Category Archives: bigotry

Dead Boys and Dumb Questions

7099864_128646597515I can’t remember what was written in the tiny notebook, though I do remember the handwriting: large, child-like, looping letters in slightly faded pencil, mostly cursive.

I stood in the dim, cobwebby Chicago basement with my friend Mamie, gently…respectfully…turning the pages of the palm-sized pad of paper she had just handed me.

“When the  men took Bobo,” she said, “this was left behind on the dresser at his Uncle Mose’s house.”

I also remember thinking, “why isn’t this in a museum somewhere?”

emmett_tillThere were other artifacts in that basement:  Bobo’s bicycle, dusty but in mint condition, and  a 1950’s television set from an old black and white photo I’d seen with the boy standing in front of it.  This was the same television set that, over 40 years ago, had been broadcasting an episode of I Love Lucy when reports of the boy’s kidnapping and murder had interrupted the show.

Fascinated, I could have spent hours more in that melancholy basement time-capsule, but a delicious smell was wafting down from the tiny kitchen, and Mamie suddenly announced,

“Seems like Gene’s almost done with that catfish.”

I closed the notebook and handed it back to her – gingerly…almost reverentially – then followed her up the stairs, which she climbed nimbly despite her considerable size and advanced years.

Over a supper of fried catfish (with Louisiana Hot Sauce, which Mamie insisted I try) and collard greens, I found myself wanting to ask more questions about her dead son, but restrained myself. Instead, we talked about more mundane topics: southern style cooking, her husband Gene’s starting-to-fail-health, how different the Chicago weather was from the weather in my hometown, Los Angeles. Tomorrow would be the day for questions, when my camera crew would arrive and I’d begin my interview with her. Tomorrow, I’d ask all the questions that still haunted me about her only son, fourteen-year-old Emmett…nicknamed Bobo…who had traveled from Chicago in 1955 to visit his cousins in rural Money, Mississippi, and had returned in a wooden box, his body tortured and disfigured beyond all recognition.

Mamie and I had been telephone friends since 1992. I’d found her name in the Chicago telephone directory after watching the PBS civil rights documentary series, “Eyes on the Prize,” and had been deeply touched by her story. Dialing her number from my small office in Century City, I’d been surprised when she answered the phone.

“Hello?” she’d said, in a lovely voice.

“Hello,” I had stammered. “Is this Mamie Till-Mobley? You don’t know me. My name is Andy and I just watched “Eyes on the Prize” and I wanted to tell you how much your story touched me.”

I immediately felt ridiculous. Some stranger…some white stranger…calling her out of the blue and reminding her that her fourteen-year-old son had been lynched and tortured and murdered almost forty years ago, simply for having (allegedly) wolf-whistled at a white woman.

I waited for her to hang up. I expected her to say, “how did you get my number?”

Instead, she said sweetly: “Well, that was very nice of you. Tell me your name again, honey?”

mlk480dotearthWe talked a little bit about Emmett, we talked a bit about her life, her work with The Emmett Till Players, which over the years had taught hundreds of young black children the speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King. We also talked a little about my life: I was twenty-seven years old, and I knew very little about the state of race relations in the United States. What little I did already know was from that PBS documentary, which had shocked me to tears with its black and white images of dogs and fire hoses being used on people in the South. I’m ashamed to say that I’d really had only a scant idea that this savagery had gone on, and so recently. I’d either missed that lesson entirely in grade school or high school, or I just hadn’t paid attention. Either way, Mamie was incredibly patient with me and my great, yawing pit of ignorance, answering questions that, at the time, seemed logical, but now make me cringe with embarrassment.

“Did they really have separate drinking fountains for black people and white people…I mean, like, really?”

Even typing that remembered, incredibly dumb question makes me blush red with shame. Ugh. How could I know so little about all this? Of course, I knew blacks had, and sometimes still were, treated abysmally, I wasn’t a total idiot. I’d watched every episode of Roots. I’d heard people throw the “N” word around. But back then, it had never seemed real to me, having never actually known a black person when I was growing up in my all-white suburb in California’s Central Valley. It was all just stuff in the history books, like the Pilgrims and the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Stuff that happened a long time ago and was done and finished for the most part. It was history.

