to highly emotional topics, to avoid Fbk trolls. I’m ok with this defacto truce.

One of the few posts on Facebook that my father did like was Billy Crystal’s eulogy to Muhammad Ali. If you haven’t watched it, it is worth a view.

It dawned on me that my father had lived in Ali’s time. As Billy Crystal puts it,

It’s great to look at clips and it’s amazing to have them, but to live in his time, watching his fights, experiencing the genius of his talent, was absolutely extraordinary. Every one of his fights was an aura of a Super Bowl. He did things nobody would do. He predicted the round he would knock somebody out in, and then he would do it! He was funny, he was beautiful, the most perfect athlete you ever saw — and those were his own words.

But he was so much more than a fighter as time went on, with Bobby Kennedy gone, Martin Luther King gone, Malcolm X gone, who was there to relate to when Vietnam exploded in our face? There were millions of young men my age eligible for the draft for a war we didn’t believe in, all of us huddled on the conveyor belt that was rapidly feeding the war machine. But it was Ali who stood up for us by standing up for himself.

And after he was stripped of the title, and the right to fight anywhere in the world, he gave speeches at colleges and on television that totally reached me. He seemed as comfortable talking to kings and queens as the lost and unrequited. He never lost his sense of humor even as he lost everything else. He was always himself: willing to give up everything for what he believed in.

My father lived in Ali’s time. My father was one of those people that could relate to Ali, one of those young men that gave up a lot to avoid fighting a war they disagreed with. One of those people that witnessed and followed Ali’s impact on American society.

My father posted these two pictures on Friday, taken on a trip last year to Atlanta, without comment.

It must be bizarre to be my father, right now. My father was 18 when MLK was assassinated. My father lived through those times of extreme change. He saw America shift from terrible to better. And now America has slid undeniably back to terrible. Back to terrible, with no MLK and no Ali to guide people and effect change. Only Trump.

I can’t find the words to describe my feelings about the events of this past week. But I would have even less if, like my father, I had witnessed a period of history where there was a reasonable hope that America truly would be great and had the tools, the motivation, and the ability to overcome the crippling hatred pervasive in the country. Instead, America has repeatedly and consistently chosen hatred, when it had the opportunity and was on the track to choosing peace.

It begs the question: where are all the other Americans, who like my daddy, witnessed MLK and Ali? Are they silent? Too upset to have a voice? Where have they been all these years?

#altonsterling #philandocastile #blacklivesmatter