Who will help?

I was already running late. I had picked up all the kids from their various schools and activities, and everyone was packed into the van, impatient to get home and have their snacks and shed all the cumbersome baggage of the school day. I just barely had time to zip home and unload everyone before locking myself in my room for a phone interview scheduled for 5:00.

But wait, I was almost out of gas! I would never make it home with the needle so low. So I swung into a gas station, charged out of my seat, squirted a few gallons of gas into the tank, hurtled back behind the wheel, and cranked the engine while slamming the door closed.


I tried again. Nothing. The lights came on, but that was it.

It was cold, and snow had started to fall through the darkening air. As the windows fogged over with the breath of nine cranky children, I struggled to hide my rising panic. I had somewhere to be, now.

This was several years ago, before I had a cell phone or AAA membership. My husband was at work, over an hour away, and I couldn’t think of anybody to call. It was, perhaps, not the screamingly horrible emergency it felt like at the time. But I was pregnant, sweating, and I had an undiagnosed anxiety disorder, and lived in constant fear of letting people down. The interview was an important one, and I was already anxious about it even before I thought I might be late for it. Cars lined up behind me, waiting for their turn at the pump where my van lay dead.

I had no idea what to do. I couldn’t think. The toddler began to wail as I climbed out of my seat, hoping that someone behind the counter of the convenience store could give me some advice. But inside was a long line of people waiting their turn. All normal people, competent people, people who had a right to be there, unlike me with my panic and my emergencies and my sweating self and my window-fogging family.

So I crept out again and stood beside the van, clenching and unclenching my fists. The younger kids began to fret, asking over and over, “Mama, what is it? Why aren’t we going, Mama?” and the older ones shushed them, sensing something had gone very wrong.

Then a car pulled up to the pump opposite my dead hulk of a van. It was a sleek little BMW in dark blue. A man in a fitted overcoat and leather gloves stepped neatly out and began to fill his tank. I gathered my courage and called out in a shaking voice, “Hi, hello, I’m so sorry to bother you, but my car won’t start. Do you think you could–”

He turned to look, and saw . . . I don’t know what. A mess. An entanglement.  A quagmire. And he said, “I’m sorry, I can’t help you,” and turned his back.

I tried again, this time with a pleasant-looking woman in a sable-colored minivan.

“Hi, I’m so sorry, my van won’t start. Do you possibly have a phone I could . . .”

Same story. She looked grieved for me, but there was nothing she could do. She had places to go. She had her act together. She was all tidy and intact and well-planned, and could not afford to get sucked into someone else’s knot of misery and irresponsibility. And I understood! I wouldn’t want to get involved with me and my nonsense, either! But unlike her, I couldn’t just leave.

Not knowing what else to do, I opened the hood of my van to show that I wasn’t just hogging the spot for no reason, and I sat down behind the wheel again. I left the door open so I could breathe, and the cold winter air picked out the hot tears leaking down my face. Nobody was going to help.

And then, someone did. Read the rest of my latest at The Catholic Weekly

Maybe someone else will bring stamps

I had that dream again! The one where you’re being arrested or deported or evacuated, and you’re forced to pack up everything for yourself and a bunch of other people to survive, and you only have a few minutes to do it, and you only have a tiny little suitcase, and you have no way of knowing what you’ll actually need, and you know you’re making horrible choices, but you just don’t have the time to do it right. Do you have this dream? I don’t have it routinely like I used to, but it still comes around every once in a while.

But something new happened in my dream last night. Right in the middle of the anguished panic of stuffing a mishmash of precious and useless belongings into a too-small suitcase, I was thinking frantically, “Stamps? Should I bring stamps? We may need them!” And then I thought, “Maybe someone else will bring stamps.”

And that was it. I still had to do my best, and the rest of the dream was very unpleasant, but at least it occurred to me that not everything was riding on my efforts alone. My therapist will be glad to hear this. He’s only reminded me about eleven times that this is so. Maybe you need to hear it, too. 

It’s not always true. Sometimes it’s really the case that, if you don’t do the thing, then the thing won’t get done, and maybe it’s a very important thing that absolutely must get done. Sometimes life is just like this, and it stinks, but there’s nothing that can be done about it; or sometimes, life is like this because other people are terrible, and they’re letting all the burden fall on you because they know they can get away with it. Good old you, always doing thing.

But sometimes, someone else really will pack stamps. Or maybe you can get stamps when you get there; or maybe you won’t really need stamps after all. Or maybe you will, and someone else can arrange for it to happen. I’m trying to get in the habit of asking myself, especially when I’m feeling overburdened and rushed and pushed into things unwillingly: Who is putting this burden on me? Who is pushing me? What will happen if I step away and let the burden fall?

It’s almost shocking to see just how often someone else is perfectly capable of doing the thing that I thought I alone could do. Or sometimes someone else is already quietly doing it, and I didn’t even notice, because I was so self-importantly accomplishing things. Or sometimes no one else will do the thing if I don’t, but it doesn’t really matter as much as I thought it did. My busyness is very often not as important as I think it is. Sometimes, I’m chagrined to realize, the main purpose of my busyness is not to accomplish things at all, but to make sure people know I’m important. Ick.

So, there’s a secondary revelation here, not as icky, but harder to internalize: I am important, but not because of all the things I can accomplish. I’m important when I’m in the background, and when I’m resting. Check it out: I’m even important when I screw up and pack the wrong thing and everybody suffers because of the dreadful lack of packed stamps. My actions and choices are meaningful, but they are not a test of my inherent worth. 

That’s it. That’s the dream. I needed to hear this. Maybe you did, too!

Photo by: Senior Airman Alexandre MontesReleased 



I finally fixed up my kitchen! Before and (almost) after pics

If you follow me on Facebook, you know I’ve been knee deep in kitchen renovations all week. We are getting a boxer puppy on Tuesday, and wanted to take care of certain things before he arrives. Things like having a kitchen floor that is so ragged and hole-y, it’s uncleanable, and things like not being able to open the back door because it’s blocked by the kitchen floor linoleum we bought last July and never got around to installing. 

Have I told you about my kitchen?

It’s small, but it’s bright. It’s actually set up very conveniently. It has wonderful tongue in groove pine panel walls. But it’s . . . 

Well, here.

It used to be worse. It used to have lots of wretched cabinets, dark and decrepit, which I tore out a few years ago and replaced with shelves. You can read about that here. Damien replaced the horrible rusty fluorescent ceiling light with a pleasant glass domed light, and I bought an island and a hutch. 

But the ceiling. The ceiling was just blah acoustic tiles that tended to droop, until one day a whole section just fell right off. So I swathed the whole room in plastic

and ripped the rest of the tiles down just to see what was under it. 

I found all kinds of stuff in there.

including . . . stamped tin!

Some of it was in tough shape, but I said to myself, “We can restore it! It could be so beautiful!” And I kept saying this for three years. After a while I bought some poster board and a staple gun at Walmart and covered the worst holes.

Then we I bought some vinyl flooring, and people kept saying, “Oh, you’re replacing the floor? Not . . . not the ceiling?”

Whatever! Shut up! I knew I could do a floor. The ceiling, I was starting to have my doubts.

So this brings us up to the current day, with an immanent boxer pup. I chose rolled vinyl flooring instead of stick and peel tiles because our floor is wavy, man. Not just “tee hee, if you drop a marble, it goes under the table!” but like you have to fight to open the refrigerator door, it’s so uphill. But only in some places! With all this undulation, individual tiles would get torn up in no time and the cracks would be jammed full of macaroni and graham cracker sludge. So I thought a big roll was our best bet.

Last Friday, we moved everything out of the kitchen. The dining room and living room now looked like this:

But don’t worry, there was a lot of fruit in there, and it went bad! Hooray! And everyone was mad because it was hard to walk! So I moved out all the stove and the island and mini fridge and everything (the main fridge could not be moved out of the room, for reasons that are still too painful to discuss), and then it looked like this:

Marvin the Martian voice: Isn’t that lovely, hmmmmmm?

So I says to myself, I says, never mind the floor; these walls are disgusting. They need paint. I could paint later, but then I’d have to move all this crap out of the kitchen and back into the kitchen a second time. So fine, so I bought a few gallons of paint. Glidden “Frosted Lemon,” very nice. It was one of those “there’s no possible way this won’t be an improvement” situations

so I didn’t bother painting the trim a different color. Heck, I didn’t even bother getting all the bugs out of the way. Now they’re frosted lemon bugs. I may have painted over a lump of butter that was on the windowsill, because screw you! And I got it all done in one day.

Then the next day was finally floor day. FLOOR DAY. 

This is the floor:

Here, have a close up!

Here, have an AUGGHHHHHHHH

So many layers of flooring, maybe we actually have cathedral ceilings and just never knew it!

There was this wedge shaped block of hard wood that’s absolutely cemented to the floor, reasons unknown. Possible shim, but placement makes this dubious. Possibly the cornerstone holding the house up. 

(I later discovered that Damien had once stuffed a bunch of steel wool into a mouse hole and nailed a block over it. It was working, so I left it alone.)

There was a hellmouth:

ayund a secondary hellmouth:

They had never put any kind of trim along the edges of the old linoleum, so what was still intact was curling and crammed with old crumbs and debris. The worst part was under the sink. Some of the floor had never been covered with anything, and there was also spot where they decided walls don’t need to go all the way down:

So I pulled and scraped away as much as I could and make a clean edge.

I had a short come-apart over the possibility of asbestos, but decided it was too friggin late, and I would just breathe shallowly and get it all sealed up as soon as I could. This blog post is hereby not admissible in a court of law. Anyway I doubt there was asbestos. There isn’t a speck of lead paint in the house, either, which makes no sense. They couldn’t even contaminate this house properly!

If I had to do this over again, I would have put in some plywood or something on that spot. But instead we had a “too soon old, too late schmart” situation, as my mother used to say. So I opted to use leveling compound to ease the transition between the linoleum and in the underfloor, and to patch up all the holes and pits and gaps as best I could. This was a horrible, horrible job. I couldn’t find my trowel, so I did it all with this rotten little putty knife. Leveling compound is smooshy, sticky, and gritty, and it dries way too fast. It’s awful stuff.