Mamie was patient, though, and after we hung up I resolved to learn more. And I did. Periodically, I’d phone her with questions on any number of topics: Rosa Parks. Brown Vs. Board of Education. The SCLC.  She was always kind, her sweet-honeyed voice telling me what she knew of these things – and she knew much – and helping nurture the seed of indignation that Eyes on The Prize had planted in me.

Emmett-Till-2

This was before the internet, and I had to order a copy of Jet Magazine from a rare books and magazine company to view the photos of Emmett’s mangled corpse, a much-younger Mamie standing beside the open coffin, her face contorted with pain. We discussed the open coffin itself: her decision to defy the state of Mississippi and their edict that the box containing her son’s remains not be opened. Open it she did, and when she saw what had been done to her only son, she decided that the world needed to see “what hate looks like.”  Thousands of people viewed Emmett’s terrifyingly damaged remains (he’d been tortured, shot in the head, tied to a heavy piece of machinery and dumped in the Mississippi river, where it had stayed for days before being discovered.)  Photos were taken and published in the aforementioned Jet Magazine, and the resulting national outrage is credited by many as being among the earliest galvanizing moments of the Civil Rights Movement, pre-dating even Rosa Parks’ courageous stand by several months.

Emmett-Till-1In 1994, I left ABC Productions and began working as Director of Global Production for a massive documentary project, the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation. Founded by Steven Spielberg in the wake of Schindler’s List, the Foundation’s mission was to record full-length interviews with survivors of the nazi Holocaust.  Though it had been a bit of  a culture shock transitioning from a gig where the most emotional requirement might be viewing dailies of the current episode of “My So -Called Life” to one in which every single interview (and we conducted almost 50,000 of them) could instigate an emotional breakdown, I loved the work. I felt like I was contributing to something that mattered.  Our  interview subjects were initially Jewish survivors, but almost immediately grew to include Jehovah’s Witnesses, Gypsies, homosexuals, and others persecuted by Hitler’s army of hate.

Mamie Till, supported by friends, at Emmett Tills funeral_jpgIt was while doing this work that I pitched the idea of interviewing my friend Mamie, as an example of how the cutting-edge protocols for conducting these interviews could be utilized by other groups seeking to document their history.  My executive Producers, James Moll and June Beallor….amazing people, both….agreed to the idea, and before I traveled to Chicago I began doing further research on Emmett’s case.

When I arrived at Mamie and Gene’s house on Wabash Avenue in Chicago, I was nervous.

I shouldn’t have been: Mamie and Gene made me feel at home, the same warmth I’d known on the phone for six years was even warmer in person.

We spent the day together, reviewing artifacts of that dark time in 1955 that would be videotaped for posterity following the next day’s interview.

The interview itself went on for hours, Mamie patiently and bravely answering questions with a level of detail that required little of me in the probing department. She was eloquent, she was dignified, even when I saw tears begin to well up in her eyes when we reached the part of the interview about Emmett’s murder. She’d spoken about this for the last forty years, determined to keep his memory alive, but the pain of her recall was still seemed deep and immediate, as though it had happened only yesterday. She described in minute detail the arrival of the box containing her son’s body: the room, the emotions, the smell.

I returned to Los Angeles the following day, Emmett’s notebook safely tucked away in my briefcase. The small artifact was on the verge of decay, and Mamie had asked me if there was any way to preserve it. I told her the first thing that needed to be done was to have it digitally scanned, and she insisted I take it back with me and do so. It felt strange, carrying with me this small notebook that had been held by the hand of young boy, so long ago, on the very day he was brutalized and killed, simply for being black and for having the audacity to whistle at a white woman (if, in fact, that had actually happened.)

