Category Archives: Civil Rights

More Bathroom Bills

Folks, please, enough with the Bathroom Bills.

If you’re uncomfortable with the idea of being transgender, please talk it through with people who identify as trans. It’s okay to ask questions, as long as you’re open to their answers. They won’t hurt you, and neither will their ideas.

If you don’t know what transgender means, please ask. Nobody knows everything, and people appreciate a willingness to learn. A general rule: the level of respect in the answer will match the level of respect in the question.

If you doubt that transgender is “real,” please allow someone who is trans to share her/his experience. People are different, sometimes extremely different. My own approach: if I don’t understand another’s experience, then it’s on me to ask, listen and learn. Dismissing another’s experience is unacceptable, as is making assumptions based on my lack of understanding. People can have a wide range of experiences regarding gender identity, all equally valid. You might be surprised to discover that along with your differences, you share some common ground.

If you’re worried about what a transgender person does in a public restroom, please ask. You’ll find they behave remarkably like you — nothing dangerous, nothing even interesting. To turn this into a grand political issue is worse than insulting; it’s an irresponsible drain of resources that are desperately needed elsewhere.

If you’re looking for something to occupy your time, please knit sweaters for the homeless, volunteer at a public library, plant a tree, take an art class. But please don’t waste any more time and money on this offensive and useless crusade.

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Amy’s Novels:

Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable

Caroline Black, 15 years old, leaves her wealthy prep school for her local high school, which opens her world. At Hollywood High, she finds a large immigrant population speaking over 40 native languages. Although frightened and intimidated as she navigates this new territory, Caroline thrives in the diversity of her new school.

Tightwire

Caroline Black, 10 years later, navigates her first year of training as a therapist. Chapters in her treatment of a talented but troubled young man are interspersed with chapters of her own personal history. This book explores how the individual and community mutually influence each other, and the importance of becoming your own whole person.

Visit Amy’s Author Page to check out reviews, read the first few chapters, purchase a book.                                                                              https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4

 

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#BlackLivesMatter

We all need to own our mistakes and this post is about one of mine. To people who use the phrase “All Lives Matter” rather than “Black Lives Matter” — here’s the problem. Let’s do better.

Many years ago, around week 25 of my second pregnancy, I switched doctors. My new obstetrician was a man and in our first meeting, we talked for over an hour. Dr. H. told me that his primary job was to follow my guidance, to give me the birthing experience I wanted. He promised he wouldn’t rhapsodize about the wonders of childbirth when I felt like a fiery boulder was forcing its way through my loins. He’d be ready to address my pain at any point, but he wouldn’t presume I wanted a knight in shining armor to ride in on a white coat and zap me with narcotics. He’d step in if he assessed risk, but I’d be in charge of my own choices. He understood that as a man, there would be parts of childbirth he would never fully comprehend, and he’d always respect that my experience belonged to me.

But this post isn’t about childbirth; it’s about racism.

I’ve been trying to find a way to write about racial bigotry. Our culture is caught in a seemingly endless cycle, and I honestly don’t know how to make a difference. But I do know that silence isn’t the answer, so I’m stepping forward. I’m modeling my approach after Dr. H.

I’m starting by raising awareness — my own awareness. As a 58-year-old Caucasian woman, I’m approaching racism the same way Dr. H. approached my childbirth, knowing that my perspective is both valid and limited. Fair-skinned, green-eyed, 5’4”, gray hair — every thread weaves into my identity, shaping my relationship to the world, influencing how others perceive me.

For the past five years, I’ve lived in The South. I watched the furor when the Confederate Flag came down, no longer displayed in front of government buildings. I’ve stopped people from using the “n-word” for African-Americans, from telling “jokes” about white police officers beating confessions out of Black suspects. I saw how these words and “jokes” and Confederate flags were so much a part of their fabric that when I objected, some needed me to explain what had upset me. Even then, many were puzzled how “just a joke,” “just a word,” “just a flag” could bother me. My point: these folks were as taken aback by my mindset as I was by theirs.