I used a LOT of it.


Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t use a pancake turner to smooth down leveling compound. You totally can! It doesn’t work. But you can do it.

Also, if you are a cat, you can wait until your person goes to Home Depot and then you can walk around in it. 

Just walk around, go ahead.

When that was dry, the next thing was to roll out the flooring. This is the only part I asked Damien to help me with. Guys, it was so hard. It was so heavy and unmanageable, and I was so afraid I was going to tear it, and we had such an awful time wrestling it into place. Remember the thing about how the refrigerator was still in there. We planned to glue the flooring down one half at a time, and put the refrigerator on the half that wasn’t being glued, I mean the part that was being glued. Please don’t waste time trying to figure this out. It’s so stupid. 

We also decided we could move the dishwasher, but didn’t want to. And that is how I ended up teaching myself how to cut vinyl flooring so it exactly fails to fall neatly into place around a dishwasher.

So, how you install vinyl flooring is you roll the adhesive onto the floor with a roller, then let it dry for half an hour or so, to allow it to emit any gasses it wishes to emit, and then you schlorp the flooring over it and push out any additional bubbles. Then you cry a little because you cut so carefully around those stupid little pipes, and somehow it came out all crooked anyway, but no matter! Remember, this is what we had before:

and this is what it looked like after the new floor was all glued down:

You can see that I leaped ahead a bit with this pic, because there is trim, too. We ended up staying up until 3 a.m. to get the flooring down. Then I slept rather late, and discovered that I had left the roller tray full of adhesive out on the kitchen floor, and someone had carefully dipped her little feet in it and then walked all over the house. I did not take pictures due to shattered spirit.

Then I went back to Home Depot for trim and misc. I ended up getting white vinyl composite quarter round, which I could cut with my dumb little hacksaw and nail in by hand. 

I guess if I had to make my living crawling around on the floor tapping in finish nails, I’d get tired of it, but I had a great time doing this part. So satisfying to measure the space, cut it just right, and tap it into place. The idea is to make it flush with the floor, and not necessarily with the walls (and you can fill any gaps in with silicone later if you want); but you drive the nails into the walls, not the floor. Here I attempted a mitered corner. 

At this point I was so tired, I was missing every other stroke with the hammer, as you can see, and I also managed to hit the wall a few times, chipping the brand new paint! But I tried! 

There was also one spot along the end of the kitchen where there was still a flooring gap. So I cut a long strip of flooring and carefully followed the directions, which have you overlapping two pieces, cutting them both straight down at the same time so you get an even seam, discarding the extra, and then pulling up one end and easing some adhesive in there, then tucking the two ends down together, pressing it flat, and mopping away the excess.

You can see by my description that I fully understood the process. And yet I made a complete balls up out of it. I don’t even know what happened, but i was terrible. So I went back to Home Depot and bought some of that metal transition stuff you see between carpets and hardwood, and I covered that shit up.  Tap tap tap!

Oh, and I treated myself to a new vent cover, even though the old one was perfectly good. 

You can see that, at this point, I have managed to get most but not all of the glue out from between my toes.

Then I had to return to the villainous spot under the sink. It ended up looking pretty chimpy, but I feel good about how water resistant it is, especially (all together now!) compared to how it was before

Behold! Before:

I shot some expanding foam filler into the really egregious gaps, let it dry, and trimmed it down. Then I covered the filler with rubber wall base, which is very easy to affix, especially after your husband shows you how to use the caulking gun. 

Some of it turned out pretty tidy. Here’s with the expanding foam:

and the same spot (well, about a foot over) covered with wall base and caulked with silicone:

I wish I had painted this little section of wall, but oh well, I didn’t. I didn’t bother painting the legs holding up the counter, because the cat uses them as scratching posts. 

And I made a little rubber mat with a lip out of leftover wall base, for a “water go this way, not that way” situation in front of the dishwasher, which needs a new seal and will get one soon.

Home Depot scoffed at me for thinking they might sell such a useful item, so I went home and made one, so ha ha. 

And that’s it! The last thing I have to do is glue some threshold transitions on. I did dig out the old grungy wood with a screwdriver.

I looked through every last possible thing Home Depot was selling, and I dragged four Home Depot employees into my sad, sad story, but nobody could find a long wedge-shaped piece of wood that is an inch and a half high on one side. I finally found one dude who actually seemed willing to help me, and here is the conversation we had:

Me: Can you help me? I need a piece to make a transition between the floor and the threshold.
Home Depot employee: Here are some.
Me: Yes, kind of like those, but I need it to be an inch and a half high on the high end.
Home Depot: An inch an a half? That’s absurd!
Me: Yes. It is.
Home Depot: That would need to be a special order.
Me: Everything in our house is special order. And it’s not even a nice house.
Home Depot: Right, it doesn’t have to be nice to be special.

I feel, as they say, seen.

Anyway, I finally found something that was 3/4″ and clearly designed for some other purpose, but I had to leave or I was going to start crying. I know I said my goal was to end up with a floor that was better than my old floor, but my real goal was to not cry in Home Depot. So I cut two . . . well, I cut three, and one was an inch too short, but I cut two that were the right size, and I tried nailing them in, but they wouldn’t go in, and the wood split. Then I did cry. Then I yelled at everybody and made everyone feel terrible, and they all had to crawl over me while I was hunched in the doorway right at dinner time. 

Ahem, then I got some Liquid Nails, and I shall glue the wood in tonight. 

Yesterday and today, I finished sorting every last damn thing that was in that kitchen. I threw away about a third of it, including stuff I’ve owned for 20 years and haven’t used in 10, and washed everything down, and put it all back, with a little rearranging.

And now for the “after” pictures! Honest to goodness, if you say something mean or sarcastic, even for a joke, I will murder you. Here is my kitchen this afternoon:



I like it. I like it a lot.

What’s next? For one thing, this hutch is too big and dark.

So I’m going to paint it, maybe Glidden Spruce Shade, and put some white porcelain knobs and handles on it. That should brighten it up a lot. I would like to get rid of the wavy detail along the top, but that may be too much trouble. I’m excited about having the microwave in a spot where people can make their popcorn without moving a pile of junk out of the way, and about having the utensils in a spot where they won’t fall behind the island constantly. And look, I have a whole shelf for breakable items! So convenient for people who want to break my items! 

And I would like to put in a tile backsplash behind the sink. I am eyeing some very faintly blue glass tiles. The sun sets right in the window opposite the sink, so that would be lovely. 

Also, I had some shelves up here, on both sides of the blackboard, and no one knows where they went. I kept all my oils and meds and whatnot there, and I need them! It is a mystery. 








This is my ceiling this afternoon:

Note the poster board. That’s covering up the really big hole.

First it needs some new insulation, which is easy. Then I thought one last time about restoring that stamped tin. I thought about just how much I wanted to stand on a ladder and smear caustic solvent above my face onto 165 square feet of intricate raised designs; and the only answer was “NOT AT ALL.” So I’m gonna get some plain white panels and just tack them up on those beams. You are thinking, “Oh, but stamped tin is my favorite!  Oh, what a shame!” And that’s why I’m carefully preserving it for someone just like you, and when I’m dead, you can come in and do whatever you want. 

Okay, now we can get a puppy.

In defense of, stay with me here, communion rails

I was talking to a fellow who works as a missioner with the Maryknolls in Tanzania. He’s still learning Swahili, and wasn’t sure whether the liturgy itself is much different from what he’s used to in the states; but one unmissable difference comes during the offertory.

Along with the bread and wine, parishioners will often bring up gifts of live chickens and goats for the church. These wander about the church grounds and are eventually slaughtered and eaten by the priests.

The frivolous thought popped into my head that I should have asked him about the architecture of the churches, because no matter what your liturgical leanings, you have to admit: If there are going to goats involved, it would be nice to have an altar rail installed.

I grew up in a church that had an altar rail. My family was relatively new to Catholicism, and our first experience of parish life was at a church so enlightened, it threatened to float away on the gaseous fumes of sheer liturgical reform.

We reached a breaking point when literal clowns made an appearance in the nave, and, after a little church hopping, we discovered a rather stodgy Polish parish nearby, where very little had changed since 1920 or so.

As I understood it, the bishop would stick his head in every once in a while, decide that a fight with a Polish pastor was a fight he did not want to have, and sagely hurry on back to the cathedral.

Altar rails were not, as many believe, abolished with Vatican II, but they did become less common. But this church still had and used one. We got used to it very quickly… Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

Communion rail in All Saints, Newland
cc-by-sa/2.0 – © Chris Brown – geograph.org.uk/p/5498877

What’s for supper? Vol. 216: Okay by me in America

Eek, I missed a week again! My weekly menu is such a mess, because I’m still shopping on Tuesdays, both to avoid unmasked weekend crowds and to leave the weekend free for other stuff. It turns out the Saturday Shopping Trip was the cornerstone of everyone’s existence, and when I shop on Tuesday, the family’s sense of time and place becomes a raging torrent, flooded with rivulets of thought cascading into a waterfall of creative alternatives, but not in the good way! 

Anyway, last last week, the most exciting thing we had was on Father’s Day, when we had steak, four honest to goodness bloomin’ onions, and oysters. 

We like our oysters with a squeeze of lemon, a dab of horseradish, and/or a spot of Tabasco sauce. If you’re wondering how one procures fresh oysters in NH, the answer is we have eighteen whole miles of coast, that’s how. Actually these were from Massachusetts, though, which is right next door. Gosh, I love oysters. I think part of the allure is that tingly “I’m not sure I should be putting this in my mouth!” feeling, like when you would forage edible weeds from a parking lot as a kid. 

Okay, now for the bloomin’ onion. I will never understand why restaurants stopped serving these magnificent, community-building appetizers. These days, you can order a loose heap of “onion petals” at some places, which is so feeble and pointless, it makes me want to wreck the place up. 

