America Doesn’t Exist in a Vacuum: Part 1

This is part 1 of a discussion I had with Leonie, a German political, historical, and cultural social media creator and graduate student in American Studies. After watching one of her(very accurate) posts I was immediately interested in her observations about our (completely nutty) politics in light of Biden’s recent inauguration and the events of the past four years leading up to it. Leonie’s insights are astute and very telling; something Americans would be well served to pay attention to.

What does everyone think of me?” Aaahh the question of a million middle and high schoolers navigating puberty, growth, change, and the next steps that lay ahead of them. It’s a question important to people of that age, though the older influences in their lives try to impart the futility of caring too much about the answers. But you still want to know. Sometimes you find out that the issues about yourself you were so worried about aren’t even registering with others. Other times you discover there are many things you need to pay more attention to.

It’s not that different in the life of a nation. Especially if your name is the United States of America. Though the administration of the last four years tried to pretend America stood alone with no reason to care about other countries sharing this planet, those very countries have indeed cared about what we were doing. And they have been watching.

Is the United States of America still regarded as an everlasting bastion of democracy on the world stage? What have the last four years done to our reputation? Read on to find out.


So, where did your interest in America, American culture, and our politics and history come from? Why pursue graduate work in American Studies?


The reason I’m doing what I’m doing is probably influenced by the pop cultural influences I had as a kid and teenager. Our pop culture in Germany is heavily influenced by American pop culture. I learned English from watching American shows streamed in English and not being afraid to speak it. The older I got, I got an emotional connection and spent some time in the U.S. I took part in a jazz music exchange twice as a teenager. But as I grew older and became more politically active and just political in general, I of course had an interest in the political side of the country I was so fascinated with.


What’s been the perception of the United States and its politics in Germany?


[Speaking of the Trump years for example], what a lot of Trump supporters making comments to my content just don’t get is that what Trump did not just affect the United States. Pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord affected us. All of the sudden, in a matter of days, pulling troops out of Germany affected us. Germany stores weapons for the United States and the history and the relationship of these two countries just makes it impossible to think the U.S. just exists in a vacuum.

I can’t speak to how Germany in general perceives the United States but thinking of the Obama administration or Obama running for president and the pop cultural influences and all that. It all played into this idealized perception of America. Now the more you get involved in that, the more research you do, the more people you meet, it gets clearer that this is not the case, but this is also what gets me.


What is the news cycle like in Germany in terms of covering American politics?


The major headlines do make their way over to Germany. German news works very differently than it does in the United States. We do have news channels, but they are in no way, shape, or form comparable with American news organizations. We do have publicly funded television and publicly funded news, which are very matter of fact. I would say it covers 50% German news and 50% from around the world, and the U.S. is in there.


Let’s talk about when Donald Trump first burst on to the political scene and announced his run for president. Did you keep track of that?


Yeah, absolutely back then. I was doing my bachelor’s work so was already very interested in all of that. We did follow and I think it was similar to what most Democrats and a lot of Republicans felt at the time: that no one should take him seriously. We’re not taking him seriously. Then it got to the point where he was the Republican nominee and we saw this. Now with the German history we see things through that lens and can see a certain rhetoric. I know it worried us for sure, because we’ve seen this, and we’ve seen this from the right-wing party in Germany. We’ve seen that you don’t even have to win the race to shift the political discourse.

We’ve seen this in Germany now. They are a minority but through existing in the public discourse they have brought back a rhetoric that was deemed unacceptable before. And that is what we saw during the Trump candidacy. And that was what really worried us—that people all of a sudden felt comfortable saying racist, homophobic, ableist, sexist, misogynistic things in public.


When you woke up to the November 9, 2016 news that Trump had won, what was your reaction, and that of the German public that you could see?


So, this year we didn’t have a viewing event at the university in the American Studies department, which is something do every presidential election, except for during a global pandemic. [In 2016], I stayed until 11 or midnight and I was really emotionally exhausted. I went to bed relatively early that night because I knew it was going to take some time. But I went to bed feeling optimistic because at that point, Hillary Clinton was still in the lead. I felt like, you know what? I’m going to wake up tomorrow morning and the U.S. is going to have its first female president. This is awesome. But then there as already this voice in my saying, don’t be so sure.