206021_2222327952805_7885367_nI saw Mamie only once after that, when she and Gene…and a cadre of her young Emmett Till Players…came to Los Angeles for some event and stopped by Universal Studios to tour the Shoah Foundation. We spoke on the phone a few more times before my addiction to crystal meth kicked in and I lost touch with her…with everything, and everyone, actually. She passed away in 2003, but I was so far gone down the rabbit hole of substance abuse that I didn’t even find out she had died until sometime in 2005.

She never saw justice for her son’s murder…the all-white, all-male southern jury had deliberated for slightly more than an hour (One juror said, “If we hadn’t stopped to drink pop, it wouldn’t have taken that long”) before acquitting the proudly racist pair of Roy Bryant and his half-brother J.W. Milam of  murder. A few months later, in an interview with Look Magazine, the pair openly admitted to…bragged about, even…murdering the young boy.

In addition to the stupid questions I remember asking Mamie, I also remember some incredibly ignorant statements. One of which stands out in my mind today:

It must make you feel good to know that you…and Emmett…played a part in making the world a better place today, knowing that what happened to Emmett couldn’t happen now.”

I remember, clear as day, the look that clouded her eyes, magnified behind her big glasses, as she responded, carefully, skillfully avoiding the condescension that oblivious comment deserved:

“Things are better. But  what happened to my boy still happens, honey. Don’t forget that.”

I haven’t. And today, with the decision that just came down in Ferguson, I was reminded yet again.

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Beware the Deviant Heterosexual

I am in crisis.

Not only am I apprehensive about the future of our society, I am downright sickened and revolted by what has been going on right under my nose my entire life.

Heterosexuals are NOT the innocuous, wholesome people they pretend to be.  I’ve not really been a champion OR an opponent of the cause of Heterosexual Marriage –  the truth is I never really gave it much thought.  Until now, that is.

All of my life I believed that heterosexuals…who i’ve tolerated rather patiently, I must say…were a little odd. Maybe “odd” is the wrong word. Let’s say, boring. Yes, boring is a better word. All that nine-to-five, 2.5 kids and a picket fence stuff just never interested me. Probably because it all just seemed so exhausting. But who was I to take a stand against them? Even my parents were heterosexuals, so I just accepted the status quo, believed them when they told me what they were all about, and never really investigated.

I’ve talked to Jesus about it over the years, because..and this has always been hard for me to admit….I am the only one in my family who is a normal, red-blooded homosexual. There, I said it. It feels good to be honest about that, finally. My brothers and sisters, who I love dearly in spite of their affliction, all reproduce at an alarming rate.  Jesus never really answered me directly, so I listened to the pastor at my church who told me that I had to keep loving them because they can’t help who they are. So, I’ve done my best to love them and respect them as human beings and have avoided even thinking about what it is they do with each other’s body parts at night (just typing that made me heave a little.)

Last night, however, while in the midst of writing a highly technical spec article for the Journal of Animal Husbandry, I innocently typed into the Bing Images search engine the innocuous search string ‘woman + sucks + horse + completion.”

The images that presented themselves upon hitting the return key are now forever burned into my consciousness.

vintage-wedding-cake-toppers-1 copyShocked, reeling, and thoroughly nauseated, I wanted to turn away. I wanted to scour my eye sockets with Ajax. I wanted to beat myself about the head and neck with the ornamental dildo/ashtray my partner and I received for our traditional wedding last year.

Regaining my breath as my spinning world began to right itself again, I found myself questioning everything I’ve ever taken for granted about the Lifestyle of the Heterosexual. THIS is what heterosexual women do when left to their own devices? when allowed to sexually express themselves? I recalled my late Aunt Becky who lived on a farm in upstate New York and how, when I was little,  she’d put me on one of the ponies and let it trot me around the corral. I now suddenly remembered (with the clarity only the distance of 40 years mixed with the recent viewing of bestiality search engine photo results can provide) the way Aunt Becky had stroked the pony’s mane and lovingly said it’s name before heading back over to the chicken enclosure to do God only knows what.

My suspicions grew. Suddenly, I had more  questions that needed answering (except the one about the popularity of dude ranches as vacation destinations, that one has finally been put to bed.)