I’m not the only one who feels this way. Behold:

Sometimes it takes the perspective of a foreigner to help you appreciate your own culture. 

THEN, one of these turned up for $3 at the Salvation Army.

I was skeptical that it should call itself a “machine,” but once I went through the whole process, I was convinced that there was so way you could replicate this thing with clever knife work, so, machine it is. 

I posted this on my local plant identification group, but it was promptly deleted. They didn’t throw me out, though, which I thought was sporting.

So you slice the top off and peel the skin off, then you hollow out the middle, and place it on the cutter and slam the top down. Then, as Spike says, you have to let it soak in ice water for an hour so it keeps its shape. Looks rather mystical bobbing around with the ice.

Then you coat it with seasoned flour, and then you have to carefully work the beer batter in between all the petals. Then you deep fry it. You have to kind of smoosh it up side down to get the petals to separate and fry separately. I had a video, but I seem to have deleted it. It’s on Instagram, though. You can follow me on Instagram if you want. I’m just as annoying there as I am everywhere else. 

My oil wasn’t quite hot enough, and I think I was supposed to do one final snipping of the base after frying, so the petals come off more easily. We ended up having to wrestle with them a bit. But it was pretty, pretty, pretty good. 

I’m not gonna lie, it was a ton of work. But I can see making a few of these once a year or so. (I made four.)

The kids liked it, and I found a good snappy dipping sauce that replicates the restaurant sauce. I can find the batter and seasoned flour recipes for you if you want, but only if you want!

Oh, and the steak was fantastic. They had something called “underblade steak” on sale, and wow, it was great. Damien made one of his miscellaneous spice rubs and grilled them rare. Perfection. 

I don’t know what the recipe is. The recipe is “have a man who knows how to cook a steak and will do it for you on father’s day.”

Okay, on to this week! or last week! Whatever!

Actually I’m in such a rush today. So I’ll do another highlights reel, based on my camera roll:

At some point we had grilled pork chops and rice.

It was supposed to be gochujang pork (just the sauce slathered on the pork, skipping the carrots and onions)

Jump to Recipe

but I think I got lazy and asked Damien to take over, and he used one of his nice sugar rubs.


Jump to Recipe

The secret ingredient was FIRE.

I don’t think we had a single damn vegetable all week. Except four onions. 

Looks like our old friend banh mi made an appearance.

Jump to Recipe

This surely is the queen of all sandwiches.

Actually I always think whichever sandwich I’m currently eating is the best, but pork banh mi on a toasted baguette with pickled carrots, cucumbers, lots of cilantro, and some sriracha mayo, with pineapple on the side, is truly spectacular. 

Then at some point I tried a new recipe from Kathy Gunst this week: Grilled chicken with a minty cilantro marinade.

Jump to Recipe

The marinade is mint, scallions, cilantro, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. I love stuffing the food processor with leaves the kids brought in from outside.

So I just slathered it on some thighs and drumsticks and let it marinate a few hours, and Damien grilled it, and you squeeze a little lemon over it when it’s cooked. Clara made a few pans of oven roasted potatoes, and I sliced up a watermelon. Lovely summery meal. 

Let’s see, what else? We had a string of very, very late nights and my brain really started to disintegrate toward the end of the week. First we had some of this action:

A few months ago, we tried to trap this  bastard that keeps strewing our garbage everywhere. He is very clever and always managed to swipe the bait without getting trapped. So we gave up, and the trap was just lying there for weeks.

Until last week. Suddenly, around 2 a.m. I start hearing this horrendous distress call but about eleven times louder, interspersed with yelps and screams, right under my window. I didn’t know what the hell was going on, so, like any red blooded American woman, I woke up my husband, who graciously charged outside shirtless and armed with a flashlight and a BB gun. There was a lot of clattering and growling and general noises of man vs. nature, and then I heard him say, “Ohhh, I see.” Which was when he discovered that our favorite raccoon had become a parent, and one of those raccoon children had not inherited the family brains, but had gotten caught in the unbaited trap for no reason at all, and the distress calls had summoned about four valiant siblings who panicked and started knocking stuff over and charging around in confusion. Eventually Damien released the one in the trap and they all went away for the night.

Then the next night, we had a kid in the ER until 3 a.m. She is fine, but 3 a.m. is what we forty-five-year-olds like to call BULLSHIT. It’s just bullshit! But you know, that doesn’t stop blood sugar alarms from going off, and it doesn’t stop the cat from worming his way through a loose screen in the middle of the night and then yarping and yowling to be let in at, you guessed it, 3 a.m. He did this five nights in a row and he was soaking wet and in need of comfort each time. And I had to drive an hour to the pediatric endocrinologist in a pounding rain storm, and I had to admit that we got juice on her insulin pump receiver and I don’t know how to reset it because I am stupid, and even though I’ve made this trip a dozen times, I made a total of FOUR wrong turns. You know, I am very grateful we have a world class hospital only an hour away, but the trip has some kinda not-my-favorite associations with it. Friggin’ place where my grandmother died slowly and my father almost died several times and my daughter almost died, and the place where they thought I might have cancer and the place where we thought Corrie had Trisomy 13 and I guess when I’m driving there, my brain is just like, no, we will go this other way, instead. But, we did get home eventually, and this time nobody died. Just the opposite, in fact: Everybody is still alive! Hooray!

I forget what I was talking about. Oh, food. 

Well, Benny had her heart set on making “buried treasure muffins” from the cookbook she got for her birthday, and my life was ruined anyway, so that happened. It is just a basic muffin recipe, but you spoon in half the batter, then put in a “treasure,” then spoon more batter top, before baking. Very nice.

She made them almost all by herself, except for working out the math of a triple recipe.

And she let Corrie help and didn’t lose her temper, which earns her a medal. We decided to use fresh cherries instead of jelly as the buried treasure. Here is my Benny Rabbit explaining how to get the pit out of a cherry. There is supposed to be a video here. I hope it shows up. 

<div class=”mv-video-target mv-video-id-tefuvjy1aqexgtvgylyl” data-video-id=”tefuvjy1aqexgtvgylyl” data-volume=”70″ data-ratio=”16:9″ ></div>


Oh yeah, and I cut Benny’s hair. She is eight, and this was her first haircut. I’M FINE.

Clara also did tons of baking this week. She made buns and scones and cookies and I forget what else. It’s a miracle I didn’t gain a hundred pounds during this lockdown. 

Yesterday, I ended up being out so late, I asked the kids to scrounge up something for supper, and Lena made scrambled eggs in tortillas with hot sauce, which I happen to find delicious. Damien was out taking pictures of Ghislaine Maxwell’s house and interview locals for a story he was doing for . . . The Miami Herald? And he found out he has to testify in a right to know lawsuit, and I won an award from the Catholic Press Association for my marriage and family column. It was a weird day. And I found out the liquor store is still closing early, but I squeaked in. 

Okay, so now it’s July 3 and we decided to cancel our giant annual Independence Day family reunion party. This was one of my dad’s favorite days. When he died in April and we couldn’t have a family funeral or wake, we thought that surely by July, everything would be back to normal and we’d have the greatest July 4th party ever in his memory. Ho ho ho. Ah well. Next year. I am missing him a lot. Sorry, this isn’t a very good food blog this week.

But here is what we have on the menu for July 4th. Yes, this is just for our family. It’s America, dammit, and you can’t make us stop eating.

Grilled brats with onions three ways
Sugar rub chicken thighs
Some kind of shrimp skewers, possibly Mexican
Potato salad
Grilled corn on the cob
Every kind of chip known to mankind
Watermelon boats filled with fruit salad, possible in pirate ship (patriotic pirate ship) form 
Red, white, and blue jello cups with berries
Chocolate and vanilla frozen pudding cups with whipped cream
Ice cream
Dark and stormies

And we have fireworks with ludicrous names, and no end of sparklers. And as soon as I’m done writing this, I’m going to move all the furniture out of the kitchen because I’m going to put new linoleum down, which we want to get done before next week, BECAUSE . . . . we’re getting a boxer puppy next Saturday.

Not entirely to put the cat in his place, but it couldn’t hurt.


Gochujang bulgoki (spicy Korean pork)


  • 1.5 pound boneless pork, sliced thin
  • 4 carrots in matchsticks or shreds
  • 1 onion sliced thin


  • 5 generous Tbsp gochujang (fermented pepper paste)
  • 2 Tbsp honey
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 2 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 5 cloves minced garlic

Serve with white rice and nori (seaweed sheets) or lettuce leaves to wrap


  1. Combine pork, onions, and carrots.

    Mix together all sauce ingredients and stir into pork and vegetables. 

    Cover and let marinate for several hours or overnight.

    Heat a pan with a little oil and sauté the pork mixture until pork is cooked through.

    Serve with rice and lettuce or nori. Eat by taking pieces of lettuce or nori, putting a scoop of meat and rice in, and making little bundles to eat. 


Smoked chicken thighs with sugar rub


  • 1.5 cups brown sugar
  • .5 cups white sugar
  • 2 Tbsp chili powder
  • 2 Tbsp garlic powder
  • 2 tsp chili pepper flakes
  • salt and pepper
  • 20 chicken thighs


  1. Mix dry ingredients together. Rub all over chicken and let marinate until the sugar melts a bit. 

  2. Light the fire, and let it burn down to coals. Shove the coals over to one side and lay the chicken on the grill. Lower the lid and let the chicken smoke for an hour or two until they are fully cooked. 


Pork banh mi


  • 5-6 lbs Pork loin
  • 1 cup fish sauce
  • 12 Tbs sugar
  • 1 minced onion
  • 4 Tbs minced garlic
  • 1.5 tsp pepper

Veggies and dressing

  • carrots
  • cucumbers
  • vinegar
  • sugar
  • cilantro
  • mayonnaise
  • Sriracha sauce


  1. Slice the raw pork as thinly as you can. 

  2. Mix together the fish sauce ingredients and add the meat slices. Seal in a ziplock bag to marinate, as it is horrendously stinky. Marinate several hours or overnight. 