I woke up pretty early the next morning and grabbed the remote control to turn on the TV, only to see the last few electoral votes coming in that pushed Trump over the finish line. And I started crying because I knew that this affected so many people. I remember I saw the other day in my archives, something I posted on Instagram that has been so shockingly true. I posted something like people are going to lose their insurance, their healthcare, their lives, their dignity, their homes, their safety. I didn’t know I was going to be that right. I wish I wasn’t.

That morning I had to go to a seminar on American politics or American institutions or something like that. And overall in the department it was very, very, quiet. You could feel there we were all in collective shock. So, I can only imagine what it felt like in the U.S.

Stay tuned for Part 2!

Polite Girls Can Be Impolite

As someone from an Eastern culture who highly values manners, respect for elders, and polite behavior in all people—children to adults—I can relate to those who have either been fed a fallacy or propagated behaviors that don’t serve the young girls/women in our lives. And that has got to stop in this one very important arena: the creepy man vs. the nice girl.

If, like me, you were raised in an ethnic tradition that is highly patriarchal, you’ve grown up to know a few things. You NEVER call an adult by their first name. They are either Uncle or Aunty, or Mr. and Mrs. Even if they insist you call them by their names, you know better than to do that, so you fall back on calling them Mr. Adam or Miss Helen or something like that. But that only works for Western cultured people. You never call your parents by their first names unless you have a death wish (long into adulthood I should add), and you defer to your elders in many situations.

Along those lines, you have also been taught to smile politely and keep your thoughts/opinions to yourself in the face of a grown person saying anything that doesn’t sound right to you. You never correct or question them in public and your best course of action is to make yourself scarce as soon as can be politely allowed. Sure, this leads to many Eastern cultured children being praised as extremely well behaved and delightful in the eyes of random adults, but there’s a dark side to this that a lot of us have experienced.

I believe this behavior primes young girls (and boys too) to be vulnerable to disgusting men (and sometimes women). When an uncle (by name or because of actual relation) says something inappropriate, makes comments about your body or looks, or touches you without permission (yes, even something as minor as a hug), girls need to sound a verbal warning bell with no apologies. This is especially vital in a patriarchal culture. More important, parents need to unequivocally back them up.

How many of us have been at the receiving end of weirdness by older males, either family friends or actual relatives, that have said or done things that are inappropriate? I’m raising my hand here. I’ve had a male relation comment that I had nice thighs when I was 15. I’ve had another male relative who took over my room when visiting comment that my sheets smelled womanly. I was 13. Thankfully, worse did not happen. But those examples shouldn’t have happened either. What was my response? I smiled. Even with the thighs comment (why is a grown, married father looking at a 15 year-old’s thighs?) I actually said, “Thank you.” Had I stood up for myself by even saying, “You shouldn’t say those things to me, or showing my disdain with eye rolling (which I’m really good at), I would have surely been busted by my parents.

So, here’s where the narrative has to change. Our girls (and boys) need to know that predators are real and can be found anywhere—even in our families. They should never have to feel they must politely receive inappropriate behavior of any kind from someone. They need to know that we, as their parents, grandparents, guardians, aunt, uncles, and older friends; will believe them and have their backs. Our kids need to also know that no one is allowed to touch them, even for a hug, without their permission—even if they are toddlers. Adults should always ask a child if they can give them a hug, and if the child says no—even because they are being ornery—you never force your “affection,” upon them. Fist bump, elbow bump, shake hands, and such. But the child involved makes the ultimate decision on whether your physical affection is something they are ok with. The autonomy belongs to them.

I recently watched a Tik Tok where two little girls were singing a song about not being polite to creepy men (and yes, I was inspired). Right on, little girls and the parents raising them! I sent the video to a friend with a four-year-old daughter, telling her this was so important to impart. I didn’t have to worry, it appears. My friend told me her child at age 3, was trick or treating for Halloween and at the home of someone the family knew. The uncle there touched the top of her head and gave her a blessing. She immediately turned to him and said, “Why did you touch me?” She asked her mom, “Why did that man touch me? I don’t know him.” And Boom. This child clearly know that she is the owner of her body, and no one does anything without her permission. That right there is exactly what needs to happen.

It’s easy to warn our children about strangers or even people they sort of know. But the waters get muddied when it comes to family or friends—especially in ethnic communities. And this is exactly where things need to be crystal clear. This is exactly when you need to let your child know they are free to be impolite and downright rude if they have to, to any grown person who does or says something that makes them feel icky. And they need to know you will always support them.