All these seemingly wholesome heteros walking hand and hand in the mall, aggressively smiling out from tv greeting card Valentine’s Day commercials, positively FLAUNTING their genial milquetoast relationships, bouncing little smiling white-toothed progeny on their shoulders….surely they couldn’t ALL be perverts, could they?

I had to know. I’d avoided this for far too long.

Bracing myself, I pulled my desk chair back up to the computer, and after steadying myself with a deep breath, began to compose in my brain the search string that would answer the question for me. I had to come up with just the right words if I was going to find the key to this shadow existence of the socially upright, so-called “respectable heterosexual,” so after about four seconds of deep and careful thought, typed in the phrase that magically presented itself to me, almost fully formed:

‘Tupperware + party + gang bang.’

And there it was: a hidden world of deviance revealed in all it’s burped and sealed-tight glory. Was nothing sacred to these filthy animals?

Suddenly, on a mission, I began what turned out to be a three-hour search frenzy that culminated at 5 am with the search string  ‘Two + Girls + One + Cup.’

The sun is coming up now, illuminating a world that looks so different to me today (part of that, I suppose, is due to several hours of non-stop projectile vomiting.) I see now the danger of allowing Heterosexuals to marry, to celebrate their sickness in some depraved mockery of our own sacred same-sex rites. If I allow straight marriage to happen without taking a stand, then I am, by my silence, advocating the practice of tentacle sex (that’s something they do, I swear to God. I saw it on the internet.) And tentacle sex  is something I will NOT allow.

ishot-1205441So, I implore you, my homosexual brothers and sisters, take a stand against Heterosexual Marriage. Let these deviants know that you’re on to their “normal by day, sex fiends by night” ruse. Do your own research, don’t trust me (if you need some good search strings, let me know.)  Write your representatives in Congress. Post on Facebook. The world has to know what these sick bastards are doing in the privacy of their bedrooms and on public transportation really late at night. 

But first you must take the most important step: look your straight friends in the eye and say loudly and with great conviction, “I’m on to you. I know what you do in your bedroom. I SAW IT ON THE INTERNET.”

Then, immediately inform them that you will no longer be asking them to ‘care’ for your dogs the next time you have to go out of town.

THEY MUST BE STOPPED. If you can’t do it for yourself, do it for their children. And if you can’t do it for their children, do it for the horses or the tupperware.

Thank you.

IMPORTANT NOTE:  when searching for images, do not be fooled by the copious amount of anal sex these heterosexuals are having. It’s the only normal thing they seem to do, and even THAT they’ve taken to excess. So don’t start feeling sympathetic or thinking of them as human like us just because they have SO MUCH ANAL SEX.  Ignore the TONS AND TONS AND TONS AND TONS of anal sex these sick heterosexuals have and the photos they love taking of it, it’s only an attempt to look normal like us. And we’ve been fooled for far too long.

final note: this, of course, is SATIRE, a response to conservative idiots spewing this kind of bullshit for far too long:

Dear Kira

Last night my niece sent me a chat message on Facebook, asking how she should respond to a schoolmate who is opposed to gay marriage based on..get this..the belief that allowing gay people to get married poses a threat to the world’s population.  I’m currently on painkillers for a kidney stone the size of a buick, so my response was less than coherent. This is the letter I’m sending her today – before I take my Norco – to expand upon my sad efforts last night: 

a and p equalityDear Kira,

I want to take some time to respond properly to your question, now that I’m wide awake.  But before I do, I just want to let you know that you are one of the brightest, sweetest, prettiest – and even more importantly – compassionate human beings I’ve ever known.