  3. Grill the meat over coals or on a pan under a hot broiler. 

  4. Toast a sliced baguette or other crusty bread. 


quick-pickled carrots and/or cucumbers for banh mi, bibimbap, ramen, tacos, etc.

An easy way to add tons of bright flavor and crunch to a meal. We pickle carrots and cucumbers most often, but you can also use radishes, red onions, daikon, or any firm vegetable. 


  • 6-7 medium carrots, peeled
  • 1 lb mini cucumbers (or 1 lg cucumber)

For the brine (make double if pickling both carrots and cukes)

  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup rice vinegar (other vinegars will also work; you'll just get a slightly different flavor)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 Tbsp sale, preferably kosher


  1. Mix brine ingredients together until salt and sugar are dissolved. 

  2. Slice or julienne the vegetables. The thinner they are, the more flavor they pick up, but the more quickly they will go soft, so decide how soon you are going to eat them and cut accordingly!

    Add them to the brine so they are submerged.

  3. Cover and let sit for a few hours or overnight or longer. Refrigerate if you're going to leave them overnight or longer.


Kathy Gunst's cilantro mint chicken


  • 12-18 chicken pieces with skin on
  • lemon wedges (optional)

for marinade:

  • 1 bunch scallions, greens and white, chopped
  • 2 bunches cilantro
  • 1-1/2 cups fresh mint (about 80 leaves)
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • juice of four lemons
  • cloves of garlic
  • salt and pepper


  1. Blend all marinade ingredients together in food processor to make a lumpy marinade. Slather all over the chicken and let marinate for several hours or overnight.

  2. Grill or broil the chicken.

  3. Serve with lemon slices to squeeze over the cooked chicken.

Black Catholics respond to Abby Johnson

Last Thursday, pro-life activist Abby Johnson released a video called “My biracial boy,” in which she said she’s not upset that her adopted biracial son will be racially profiled by police when he grows up. She explained her theories about race and the family and what needs to change.

Today I was joined by four black pro-life Catholics who saw the video and wanted to respond.  

In the group are author and blogger Alessandra Harris, Marcia Lane-McGee, co-host of the Plaid Skirts & Basic Black podcast, Andrea Espinoza who works at a college library and is a Master’s student, and Eric Phillips, who works with the Respect Life ministry. In the first half of the video, they responded directly to Johnson’s words. In the second part, they speak about their experiences with racism in the pro-life movement and in the Church; about what keeps them in the Church; what changes they hope to see; and what a biracial child ought to be able to expect from his parents. 

Here is a transcript of the video. Many thanks to a friend who donated her time to transcribe it, to Leticia Adams for introducing me to the group, and of course to Marcia, Eric, Andrea, and Alessandra for sharing their insight and stories, and especially to Alessandra for managing the tech part.


“Black Catholics Respond to Abby Johnson”

Simcha Fisher, Andrea Espinoza, Eric Phillips, Marcia Lane-McGee, Alessandra Harris

Simcha Fisher: Hello, my name is Simcha Fisher. I am a pro-life Catholic.  Last Thursday, pro-life activist Abby Johnson recorded a video and put it on YouTube, and the video was titled “My Biracial Boy.” In it, she talked about her adopted, biracial son, who is 5 years old, and how he is likely to be treated differently by the police than her white sons, and how she’s okay with that. She did take the video down. I posted a copy of it on my site simchafisher.com, and I also called her up to interview her about the video to make sure I understood what she was saying, and I posted a transcript of that video on my site as well.

So today I am here with a group of four Black Catholics who have agreed to come together and share some of their response to Abby Johnson’s video and some of the things she said in it. So, thank you, everybody, for coming here today and sharing your viewpoints. Let’s start out by introducing ourselves. If you could just go around the group briefly and tell us what you do and a little bit about your involvement with the Church, with the pro-life movement, whatever you’d like.

Andrea Espinoza: Good afternoon, Simcha. My name is Andrea, and I live in the Northeast. I am a parishioner in the Diocese of Brooklyn. I work as an administrative assistant at a college library, and I’m also a Masters student in Library and Information Science. I am a cradle Catholic with a reversion period, and I am active in the young adult scene here in New York City.

Alessandra Harris: Hi, my name is Alessandra Harris, and I am an author and blogger. I’m also am a cradle Catholic. I live in the San Francisco Bay Area. I went to my first March for Life when I was 10 years old, and just the videos of aborted babies being thrown away in a dumpster really touched my heart, and it’s led me to be pro-life, not just in belief but in my life personally. I’m a married mom with 4 kids and I believe right now my role in the pro-life movement as a Black Catholic is to really remind people that pro-life encompasses the unborn up to a natural death, and everyone in between. And that means protecting all lives including the Black person being killed from gun violence and those on death row. 

Eric Phillips: My name is Eric Phillips. I’m from Chicago, Illinois. I’ve been a Catholic all my life, baptized Catholic. I’m 33 now, but I’d say around age 25, 26, I embarked on an adventure to really study my faith. Prior to that I had really no idea what my faith was about. In that journey I fell in love with my faith. Since that time, I’ve done some things with the church. I’m a member of the Society of St Vincent de Paul for one. Two, I work with the Archdiocese—I don’t work for the Archdiocese of Chicago but I work with some members of the Archdiocese of Chicago when it comes to Respect Life ministry. They do a lot of talks on Theology of the Body, St. John Paul’s long explanation as to who we are as human beings from the moment of conception onwards. So, I’ve done that and learned a lot from the people I’ve met, and I’m always looking to learn more and to grow in my faith. 

Marcia Lane-McGee: Hi my name is Marcia Lane-McGee, I am also from Chicago, IL, born and raised. I am actually a convert to the Church. I became Catholic in the year 2000. I was 20 years old, so this year was my 20 year Catholic-versary; it was very exciting. The Catholic Church has been a huge part of my life, a huge part of making great decisions for my faith and for my future. I became involved in the pro-life movement about one year after my son was born. I am a birth mom to a Black child– obviously because I’m a whole Black person– in a transracial adoption, actually. I used to be in youth ministry. Currently I am not in any active Church ministry. I do cantor at Mass though. I also have a podcast with one of my best friends. It’s called Plaid Skirts and Basic Black, and it’s about being a Black Catholic and seeing the world through our Black Catholic lens. I’m really excited to be here.

Simcha: Thank you all so much. I’m really excited about this conversation. I think we’ll just go ahead and jump right in. I want to be fair to Abby and I don’t want to put any words in her mouth, so we’re just going to quote her exact words. I’ve got some excerpts from the video, and then maybe we can just take some turns responding to them and letting people know what your response is.

So she opened up by saying “I recognize”—also, she used her son’s name in the video, and I’m not going to do that—“I recognize that I’m going to have a different conversation with [my son] than I do with my brown haired little Irish very very pale skinned white sons as they grow up, because right now, [my son] is an adorable, perpetually tan-looking little brown boy, but one day, he’s going to grow up, and he’s going to be a tall, probably sort of large, intimidating-looking, maybe, brown man, and my other boys are probably going to look like nerdy white guys.” So, she’s got predictions about how her kids are going to look when they grow up. Eric, is that something you’d like to respond to?

Eric: Yes, thank you for the question. I’m sure her children are beautiful, right. Just because they’re children are white, she doesn’t have to call them nerdy, you know. Regarding her son, the one that’s “tan.” Obviously, I’m a Black man. Sometimes it’s hard to put this into words, but at a young age, I kind of understood what the stereotypes for Black people were, particular Black males, which is lawless, brutes, sexually promiscuous and what not, but like I said, that’s a stereotype. As I got older, myself included, I can tell you, just because you come from a certain area does not mean you’re going to turn out like those people in that area. Just because you come from a well-to-do area doesn’t mean you’re going to turn out to be an outstanding individual as well.

So when it comes to her son, I’m not her son’s daddy, I don’t have any kids of my own, but I would hope that she has a conversation with her son, and in that conversation, I would hope that she would express a possibility or the reality that, no, not everybody’s going to look at you as being intimidating. You don’t have to be intimidating just because you’re Black or just because you’re tanner than the next person. I would hope that the conversations she has with him is to have good character about yourself, be honest, be straightforward, do good work, because as a Black individual, and as her son being a “tan” individual, he has a certain, like one of my bosses said way back when I used to work for a particular company. I was going to say the name, but don’t worry about the name. My boss would always tell me, “Eric, you’re Black; you have to bring the full pie; you can’t bring half a pie.” So I would hope the conversation she would have with her son is that he would always have to put his best foot forward because there will be people out there that will think that the position he’s in, he didn’t earn what was given to him, or soon enough he’ll do something wrong and it won’t be his no more.

She has to, her and her husband or whoever, has to help build his psychology, not just psychology that says you can do x, y, and z, but who you are, we as Catholics, you are made in the image and likeness of God, but the color of your skin no matter what society throws at you, is not your limit, regardless of whether someone is “intimidated” by you or not, and if they are intimidated by you, without them knowing you, that’s not your problem, that’s their problem, something’s wrong with the way they think.

So I would hope that, as I look at those comments, I have no ill will against the woman, I don’t know her, but those are in my view very ignorant comments to make, and one day her son may see that video, and who knows what effect that may have. But I’m confident that the young man will grow up to be nerves of steel and iron, and I’m sure he will grow up to be very nice young man. Do everything you can Ms. Johnson to not have his mentality thinking that he’s to be a menace to society, because that’s not the case. 

Simcha: Does anybody want to add anything to that before we move on to the next section? Okay we’ll move on, then. The next thing that Abby says is: “statistically, I look at our prison population and I see that there is a disproportionately high number of African American males in our prison population for crimes, particularly for violent crimes just statistically when a police officer sees a brown man like my son walking down the road, as opposed to my white nerdy kids, these police officers are going to know that statistically my brown son is more likely to commit a violent offense over my white sons, okay?” she says. “So, the fact that in his head he would be more careful around my brown son than my white son, that doesn’t actually make me angry, that makes the police officer smart, because of statistics.” Who would like to respond to this idea of statistics?