Have you had to smile and nod when someone was inappropriate to you? What do you think about allowing your kids this “impolite clause” within the realm of the good manners you are trying to teach?

Unpacking All Lives Matter

Years ago, when I first heard the phrase “Black Lives Matter,” my first thoughts went something like this: “Well yeah, of course they do. But all lives matter.” I think I even posted something from my Christian perspective along the lines of “We are all really lucky that we all matter to Christ because we’re all walking around here acting dumb a lot of times.” I thought I was being helpful.

But really, I was ignorant. Thankfully, I have since learned the error of my reasoning.

The words Black Lives Matter have been a rallying cry since they first became prevalent in national and international dialogue. But especially in America, they have stirred up two groups of people on decidedly opposite sides of the proverbial fence. When Black people and their allies hear those words, they are a call to justice for senseless violence against members of the Black community. These three words are literally asking, “Is the life of a Black human being not worthy of value and protection?

Unfortunately, and I don’t know how to say this except for bluntly, certain others hear those same words, and can’t or won’t utter them without immediately following up with “all lives matter.” While “All Lives Matter” as a statement is not factually incorrect, it is ignorant. And as any student of history well knows, ignorance only fans the flames of racism.

Black lives, brown lives, and the lives of every hue constitute all lives. But if one of the groups of lives is left out, the word “all” can’t be used. One would have to say “Some Lives Matter” or “Not All Lives Matter.” Which, since we’re being honest, is exactly the problem in these United States. And that’s essentially what’s being said here. When one group of people has to educate their sons and daughters on how to protect themselves from the police (you know, the ones who are supposed to protect said sons and daughters), while other groups of people don’t even have to think about that, the scales are tipped. When violence and broken educational and correctional systems work against one group in great disproportion, the lives impacted are not mattering. In simpler terms? You cannot have a dozen donuts if one donut is missing. You cannot have a perfect rainbow if orange is missing. You cannot have a five-point star if one point is missing. Do you see where I’m going with this? If Black people are facing more injustice, discrimination, and police brutality than others—systematically and historically—their lives are not mattering.

“But,” cry out those who just cannot bring themselves to agree with those facts, “why do we have to pay attention to just the Black lives? Isn’t that racist to favor one group? If we said, “White Lives Matter, everyone would say that was racist.” Well, you see here, white lives in America have always mattered. You just don’t have to verbalize it. The very systems that have built and sustained this nation were designed by white people, with white people in mind, and have historically worked in favor of white people. Considering that this country was built on the backs of Black people, literally, and has been further strengthened by an intellectual and tactile work force of immigrants from every nation on earth, that systemic framework stinks.

The notion of white supremacy is not American made, though it made America. How else do you explain British, Spanish, Dutch, and Portuguese men sailing to Africa thinking they had the right to kidnap, traffic, and sell HUMAN BEINGS to other white men? How do you explain denying human rights to a group of people in treating them like animals to be bred and abused? To destroy their family structures and deny them education, healthcare, and the right to practice their cultures and traditions and religion? The only prerequisite to this vile and abhorrent blight on human history: skin color. Not only is that the impetus for slavery, that stupid notion is the backbone of colonization (a whole other blog post, just you wait).

In the United States, the Emancipation Proclamation made slavery illegal. But the abolition of slavery just led to systemic and concerted efforts to keep black people from claiming their stake in their country. The terror inflicted by the original domestic terrorists, The Ku Klux Klan, lynching, Jim Crow, White Citizens Councils, corrupt police forces, Redlining, right on up to even the subtlest of discriminatory practices today is the legacy of that evil.

When God said He made human beings in His image, He meant it. All of us. Equal. So, when Black people are denied equality and protection throughout multifaceted levels of American life to the point of loss of life? All lives are not mattering.

Do you remember attorney Jake Brigance’s closing arguments in the film A Time to Kill? In his defense of a black father who avenged the kidnapping and rape of his 9-year-old daughter by two grown white men, Brigance asked the jury to close their eyes and listen to a story. In the story, he painfully recounted the disturbing details of the assault of this little girl. It visibly shook most people in the courtroom that day. When he was finished, all he said was this: “Now, imagine the girl was white.”

All it took was this shift of perspective to set the all-white jury on a path away from convicting the child’s father. A Black child horrifically assaulted left room for argument. But when the child was white, it became an open and shut case. While this example comes from a work of fiction, it is based in reality.

If you really care about All Lives Matter, then Black Lives Matter. And until those three words become a cohesive point of agreement among all Americans, Black Lives Matter is not going away.