It saddens me that your incredibly evolved spiritual and humanistic views put you in direct conflict with many of your schoolmates who have been taught by their parents that being gay is either a sin, an illness or some form of depravity.  When you listen to these other kids blathering on with their incredibly stupid viewpoints (like the one you asked me about, regarding the threat to ‘future population’ if gays are allowed to marry), I need you to remember this:

Do you see those signs with the words “nigger” and “God demands Segregation?”  Those signs were created by the past’s equivalent of your misguided friends.  Do you see those white people standing up for the civil rights of the black people? That’s the past’s equivalent of YOU.   What your ignorant friends are doing is called “taking a stand on the wrong side of history.”   You, on the other hand, are firmly planted on the right side.  And the reason it’s the right side is not just because you’re on MY side, it’s because you have facts, research, empathy and compassion to back your position up.

What your friend said was so completely devoid of critical thought that I’m almost embarrassed at having to respond to it, but I will.  Allowing gay people to marry will have no impact on the future population of the world.  Allowing gays to marry does not make more gay people. It just allows those of us who are gay and in committed relationships – like your Uncle Patrick and me – to celebrate our commitment to each other (it will also allow us a whole bunch of rights and financial benefits gay couples have long been denied, but we’ll save that for another message.) People who are not gay won’t suddenly TURN gay just so they can get gay-married. The idea itself is, well, idiotic.  The very fact that your friend is concerned with population dwindling in a world that’s already severely overcrowded shows that she either has no grasp on reality, or perhaps was dropped on her head by her (straight) parents when she was but a wee homophobe.

Arguing with these kinds of people serves no purpose. It certainly feels good at times, for me anyway, to call neanderthals on their idiocy. It rarely changes their minds, however. It just makes them take a firmer stand and cling even more tightly to their antiquated and indefensible beliefs.  You can point out facts all day long, quote study after study that shows that children of gay parents are just as well-adjusted – sometimes even more so – than those with straight parents (though let’s be clear, ANYONE can be a terrible parent or enter into an ill-advised union…being an idiot or an a-hole is not the exclusive bailiwick of the heterosexual, I’ve known MANY gay people I wouldn’t trust to care for a chia pet).  You can go on and on and on with facts, and while some might be receptive to them, many will just ignore them. Because they’re not dealing with facts, they’re dealing with feelings. And feelings, fortunately, are not even distantly related to facts.

It can be frustrating to know that you are on the side of right when you are surrounded by ignorance and bigotry. But take some satisfaction that you stand not only on the right side of history, but with some amazing people who were persecuted for beliefs that challenged the status quo:  Martin Luther King, JFK and perhaps the most radical progressive liberal of all time, Jesus Christ.  To name just a few.

Do me a favor: write about the experiences you’re having right now. Write about the stupid things people are saying, and how you feel about it. I want you to be able to look back in, say, twenty years and see how absolutely right you are, and how absolutely disgusting the viewpoints of your contemporaries are.  When I was very little, black people could not marry white people.  And that was just fine with a whole lot of the US population. Now, however, only the most rabid of racists still espouse that view.  I guarantee you that in 20  years, very little will have changed: the fabric of society will not have been torn apart by gay marriage, Heterosexual marriage will still exist, and the world will not have been destroyed by some cataclysmic hellfire act of God (well, those things might happen, but not because of gay marriage. I think global warming would be a more likely culprit. Which is semi-ironic because that’s another thing many stupid people don’t believe in.) The one thing that will be different is that two men or two women getting married will just seem, well, normal. In twenty years, mark my word, the country will be looking back at today and saying, “I can’t believe gay people weren’t allowed to get married!”

I guess that’s all I have to say, except hang tight and just try to surf right over the stupidity, because wading through it can get EXHAUSTING. Trust me.  Stay on the right side of history – with this issue and ANY other civil rights issue – and you’ll be just fine. It’s not always the safest place to be, but it’s where most of the good people hang out. And the good people always prevail..though it can take a lot of work, a lot of fighting, and a lot of sticking to your guns even when it seems hopeless. So glad you’re fighting alongside us. To quote your sign-off last night on our FB chat, “I’ve got your back, Jack.”

Love,

Uncle Andy

PS:  Oh, and the next time one of your schoolmates tells you something as (I’m trying really hard not to use the ‘R’ word) dumb as “gay marriage will destroy the population,” I want you to recite…word for word…the following:

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