Marcia: Okay, well, here’s the thing, if we want to talk about statistics. Black men (people) make up 12% of the US adult population, right, as it stands 2 years ago. You know in statistics, they’re always a couple years behind, but they make up 33% of the US prison population, and that doesn’t necessarily mean they are more likely to commit violent crimes, that means, that other statistics show that Black neighborhoods, Black schools, are more likely to be policed. They’re policed more, so they are caught more for crimes, it doesn’t say they commit more crimes.

I was talking to someone else the other day about the school-to-prison pipeline about how Black students are policed more even in the setting with white students, where a white student is more likely to be disciplined for a provable offense like skipping school or smoking on campus, but a Black student is more likely to be disciplined not only for that but also implied insubordination, so there is aa bias created by the statistics, but the statistics are also biased.

So, people sometimes don’t realize that these statistics, not that they’re untrue because they’re numbers, it’s math, but they don’t take into account the fact that there are other factors that lead to Black men being incarcerated; it does not mean that they’re more violent.

Currently I work in a residential facility. I run a home in a residential facility. I have 9 teenage boys in my care. It’s pretty much like, there’s Black kids and white kids that I have in my care; it’s pretty even. And all of my kids do stuff wrong. It doesn’t matter, like my Black kids lie and steal food from the pantry and so do my white kids. And I catch them all, and I know that is part of where they are as teenagers or people living in a residential facility. I don’t watch my Black kids more than my white kids; I watch them because they’re teenagers, not because of their race, and I think that some white kids are given a pass.

Even when we talk about marijuana convictions, Black people are more likely to get a higher drug charge, and white people are more likely to get a pass. I was telling a friend the other day. White people are more likely to be carrying marijuana on them, because they have it; it’s out. (Well right now it’s legal). But I knew from friends of mine, my white friends always knew where to get marijuana and I was like, “how do you even, this is so confusing,” but Black people had higher police so they were caught with it.

So, I think the disparity was due to the significant amount of policing, but it also doesn’t make the police officers “smart” that he is more likely to think that her son will commit a violent crime. It makes the police officer biased.

Instead of realizing their own bias, like if her son, who is biracial, is walking down the street with her nerdy quote/unquote “nerdy white kids,” however she wants to describe them, at the same time, it doesn’t make it fair, she can’t explain away that, “oh yeah, the police officer approached my son first,” and it could be her other sons committing or doing whatever they want to or roughhousing and rabble rousing, you know all the things that teenagers do. I’m so old; it’s not even funny, when I talk about what teenagers do. I’m so old. So, it’s more likely the officer is biased, not smart, and because the statistics are against us because we don’t have all the information sometimes.  

Simcha: Thank you, that was a very illuminating answer. I think we’ll continue right on through her speech. After she says it would make the police officers smart, it doesn’t make her angry, that her biracial son is more likely to be profiled, she says “what makes me angry is why, why are the statistics the way they are? I believe that the primary reason we see a lot of the illness in our society today is because of fatherlessness particularly in Black homes. 70% of Black homes were without fathers,” she said. Eric, I think you had a response to that?

Eric: Yeah. I think first when you start to talk about people’s “culture,” we have to look at it from its wholeness, right, we’ve got to try to get the biggest picture we can, right.

So, with African American culture, it doesn’t start in 1960. Technically the birth of the nation was 1776, we were here before that. So, 1776. So, you can start grading our culture and look at evaluating our culture from 1776 onward. I’m not going to go all the way to 1776, but let’s just look at post-Civil War, 1865 on up.

I think before we can get into the statistics she was talking about, I want to make sure we as Black people know what our culture is so we don’t have to allow another person who’s looking at statistics to tell us what our culture is, that’s not good. And if anybody needs to get a handle on the statistics, it’s us.

So, Thomas Sowell, he’s an economist and professor at Stanford University, an African American man; he’s about 90 years old, so he’s got some experience, wrote about 30 books regarding the Black family. I’m going to quote from his book. The name of his book, for anybody that cares, is The Vision of the Anointed: Self Congratulation as A Basis for Social Policy. On page 104, he says “going back 100 years which is just one generation out of slavery, you find that the census data of the area shows that it is slightly higher percentage of Black adults had married than had white adults. This in fact had remained true in every census from 1890-1940. Prior to 1890, this information was not included in the census.”

He goes on to say that “slavery has separated people but it had not destroyed the family feelings they had for each other, much less their desire to form families after they were free. As late as 1950, 72% of all Black men and 81% women had been married, but the 1960 census showed the first signs of decline that accelerated in 30 years.” And so get to 1960 all the sudden things start to change for, I guess, the unity of the Black family, and I’m going to lead into it, and then at a certain point Alessandra can chime in, so like in 1929 we experienced the Great Depression; in 1935 President Roosevelt and members of the Congress came up with the New Deal, and the New Deal put in place the first programs that we consider welfare.

So, a lot of the states had pretty much responsibility just deciding those stipulations or limits or criteria that people had to meet to qualify for welfare assistance. A lot of these states enacted rules that essentially discouraged the man from being in the home.

When we go from 1935 to 1960s, actually to 1964, President Lyndon Baines Johnson expanded the welfare programs or added to the welfare programs that President Roosevelt had instituted. He put a lot more money into them as well. Many states had a lot more to spend, presumably on people that needed it the most, but these states and local agencies still had on the books laws that discouraged males from being in the home, for instance those “man in the house” laws, basically if the head of the family was given assistance, let’s say a woman, and it was known to the agency that there was only supposed to be one person there, they would conduct spontaneous visits to make sure no man was there.

And so in response to this, a lot of participants in this program made sure, and a lot of the men themselves, made sure that they weren’t there, so they could continue getting government funding and whatnot. Laws or rules such as that, speaking as a man, that has a lasting effect, not just on the children or the woman but among men, knowing he can never be there to see his children, to raise his children, to be there with his wife. And what the statistics don’t capture is that psychological emotional effect on men and in children and women. That’s what statistics do not capture.

And so, we have to like, statistics are really good, in measuring a lot of things but they don’t capture the full picture, and we need to realize that about statistics. And what happens is that we have children growing up without a father from infancy, from 5-6-7, into adulthood, their vision of a father is absent, so they grow up exactly doing what their father did, which is not be there, and that kind of perpetuates a cycle. So, what I call that, that’s not Black culture. That’s not Black culture. In my opinion, it was an attack on the family; in my opinion, I call that cultural vandalism.

I’m not saying that those people who practice this behavior are at heart/ in essence vandals; no, they are made in the image and likeness of God, but that behavior is a vandalization. Meaning that, vandals, what they do, vandals don’t create; they take what’s already there and they find a way to deface it. Our culture has always been a desire for the family. Like I quoted from the book, even after slavery, men and women wanted to get together to form families; that’s just in our blood, and I think that’s not just in our blood; that’s just inherent within most individuals, to want to build a family, to have children, to raise them.

So, it’s not correct to say our culture is one that discourages family, but there’s a vandalistic mentality that has spawned from a racist outlook on Black individuals. Alessandra, do you want to chime in?

Alessandra: I’m going to let Simcha move onto the next question, but I did just want to add to what you’re saying about that time, in the 60s and 70s, we have to look to how communities of color were moving to more urban areas, and that’s when white flight was happening. So, you had people in communities of color where the money and the resources were fleeing the communities.

So, you had a lot of African Americans and especially African American males, who no longer had the ability to get a job, and Black male unemployment is still the highest in the country. So, you had people who were having trouble getting a job; you had schools that to this day are completely underfunded. So it’s hard to work your way up in a system when you don’t even have the basics being met at your school so you can get a degree, and even to this day Black people are more likely to have to drop out of college because of student debt and not being able to afford a college education. And I’m going to talk a little bit more about the statistics, but I’m going to let Simcha go back to the video.

Simcha: So, the next part of the video that she recorded she says “70% of Black homes were without Black fathers. Fatherhood initiatives, their voices had really been silenced, and I started wondering why. I found out what happened,” she said, “there were these activists in the Black community who were trying to redefine what Black fatherhood is and this is what made me angry. This is what should make the Black community angry. There are studies out there that are trying to redefine Black fatherhood. The 70% number is a lie because Black fatherhood looks different from white fatherhood that Black fatherhood actually does look like a Black man coming in and out of the home not being consistent presence in the home and that vision of fatherhood is the equivalent of white father being consistently in the home. Black fathers do not get a pass just because it is culturally different, just because it is Black fathers don’t want to be in the home, and culturally it has been acceptable for them to be with multiple women. That is racism,” she says. “But that is what is happening in research institutions right now.”

I’m sorry, I just have to say I did ask her where she read these studies and she couldn’t remember.

“They are trying to redefine fatherhood because they don’t’ like that 70% statistic, so instead of setting the bar higher for Black fathers, they are simply redefining fatherhood in the Black community; that’s crap.”


Alessandra: Well I’m going to only agree about one thing, that the 70% statistic is a lie, because statistically, and I’m going based on the Institute for Family Studies, which is a conservative think tank, and also if you look at the Black Family Statistics, they have similar numbers. 36% of Black families they are headed by married parents. 8% are headed by cohering parents, which means 44% of Black families have a Black male in the home and not to mention the Black single dad homes which is about 3%. So, the 70% is inaccurate, and people keep repeating that, and I hope we can stop because if you look at the statistics, that is incorrect.

What I wanted to talk about more than the statistic is the idea that the Black Lives Matter movement and that Black activists want to redefine what the Black family is. Even–I’m not even going to go onto the website of Black Lives Matter; I’m not going to talk about that specifically because the Black Lives Matter movement is more than just one organization and more than just one website’s mission statement.

But what people are talking about is that the nuclear family of a mother, father, and kids; traditionally the African American and African community believed that all the community raises a child, so not saying there’s not a mom and dad. There has to be a mom and dad to have a child, but saying that the mom and the dad are important, their children are important, and so are the aunties and the uncles and the grandma and the grandpa.