After the Rain Comes a Rainbow

Oh, have I waited for this day. On January 20, 2017, I was on a work trip in Southern California. The week been sunny and beautiful until that Friday. I woke up to pouring rain and air so chilly, my fuzzy North Face came in handy. Yes, that happens in SoCal. I didn’t want to watch Trump’s inauguration, but deciding to buck up and face it, I flipped the TV on. I was just in time to catch his swearing in and his speech—none of which alleviated the rising dread that flooded my body to 1. Hear him talk; 2. See our National Mall awash in those silly red hats. The weather in DC was as awful as it was in California that day: cold, dark, foreboding. It was ominous.

On my red eye flight out of LAX that night, the plane was packed with Californian women winging their way East to protest in the Women’s March. Wearing pink hats with the pointed cat ears, they were ready for business. After a flight where no one slept, we alighted in Baltimore with all of them headed directly to DC to let the new president know exactly what they thought of him.

A few weeks later, my family protested the Muslim travel ban at Baltimore’s Thurgood Marshall International Airport. Protesting the Trump administration in word and deed became a new part of my existence. What a heavy four years it has been. And the last two months—sheesh.

But on Inauguration day 2021, the sun was shining bright. And the wind was quite strong. Perfect as nature had to clear out the funk in the air that departed early in the morning. It is exactly two weeks since domestic terrorists stormed the capital building. And a lot of us have been concerned that there was something horrific planned for today’s ceremonies. Personally, I have been praying for the safety and protection of all involved from Joseph R. Biden, right down to the guy tasked with dutifully disinfecting the podium after every speaker and performer.

And it couldn’t have gone any better. It was peaceful. It was safe. It was a new day.

Highlights of the day for me:

  • Kamala Devi Harris (Aunty) becoming the first female VP of this country and a Jamaican, South Indian, Howard graduate, and AKA sister at that! I’m so proud to have witnessed that.
  • Meena Harris’ little daughters with their matching tundra coats and fluffy pigtails. Maybe one day it will be one of them sworn into the highest office of the land.
  • The fashion of the ladies: Dr. Jill Biden, Kamala Harris, Michelle Obama, all the monochromatic and perfectly matched masks of the Biden women, Ella Emhoff, and Lady Gaga with a big ole dove of peace on her top!
  • Joe Biden’s speech: unity, equity, hope. A promise to try to bind the wounds and work together. The man has the track record to show he knows how to reach across the aisle. I look forward to it.
  • Amanda Gorman. Good night. This woman. This poem. This brilliance. This truth. Wow. God broke the mold when He made her. That is all.
  • When the Harris-Emhoffs bid the Pence’s goodbye. Karen Pence said something to Doug Emhoff that got them all laughing. It goes to show you—at the end of the day, we are all just human beings looking to be friendly with friendly people.
  • The executive orders President Biden signed to get us on the right side of history. Yes, there is climate change. Yes, we needed to get back on the Paris Accord. He wasted no time and I’m here for it.
  • The new ALL-FEMALE communications team and the first press conference presided over by Jen Psaki. What a breath of fresh, life-giving air! No lying (go ahead, fact-check everything she said), no combativeness, no rude and petty behavior to the press pool. Just a whip smart, competent woman being transparent and letting the American people know what’s what.
  • ACTUAL PLANS FOR FIGHTING COVID. As an American citizen, this is the first time in four long years I feel looked after by my country’s leadership. We have needed this so bad.
  • The Inaugural Concert. Given where we are and what is going on? This event was about making as many of us feel included in the celebration as possible. Something most of us never come close to through any of the inaugural balls we don’t get to go to. Also, I have a hunch the Bidens and Harris-Emhoff’s weren’t too bummed about missed out on rounding nine balls this evening.
  • The Fireworks!!! So, a huge blessing of my life is living in the DMV (DC, Maryland, Virginia) area and the nation’s capital is just a drive away. I love to go down to the capital at night—traffic is gone, street parking is easily found, and the monuments and memorials at night hit completely different than daytime. I wanted to drive down tonight, but we knew there were tons of road closures, etc. However, it would have been so worth it to see those fireworks! Honestly, they looked like the type that would be set off to celebrate victory over World War 3, which I guess it kind of was.
  • Finally, this was Joe Biden’s hard-won inauguration to the highest office in the land. But everything about the events of the day, from the speeches to the performances, to the overall vibe, was about healing the collective nation, not about celebrating him. It was this country’s big day and that felt good.