We each have a point of view, partly conscious and partly unconscious, that influences our words, actions and belief systems. Following Dr. H.’s example, I need to be aware of my own assumptions. So I write this post as a student, not a teacher. And since mistakes are a part of learning, I’m writing about one of mine.

When I first heard the term “Black Lives Matter,” I was immediately drawn to the phrase. These three vibrant words pulsed with power, capturing a world of hurt and hope. I posted on social media about an example of racism, with the hashtag: #BlackLivesMatter. But then I made my mistake. I wanted to convey that Black lives matter because all lives matter equally, and that many treat Black lives as mattering less. So I wrote #BlackLivesMatter, and added #AllLivesMatter.

As I followed the Black Lives Matter Movement, I saw many people – none of them Black — post #BlackLivesMatter and add #AllLivesMatter. It became clear that this undermined the importance of Black lives. When I realized my mistake, I thought carefully. I needed to understand what happened, why it happened, how it happened. Then I thought of Dr. H. In our initial meeting, he made no assumptions. But this time, I did. Dr. H. asked questions. But this time, I didn’t. I made an assumption about using a new phrase, and I skipped a step: I didn’t ask.

I apologize for my mistake.

#BlackLivesMatter

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Amy Kaufman Burk is a novelist, blogger and mother of three grown children. Amy wrote her first novel, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, in reaction to seeing gay students bullied in high school. Her second novel, Tightwire, follows a rookie psych intern through her first year of training, working with her first patient. Amy blogs on a variety of subjects including parenting, racism, LGBTQ+, gender equality and a Rolling Stones concert. She also collaborates with educators who include her books in their curriculum. 

Amy Kaufman Burk’s novels, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable and Tightwire, are available on Amazon. https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4

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Filed under Black Lives Matter, Civil Rights, hate crimes, Racial Bigotry, Racial Equality, Stereotypes, Uncategorized

Use Restroom, Wash Hands, Leave

I live in North Carolina, where Pat McCrory signed his name to legalize discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community. Now several states have their own versions of HB2. The immediate target appears to be the transgender population and more specifically, public restrooms. It’s ridiculous, but amazingly, it’s also real. Sure, I’m outraged, incredulous, saddened. But I’m also puzzled. I just don’t get it.

Whenever I just don’t get it, whatever “it” happens to be, I go back to basics: my education. In college, I majored in psychology, preparing to become a therapist. I was fascinated by the progression of thinking in developmental psych, by the ways the mind can go off course in abnormal psych, by the dialogue between the individual and society in social psych. But I was equally drawn to the English Department for reasons I couldn’t articulate.

I began with a course on British poets: Chaucer, Milton, Wordsworth, Eliot. Then I moved on to a smorgasbord of seemingly unrelated topics — 19th Century American Writers, Medieval Plays, 20th Century American Poets, Greek Tragedies. I felt a strong internal pull, a compulsion to study literature. I was particularly drawn to the writings I found most incomprehensible.

I had fine professors who created classroom environments designed to build understanding from ignorance. Medieval plays made no sense whatsoever, until my teacher explained the lives of both the playwrights and the audience. Interpreting poetry felt awkward, even pretentious, until my professor invited us to react on a gut level – “Don’t overthink it; feel it.” Writing my assigned papers felt stilted, until I was advised that ideas were more important than perfect grammar and immaculate syntax; “Break the rules a little bit,” my professor smiled.

I began reading and writing differently – not only to understand material on an intellectual level, but also to experience learning on an emotional level. With each poem, each novel, each play, my learning and thinking changed. As I read Emily Dickinson’s poetry, I explored her inner world, vastly different from my own. I battled the sea, cold and hungry, clutching the sides of “The Open Boat,” as I wrote a paper on Stephen Crane. I forged my own pilgrimage into The Canterbury Tales, following Geoffrey Chaucer as his story wandered from beautiful, to bawdy, to funny, to arduous – mirroring the experience of The Middle Ages. To get it, I had to live it. Once I lived it, even for a moment, I understood it on a new level.