If you look at the African American family, to this day, data reveals there’s a huge gap between the finances of Black and whites. In 2020, it’s almost as wide as back in 1968 when the Fair Housing Act was passed, which was the response to centuries of unequal treatment of Blacks and whites in nearly every aspect of society and business. So, you still see today that less than 50% of Black households own their own homes compared to over 70% of white households, and you still see that Black people make less money and have tremendously less wealth than white families. And you still see that even a Black household headed by someone who has a college degree still has less wealth than household headed by a white person who only has a high school diploma.

So when we’re talking about the nuclear family, we’re saying  we don’t believe in the individualistic “I’m going to pull myself up by my bootstraps” and “only my husband and I are going to raise this child.” We believe that that’s not going to work for us when we don’t have that wealth, where maybe I can’t afford the best education and private tutors. I’m going to need to go to the community center that offers those programs. I’m going to need to ask my sister and my dad and my mom to help babysit my kid because I can’t afford a nanny. So, I feel like we’re saying is that we’re trying to strengthen the Black community, strengthen the moms, strengthen the fathers, strengthen the kids, strengthen everyone around us that makes us be able to excel in this culture, in this community, and around the world.

Simcha: One of the things that Abby did in her video was to speak directly to Black women. I was a little bit taken aback, to be honest with you. She said “Black women, you deserve better than that, you deserve a man that will be that will father a child with you and be in the home with you and your child, and second of all, your children deserve to have a father that is consistently in the home with their child. Black children do not deserve a lesser father simply because they are Black.” And Marcia, you brought up a really interesting question when we were talking about this earlier: you said, “what do you think there is to say about expectations for non-Black people adopting Black or biracial children? What do those children deserve from their adoptive parents?” What would you say about that?

Marcia: Well, I believe that when a Black or biracial child is adopted by a white family, like my son was, They deserve—basically you’re filling a need and filling a void in your heart. It’s two-way street.

Basically, the first thing you should be prepared to do is love this child just like if it were your child, your natural child. You don’t know how it’s going to turn out or what challenges it’s going to face.

But also recognizing that, one of the things I made sure of when we were making an adoption plan for our son was that, “please don’t ever say that you’re ‘colorblind.’ Please don’t ever say “I’m colorblind, we’re not racist.” Because you when you see my Black son, which is now their Black son, so our Black son, you are seeing that he comes with a set of challenges, that there’s already the cards are stacked against him in certain aspects and raising that child understanding that knowing that it is an injustice, not accepting it.

Every child deserves that. They deserve—especially little black boys deserve to know that there will be injustice and that itself is not okay, right, like their parents, they need to be– she needed to be able to say that she was going to fight for her son’s personhood and fight for justice in his life instead of accepting injustice, and I believe that parents of Black and biracial children that they should be prepared to do that. They should be prepared to fight for their children.

Just like if they were going to the school board, talking to a teacher about a grade they weren’t supposed to get or why didn’t so-and-so invite them to their party; they should be prepared to go to the mat for their child every time and don’t just accept that’s the way it is. And if you’re not prepared to accept that 24-7-365, do not adopt a child that is Black or biracial. If you’re not prepared to fight that fight every day, because you will fight that fight every day; that’s what a child deserves.

A child deserves parents who love them and will fight for them. That’s real. And that’s really at the base of everything else. All the other stuff will come, right? There are conversations that need to be had. My son’s dad and I we had to kind of tag team about having that talk about racial injustice. Oh it’s an open adoption, I don’t know if we talked about, it’s an open adoption that I’m in, so I get to be a part of my son’s life. And at first, I was like, “I can be open, cards and letters, fine, whatever,” and they’re like, “no, we’re going to have a Black child, you really need to be there.”

And that’s what they did to make sure to fight for him in that instance, because they weren’t going to be able to recognized racism necessarily until I brought it to their attention. They weren’t going to be able to recognize injustice that he might face and so they’re like “no, no, you need to be here, you need to be involved,” and so we did tag team and have the talk.

He just got his driver’s license so we had the “get pulled over–hands on the dashboard”, you know what I mean, all those things, because they’re ready to fight for him, and I think that my son has an amazing support system because of that. And it breaks my heart to believe that any other child may not have that.

And every, every child deserves to have a parent that will fight for them, but a child in a transracial adoption deserves to have someone who is prepared to fight for them. That’s how I feel. 

Simcha: Thank you. We have one last section from the transcript from Abby’s video that I was hoping that you could respond to. Towards the end she says “if Black America wants to start rioting and talking about something, this is it, this is it. Our prisons are disproportionately filled with Black men because of this 70% statistic. Mark my words, it’s not because of bad cops, it’s because of bad dads. 70% of these dads are walking out on their babies. You want to end what’s happening in these Black communities, don’t try to redefine Black fatherhood. The root is not with bad cops, the root starts in the home.” 

Andrea: Okay so in regards to that statement, I think we need to go farther back, and I’m talking ‘all the way to slavery’ back, because the root of separation starts when families were split apart due to slavery. The master would sell the mother to one place and the father to another place, and that cycle has perpetuated itself.

The way it’s perpetuated itself now is that we see the mass incarceration of Black men, right, and we see the two-sided ness of the incarceration when a Black man is incarcerated for 20 years on  a petty crime but a white man will be let off with probation or a warning for that crime, and his records are sealed. So, we have to look at that.

Then we have to look at the side that a lot of Black fathers don’t even make it home to their children because they are murdered. For example Malcolm X’s father was killed when he was 5 or 6 years old, supposedly from a street car accident. We have Medgar Evers getting out of his car in his driveway to come home to his children, he is shot down by Byron De La Beckwith. We have Dr. King in town for a union strike, he is shot on a hotel balcony. If we want to make it more relevant for our generation, I live in New York, so Sean Bell, killed on his wedding day, left behind an infant child. Who else, let me see? We have Eric Garner, left behind 2 daughters, strangled to death, and then we have George Floyd, whose daughter broke all of our hearts when she said, “you know my dad’s going to change the world.”

I think the most amazing thing about Black fatherhood is that through all of this, through all the struggles, through all the dichotomy in the American justice system, through all the people saying that Black men aren’t good fathers; Black men are some of the best fathers we’ve ever had, because when the chips are down, they’ve been there.

When people have told us, you can only go so high, our fathers have helped us break the ceiling. Our fathers have sat at the head of our tables; our fathers have been on television showing us that even when the world is against you, you keep going, and that is something that Ms. Johnson’s statement failed to take into account. 

Simcha: We’ve gotten through most of the transcripts that we have from Abby’s speech. Toward the end of it when I interviewed her, I asked if her if the pro-life movement in America has a racism problem, and she thought for a minute and she said, “racism exists.” So, I guess I’d like to ask you the same question. Do you think the pro-life movement has a racism problem? 

Marcia: Yes, absolutely it does. The pro-life movement, it’s very clear that they only think, and I mean I’m making a generalization– I will fully admit that– I feel the pro-life movement only insists racism exist in the womb. And they want to talk about Planned Parenthoods only being in predominantly Black neighborhoods and they’re like “that’s awful,” but they’re not thinking about how their mindsets and policies that they vote into place and the way that they continue to villainize Black fathers and Black culture affect our lives out of the womb.

There was a video I saw on Instagram, my sister sent it to me, people were driving home and there were pro-life protesters outside of a Planned Parenthood right after the George Floyd was murdered, and they were saying and their sign literally said “More George Floyds will die here today than on the Street.” And the woman was like “the what?” That’s what she said. She’s like, “that’s the real problem, that’s what you should be upset about.” It’s that whataboutism we get when we want to say Black Lives Matter, but they go “what about Planned Parenthood? what about this?”

They are trying to deflect, and because they don’t want to deal. I presume they don’t want to deal with the whole person after they are born. I firmly believe once a Black child is born, that is when we need the pro-life movement even more. We need you to vote in polices that help mothers, policies that are able to abolish those laws like the “man in the house” laws, because that still exists, right now it still makes more fiscal sense to not be married to the father of your children if you are struggling in the Black community; it makes sense. Because you’re more likely to struggle when you’re married because your government benefits will be cut; it’s less food stamps, less everything. And that is frustrating.

So pro-lifers aren’t there for that, and I absolutely believe it’s because racism exists. They already have an idea about us in the mind, and it’s—someone said to me once, a friend of mine. She’s Black, and she said, “I don’t understand why you’re pro-life,” and I was like because “you know, everyone needs to live and everyone needs to get what they need.” She goes, “Issue is that it seems like pro-lifers only want us; they don’t want to kill us in Planned Parenthood because to want to be able to kill us in the street whether it’s a death slowly death by starvation or if it’s death by cops.”

The pro-life movement absolutely has a racism problem. I don’t think, just like this country, the pro-life movement was not built for me right now as I am.

America wasn’t built for Black people; it was built by Black people, let’s be real. But the pro-life movement wasn’t built for Marcia at 40 years old, right. Me in the womb, my 17-year-old mom, absolutely. But now as I am, they don’t care about my spirit or my wellbeing. And you know what, here I am still fighting for life because I know it’s the right thing to do. 

Simcha: Thank you. There’s an even more discouraging question, maybe. Your thoughts on whether the Catholic church in general has a racism problem. 

Andrea: Okay so I’ll preface it this way. The racism problem in the Catholic Church. It’s like the house is on fire, and there are people in the house that’s on fire, and people outside the house are trying to say, “hey your house is on fire,” but the people in the house are like, “no, it’s not.”

So, the Catholic Church– the word Catholic comes from the Greek word for universal– but the American Catholic church has grown alongside this country. We would be kidding ourselves if we said the American sector of the Catholic Church didn’t have a racism problem, and I’ll tell you why. Because the same people that built those racist same institutions that believed that Black people were 3/5 of a person, they were the same people that built the Catholic church, they brought in those prejudices with them. They were the same people who forced native Americans to give up their culture, change their names, attend these Indian boarding schools to rehabilitate them and make them more European. These were the same people that refused to ordain Black priests so that the Venerable Tolton had to go to Italy to seminary. These are the same people that denied Black nuns the opportunity to become novices in their orders so they had to create their separate orders.