The Trump years are now a thing for history books and documentaries. I pray the media stops covering his and his family’s stupid shenanigans as the nation gets on with the business of working through the serious problems that need immediate attention.

But today? Today was a really great day.

Peace Isn’t Always Peaceful

Before anyone goes off thinking I’m advocating for war, please understand I am not. Ok. With that out of the way, let’s talk making peace in the United States of America, because we haven’t been this close to civil war since well, the Civil War. And forgive me if this post seems like it’s all over the place. Heavy topic.

Those on the far right have been saying the divide between right and left will never be bridged unless those on the left knock it off already. Those on the far left have said pretty much the same. There have been many a Tik Tok featuring a toothless, aging white man with a huge beard and a dirty trucker hat threatening to come for the sheeple and snowflakes for their deft thievery of the national election. It’s been super easy to laugh at the images and roll my eyes.

Then January 6 happened. As more details are emerging, the intent of the insurrection at the capitol has now been revealed to be much more sinister than many dared to believe. After all, why storm a building with zip ties unless you were planning to tie someone up and do harm?

This week, 20,000 National Guard troops have been setting up in DC ahead of the Biden/Harris inauguration. Everyone is on high alert because the toothless and those with a mouthful of chompers have been pretty open about what they hope to do with January 20. Thankfully, law enforcement appears to be actually listening.

So, where do we go from here?

I’m a history nerd and love the fact that I live in one of the 13 original colonies. I love our proximity to Washington D.C. and the fact that when we stroll the mall on a Saturday afternoon or take pictures on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial we are literally standing in the steps of history. This capital and this nation and all its stands for has its stories.

The world has seen great divides for centuries and at some point, amends have been made—sometimes freely, other times with great caution. Watching the World War II movie, Windtalkers the other day, a bigoted character in the film exclaimed disbelief that the Indigenous fellow GI he’d taunted actually saved his life, before saying the following: “Wouldn’t it be crazy maybe in 50 years we’ll be sipping beers with the Japanese?”

He spoke prophetically, did he not? The same can be said of Germany, (well prior to Trump messing things up), now one of our staunchest allies. How was peace brokered and nurtured there?

Well, one side had to surrender; one side had to admit defeat and accept it. That’s a starting point. But ideologies don’t just disappear overnight. Did Nazi ideas of racial supremacy evaporate once the Allies occupied and split the country into two? In Japan, did Emperor Hirohito cease to be a god in the eyes of his faithful when the articles of surrender were signed?

Interestingly enough, both Japan and Germany’s aggressions against the world were built on the ideas of race supremacy. To my knowledge (and I could be wrong), splinter groups in Japan embracing the ideas of their former emperor haven’t gained the footing that Neo-Nazi groups have throughout the world. As we’ve seen here in America, the flag “with the ugly spider,” as described by Gretl in The Sound of Music, is still waving—in the very nation who stormed Normandy to stomp it out.

Peace can be made in theory, but not always in action.

What will it take for the United States to truly be peaceful in action, not just in word? I wish I had answers. There are too many people entrenched in conspiracy theories, lies, and white supremacy right now. And unless you let those things go, there is no hand holding with truth tellers and people of different colors. In other words, you’ve got to get on the correct side of history in the eyes of humanity or common ground can’t be found.

You see, there are issues that go beyond the politics of running a country where compromise can’t be found. And those issues center around life and death. Racism leads to death for many Americans. As some have lamented their shock at why friendships and families have been ruined over Trump-following, I’d assert the issues of equality, justice, and the denouncement of racism and white supremacy are deal breakers. You either value all life in its diversity as on par with your own or you don’t. On issues like that, the side against that notion must capitulate or there is really no place to go.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., always chose a path of nonviolence, even when confronted with violence. All these years later, he is not wrong. Going high when others go low? That allows you to hold on to your dignity.

That said, I don’t believe in saying nothing. As Dr. King did, speak, write, and engage with others. Set people right when they are spouting wrong. Don’t shy away from the hard conversations. Have them and be firm about dispelling untruth with truth, facts, and a steady hand. Resist hysteria and lowering your standards out of anger. Stay even keeled and stay the course. I don’t know how or when or even if the nation will reach a point of peace at this point. But I do know that peace doesn’t come from standing back doing nothing.

For peace to truly win out, the method has to outweigh the madness.