Years later, when I began working with psychotherapy patients, I discovered that my English courses were as useful as my psych courses. The psych theory helped structure my thinking; the English courses taught me to make sense of each patient’s unique voice. The words of every writer I studied, like the words of every client I treated, were the keys to their selves.

I wish Pat McCrory and his followers had shared my curriculum back in college. I wish they had felt my initial lack of empathy when I read Portrait of a Lady (Henry James); I was irritated by Isabel Archer’s self-destructive choices, until my professor spoke about her impossible dilemma, from a personal and societal perspective, and I found myself (to my adolescent horror) in tears in the middle of a lecture hall. I wish those  against transgender rights had experienced my professor of Greek tragedies whose lectures were so compelling I’m amazed I remembered to breathe; in one lecture which I’ll always carry with me, he transformed a Greek Chorus from contrived and ridiculous, into the collective mind of Ancient Greece.

As Pat McCrory and too many others sign away the civil rights of their fellow citizens, I wonder if they ever made the effort to learn about the experience of being transgender. I don’t mean memorizing a definition in a dictionary, or engaging in a mutual admiration society with others who are equally uncomfortable with the transgender population. I mean talking to someone who identifies as transgender – asking questions, sharing concerns, open to learning. If Pat McCrory is truly worried about what a transgender person does in a bathroom, then just ask. I’m quite confident that the answer would be something like: “Use restroom; wash hands; leave.” If people are frightened of how the transgender population behaves in public restrooms, then they need the guidance of a teacher.

I was in graduate school before I realized that during college, the specific subjects I studied were a means to an end. While I loved my courses, the heart of my education wasn’t English or psychology. At core, I was learning to learn, learning to think, and I still am.

How I wish Pat McCrory and his supporters would join me.


Amy Kaufman Burk is an author and blogger. Her first novel, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, was written in reaction to seeing gay teens bullied in high school, and follows a family’s journey after the daughter comes out. Amy’s second novel, Tightwire, includes a strong friendship between two men, one gay and one straight, as well as a lesbian couple (raising a son and daughter) who become role model parents to the main character. Amy’s blog has several posts in strong support of LGBTQ+. To learn more about Amy, visit her website and find links to her blog and to her novels on Amazon.

http://amykaufmanburk.com

 

 

 

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For Martin Luther King, Jr.

I remember the first time I heard The Reverend Dr. King speak.

I was sitting on a beautifully carved wooden bench, in my family’s kitchen, which was also our TV room. I was eight years old. My mother gave me a grilled cheese sandwich, my favorite snack. Then she said there was a man giving a speech she wanted me to hear. She sat next to me on the bench, and my dad joined us from his study. The year was 1966, and our TV stood as a separate structure with two tall martian-antennae. The screen was black and white, and as Mom adjusted the antennae, the zig-zags clarified into a picture.

A man stood on a stage, speaking to a crowd. I remember being annoyed that my parents were asking me to listen to an adult talk, with nothing interesting like music or cartoons to back it up. Then I began to listen. I remember becoming quite still, mesmerized. His words rang out, pulsing and rhythmic, an intricate blend of sound and sense, building to one crescendo after another. I could feel The Reverend Dr. King, literally feel his presence, a vibrant physicality. When he finished speaking, my parents took me in their arms. Only then did I realize I had dropped my grilled cheese sandwich to the floor.

Rest In Peace, Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Novels By Amy Kaufman Burk

Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable

Caroline Black, 15 years old, leaves her college prep academy for the local public high school with over forty languages spoken by the students. Written in reaction to witnessing gay students bullied, and in gratitude for the diversity of my high school, which opened my world.

Tightwire

Caroline Black, now in her twenties and a rookie psychology intern, goes through one year of training, working with her first patient – a young man who is stormy, seductive, complex and troubled. Written in support of same-sex parents, as a voice against the stigma of psychotherapy, and with deep respect for the human capacity to heal.

Amy’s Author Page On Amazon https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4%3Fref=dbs_a_mng_rwt_scns_share

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Filed under Civil Rights, Martin Luther King Jr.