The thing that makes it worse is that a lot of Catholics do not know this information because we teach the faith but we don’t teach the history, and because we don’t teach the history, it perpetuates on and on and on. So, the same stereotypes perpetuate on and on.

I bet you a lot of Catholics in America do not know that the reason why there are so many Black parishes in certain dioceses is because when Black families moved to the area in places through historical periods like the Great Migration and they wanted to go to the neighborhood parishes, the neighborhood parishes said “we don’t want any n-words in our parish.” So, they would send them to parishes in the Black part of town that were underfunded and ill prepared. Then you also have the parishioners the communities, those racist parishioners who did not want Black parishioners in their parish. There’s a reason why Malcolm X said the most segregated hour in America is 11:00 on a Sunday morning. And we still have that.

Then, nowdays we have a specific religious movement that worships in a specific form of the Mass, which is a beautiful form of the Mass, but it is built on the idea that if you are not this, if you don’t meet this condition, this condition, this condition, you’re not Catholic enough. For a lot of us, I can’t relate to that. I grew up in the Caribbean. We didn’t have organs. Have you ever seen what happens to an organ at 95-degree weather with 100% humidity? It warps! So, we had to create our own traditions, but it doesn’t make it any less Catholic.

The key problem with the racism in the American Catholic church is that it’s predicated upon the idea of whiteness and it will always have that problem unless we do something, because guess what, the majority of the world’s Catholics; they’re not white. 

Simcha: That being the case, if this is your experience of the Catholic Church, what is it that keeps you coming back? 

Eric: Thank you for the question. Simply put, what keeps me coming back? Primarily the Eucharist.

But let me say this first. I think a lot of African Americans and enslaved in the slave times saw this same story in the Exodus and Moses how the Hebrews 400 years being enslaved, God came to their salvation. As a Catholic it’s hard; life here in this nation’s hard; and as a Black Catholic, it’s even harder because everything that’s been said already, but if you look at the story of Christ, it was not an easy life. He had 12 apostles; 11 of his apostles were martyred.

I think when you study Scripture, you just accept the fact that being Catholic, and at the time the Hebrews, the Jews, living in the Roman Empire, they were looked down upon because their culture. I find myself in the same situation today, but that doesn’t mean I have a right to turn my back on the Church that Christ founded. I have to accept this fight. I think we’re all born here for a reason, not by happenstance. God willed us into existence for times like this, to fight the good fight. And fighting the good fight means suffering, but because you suffer, you don’t abandon the fight. You stand for the Cross; you stand by the Cross of Christ. That’s how I approach it.

So, what can we say, what keeps me coming back, there’s nowhere else for me to go. This is the truth. [Amen]

Also, how do we make progress? The thing Alessandra said on her video, is prayer and fasting, that’s always worth prayer and fasting, and after that comes action.

So before the quarantine, what I would do is go to different churches in the city, some on the southside because I was primarily going to churches on the southside, and then I would go to predominantly white churches because I just wanted to see how they did things differently, I just wanted to get a feel for the community, things like that. We have to find ways to build camaraderie with one another, to the point where we start asking each other over to each other’s houses. I’m telling my people with different ethnicities and cultures, alright, so I think white parishioners should visit a Black parish, try to build some relationships, you know, try to get involved in some of those ministries, and vice versa, to the point where you can start inviting people over to dialogue.

Because just like there’s a Theology of the Body, there’s also a theology of food, and I think that really helps break down ignorance, because a lot of people, I would call racist, not because I think they hate me, although there are people who hate me because of the color of my skin. I think some are racist because they’re just racially ignorant, and so I think eating with one another, doing things with one another, helps break down that ignorance and helps us understand one another better so that one side does not think the other side is just trying to be the victim all the time, you know. I think that’s one particular way we can do that. Did you want to go onto your next question, because I can just keep talking, I can go right to it.

Simcha: I guess it kind of leads into it. I was wondering if there was a time when, I mean, we’ve been talking about all the problems we have and all the issues you deal with. I was wondering if there was a time you could share when you really did feel a fully seen member of the Catholic Church.

Eric: So, as I was stating, I would visit certain parishes on a random Sunday when I had time. There’s a parish—I’m going to mention this parish’s name because I had a good experience—St. Josephat on the north side of Chicago [Marcia nods and smiles]—Oh it’s you? Okay, you know this was actually the second time there the first time I was there I was trying to help.

I’m with another organization called the Camino Project, long story short we send young Catholics on pilgrimages. So, the first time I was there, I was talking to the priest. I was trying to see if they could help us out with a certain fundraiser. It fell through, but one day it came to me, you know what, that church it looks very interesting, let me attend at the Mass, okay.

So, I went to the Mass there, and the time came for the homily, and the priest there was a white priest. He started to talk about something that Andrea alluded to, how he used to work in the Black community. It was actually half Black and half white, and the priest went on to say how the Black people would go to mass but would be treated like second citizens of the mass, had to sit in certain spots had to be the last to receive the Eucharist. Then he went on to say that one of the Black parishioners approached the head priest about it, and the priest rebuked her, said she was being selfish and things like that.

So, one day that lady just stopped going to Mass. And he went onto explain that this is what a lot of times racism does, right. When you treat a fellow person like that, Catholic or not, you kind of help them lose their faith. And he went on to say that’s something worse, said we need to check ourselves as people, find out where our faults are at, repent of our faults, and do what we can to do better, because no person, especially at a Catholic at Mass, should be treated like that regardless of color of that person’s skin.

And so, I was happy I came that day. It was just a random day and it was not Black history month; it was on his heart. It was one of his experiences. His experience was hearing this woman’s story of her experience. And eventually she started going back to Mass again and receiving the Eucharist.

I felt appreciated by it because I didn’t think the homily was said because it was expected, right. It was just– so Black history month, I expect to see people honoring Black history, but this was just totally out of the blue. And I felt appreciated because from that time on I knew that experience was in his heart and mind, and it changed him, and I know that wherever he’s at now, he’s preaching that same homily somewhere else, he might still be at St. Josephat. But I felt appreciated that day. Oh, for sure, I mean I felt everybody was looking at me, but they weren’t. I was just kind of like, oh, I’m just a Black person here on this day that he says this. 

Simcha: Thank you for sharing that. Is there anything else that any of you would like to share that you feel that your fellow Catholics, that white Catholics ought to know about the experience of being a Black Catholic?

Alessandra: We’re in a group with hundreds of Black Catholics, and I actually posed the question to people because my experience as a Black Catholic is very different from every other Black Catholic’s experience. And that’s one of the things that we, a lot of people express, that there’s Black Catholics spanning the continents, there’s Black Catholics all over the place, and we all worship differently and have different traditions, but we all have a relationship with Jesus Christ and we believe in the Eucharist and we believe in the Church.

So even though we all have different experiences and different traditions and different ways we worship and different parishes, that we all want to be seen as the body of Christ, and we all want to be recognized as being made in the image and likeness of God, but with that being said, like Marcia had said earlier, people want to have white Catholics see their Blackness.

And as a writer, in fiction, the default is white, so unless you say this character has brown skin, you’re going to assume that character is white. So too, if you say I don’t see color, you’re defaulting to the white experience. So, when we say we’re Black Catholics, it doesn’t take away our Catholicism at all but it acknowledges our culture and our traditions and our skin color and everything that encompasses. 

Simcha: Well, I’m wondering if I should rephrase my final question in light of what you just said, but I’m just going to go ahead and ask it and you can change my question and answer a different question if you’d rather. Is there anything you would like from white Catholics in particular, understanding of course that white Catholics are not a monolith any more than Black Catholics are, is there something that you would request or that you would hope for?

Marcia: Actually, I just talked to someone about this recently, just say “welcome” when we walk into your parish. Don’t make me earn my spot there.

I feel that– so I sing at church, I’m a cantor at the masses hereat church, and I have a very pretty singing voice. Like that’s a fact, it’s not like “oh, I’m so great.” But I know that if I want to feel welcome in a church, all I have to do is sit next to an old white lady and sing out of the hymnal, and then someone will talk with me at the sign of peace, and then if I don’t, it’s awkward. I feel that not making me earn my spot in the church is a huge way to actually welcome me in the church, because guess what, I’ve been a member of this church for 20 years. I’m here, whether you welcome me into this building or not, and I think just saying “hey welcome”—don’t tokenize me.

It’s funny how—Eric you mentioned St. Josephat. I used to live in Lincoln Park, I lived in Lincoln Park neighborhood in Chicago for about 5 years, and St Jospehat was where I went to mass on Sunday nights. I really enjoyed the mass there. I enjoyed is so much there because I was welcome right away all the time. And I didn’t realize that was it was until I started going to masses other places where I would walk in, they would say “welcome,” I would get this “do you want to bring up the gifts?” I would say “absolutely,” and then one day, I don’t know if it was the usher or someone heard me sing, and he’s like “oh my gosh, I have been trying to figure out how to get you to come back here more times, and now you just need you to join the choir, that’s how we get you to come back here!”

And I just thought it was that they were already, they like wanted me there, I always felt like I was wanted there. Like seriously, just saying “welcome,” I know that sounds crazy because you’re just like “Welcome, we’re Catholic; we welcome everyone.’ That is not true. I feel like an exhibit when I come to mass; people always kind of watch to make sure I know what to do.

I had someone in Mass tell me “now honey, this is where we stand,” and I’m like, I’m a legit catechist; I’m a youth minister. I know what I’m supposed to do.” But the people with the small Catholic microaggressions, like “wow, you knew everything?” I’m like, “I am Catholic. I grew up in Chicago, where if you want a good education, you’re more likely to go to Catholic school. So, I knew this before I became Catholic.”

So just treat us like any other Catholic, but also acknowledging our Blackness in that moment, knowing that, just like you would a Black person acknowledging that their skin comes with stuff, right, our skin comes with baggage, but we’re here to share the faith with you.

So I feel that sometimes—you know there’s that song “we are one body, one body in Christ” that we do not stand alone. I feel sometimes as a Black Catholic, I know that we are one body in Christ, but often I feel that I am standing alone when I enter a predominantly white Catholic space.

Even, I was a youth minister in a moderately sized town in Indiana for about 3 years, and the first weekend that I was in church there, I did not feel welcomed. And I was asked to, they were one Eucharistic minister short because I was going to introduce myself at all of the masses, and I was like “I can do it, it’s fine, just tell me where to stand. I can give them the Cup.” Where there was an older couple, and they looked at me like they were suspect, like the man just looked at me like, who are you with this Cup. Right? They didn’t have to know anyone at this mass, because it’s the Catholic church; you don’t know everyone who goes there, but they saw me and the wife went to go up to get the cup, and I was ready. And he yanked her back and just gave me this look, and then they went back to their pew.

And I was just like, I’m so glad I’m here to minister to all the racist kids. No, they weren’t all, they really, it turned out to be a fantastic experience, but I will never forget that day. I will never forget that Sat night mass when even though he didn’t know anybody else as a Eucharistic minister, they definitely, I don’t know what they thought I did to the church wine. I was really upset because I was like, I’m going to have to finish this nasty wine but that’s what really happened. I had to finish—church wine is gross, y’all.

That’s what it was, I don’t feel welcome until I earn my spot, and I shouldn’t have to earn my welcome in the Catholic church. It’s a Catholic church.

Simcha: Okay, all right, thank you so much everybody, thank you so very much for sharing your time and your experiences, and I’m hoping that this is the beginning of conversations for people and not, just that people will listen to it and try and really hear what you’re saying but that it will spark some more conversations in our homes and in our parishes. All right. Thank you everybody. 


What I learned on Corpus Christi this year

The first Sunday we went back to Mass was the feast of Corpus Christi. I was delighted to realize we could mark this feast, one of my absolute favorites, by receiving the actual corpus Christi inside the church building at last, back where we belong.

I have never been angry or bitter at our bishop for keeping Mass closed to the public. If we’re Catholics, we can’t just go get what we want and ignore the risk to the vulnerable. Even if it’s the body of Christ we want. Especially if it’s the body of Christ we want.

But oh, it was good to be back, even with masks, in alternate pews, with the sweet smells of early June roses and candle wax blending strangely with the increasingly familiar scent of hand sanitizer. I was so glad our separation was over, so glad we could be moving forward and starting to figure out how to safely make life more normal again.

Then came the first reading, and it hit me right between the eyes.  It’s a short reading, and very pointed. Moses exhorts the people to remember how God brought them out of Egypt, and how God dealt with them in the desert.

It’s a reading chosen for Corpus Christi because it reminds us: Look, from the very beginning, God has been leading you and feeding you. God doesn’t mind his business up in heaven, but he comes to us in the desert and gives us manna, and then he brings us home. Perfect for the feast day.

But it hit me so hard because of how it’s framed. It doesn’t just tell the story of how God cared for the people. It’s also the story of why God treated them as He did, and it’s a command to think about it and remember it, learn from it…Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly

Discerning out: What happens when a Catholic leaves seminary or religious life?

Joe Heschmeyer was once so sure of his vocation to the priesthood that he forgot he was supposed to be discerning it.

Everyone around him thought he should be a priest. His mother, he discovered later, had offered him to the Lord as an infant the way Hannah did in the Old Testament. Mr. Heschmeyer wrote about his vocation frequently on his blog Shameless Popery, speaking of his ordination as if it were inevitable. Things were going so well, he lost track of the idea that he was in seminary to test and explore his vocation.

“Pretty soon after I entered [in 2011], I stopped asking God if this was what he wanted. I felt like the question had already been answered. My grades were good; I was well esteemed; everything internal to the seminary felt successful. That felt like enough validation. I forgot to ask, ‘Are we still on the same page?’” Mr. Heschmeyer said.

It was not until friends and family had already bought airplane tickets and reserved hotel rooms for his ordination to the diaconate that he began to feel some doubt. He tried to assign his misgivings to “last-minute jitters,” but a black cloud of unease hung over his head.

He described riding on a bus on the way back from a retreat.

“The archbishop has an open seat next to him. A sort of rotating spot, where you can share whatever’s on your heart. It’s usually pretty short, out of respect—a 10-minute thing. I was there for half an hour, pouring out all these difficulties,” he said. The archbishop immediately reassured him that if he had any doubts, he should take more time before making a final commitment.

“It was a tremendous load that had been lifted off my shoulders. It was an illuminating and painful experience. I realized I was happy I wasn’t getting ordained. It wasn’t what I wanted to feel, or expected to feel,” Mr. Heschmeyer said.

He decided to take time off and then consider rejoining—a plan which, according to the Rev. Matt Mason, the vocations director for the diocese of Manchester, N.H., is not uncommon. But nine days into a 10-day retreat, Heschmeyer knew for sure he was not meant to be a priest after all.

Leaving the seminary or religious life can feel like freedom followed by disorientation, or like rejection followed by clarity. For many, the experience eventually bears fruits of self-knowledge and a more profound relationship with God. But first comes suffering.

Read the rest of my latest for America Magazine. This article is also in the July print edition. 

Abby Johnson: Police will racially profile my biracial son; that’s smart

Abby Johnson felt the need to speak up about race.

In a June 25 YouTube video titled “My biracial boy,” the 39-year-old anti-abortion activist used her five-year-old adopted son as a jumping off point for a 15-minute manifesto on the roots of racial unrest in the United States. She made the video private a few hours after publishing it, but said she plans to make it viewable again soon. Other have reposted saved copies of her video.

Wearing sweatpants and a T-shirt printed with lyrics by Vanilla Ice,  Johnson said in the video that her son is now an “adorable, perpetually tan-looking little brown boy [but] one day he’s gonna grow up and he’s going to be a tall, probably sort of large, intimidating-looking, maybe, brown man.”

 Johnson said that while her four other sons “are probably gonna look like nerdy white guys,” her biracial son will likely be racially profiled by police when he grows up. 

“That doesn’t make me angry,” Johnson said. 

“I realized I’m gonna have to have a different conversation with [my son] than I do with my nerdy white kids,” she said. 
With the voices of her children audible in the background, Johnson explained that she knows black men are more likely to be incarcerated for crimes than white men, and because of this, a “smart” police officer will be more careful around her “brown” son than around her white ones. 
“I look at our prison population and I see that there is a disproportionately high number of African-American males in our prison population for crimes, particularly for violent crimes; so statistically, when a police officer sees a brown man like my [child’s name] walking down the road, as opposed to my white nerdy kids … these police officers know in their head … that statistically my brown son is more likely to commit a violent offense over my white sons. Okay. So the fact that, in his head, he would be more careful around my brown son than my white son, that doesn’t actually make me angry. That makes that police officer smart, because of statistics,” she said.
“I’m a researcher by nature,” Johnson said. 
Johnson said that, according to her research, high rates of incarceration of black men is caused by black fatherlessness. She then claimed that, according to her research, there is a push to make black fatherlessness culturally acceptable.
“There are studies out there that are trying to redefine black fatherhood. They are essentially saying that the seventy percent number is a lie because black fatherhood looks different than white fatherhood; that black fatherhood actually does look like a black man coming in and out of the home and not being a consistent presence in the home, and that version of fatherhood is equivalent to a white father being consistently in the home,” she said.
“Okay, I don’t want to cuss on here, but that is B.S., and that is racist,” Johnson continued. 
“[B]lack fathers do not get a pass. Just because it is culturally different, just because black fathers don’t want to be in the home, and culturally it has been acceptable for them to be with multiple women,” she said.
Johnson did not specify which studies she read that attempt to redefine black fatherhood. 
Apparently referring to the ongoing racial unrest following the killing of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd, Johnson said, “Yeah, we’ve got big issues right now in the black community, but at the root of it the root is not with bad cops. The root starts in the home.”
“It’s not because of bad cops, [but] because of bad dads,” she said.
The video’s settings were changed to “private” a few hours after it was published. 
I called Johnson on Thursday to ask some questions about the video. Here is our conversation:

SF: What were you hoping to achieve with this video?

AJ: I wanted to give my opinion and how I’m feeling about this whole situation. Particularly as a woman whose family is affected by this, because we do have a son who is biracial. We do recognize that we do have to have different conversations with our son. It’s not something we shy away from in our house. Race is not something we shy away from in our home. 

SF: What study were you referring to, when you said you read that black men aren’t expected to be monogamous or raise their children?
AJ: I’ve seen several of them. There’s quite a few out there that show basically redefining black fatherhood, sort of showing that black fatherhood expectations are different. The expectation is different in black homes than in white homes. That was surprising to me. For me, fatherhood is fatherhood. It was just interesting to see that people were trying to differentiate fatherhood based on race.
 I talked about that with some of my black friends, and they were really appalled by that. They were really outraged. I’ve had several discussions with one of my friends in particular about that. We both said this is something that needs to be addressed, by not just the black community but by everyone. 
SF: Do you think black people might see your video and start to think differently about fatherhood? 
AJ: I don’t know. Right now, tensions are very high, and I think in general, if you’re a white person and you’re not part of the Black Lives Matter movement, which I’m not, then your opinion is not valued. You’re seen as a racist. You’ve done a good job to paint me as that, anyway. I’m sure this article will do the same. 
I think if you’re not on this “social justice warrior woke” train of thought, you’re considered a racist. I don’t think that’s fair. I can’t remember a time in my life where I’ve ever discriminated against someone because of their race. I can’t remember a time when ever in my life I have acted on any sort of prejudice.
Of course we all have fleeting prejudiced thoughts that we all have to check. That’s something we all have. I just can’t ever recall a time in my life when I’ve actually been racist toward someone. But I think we’re living in times where it is the popular thing to call someone a racist. If your views don’t align with someone, you call them a racist, and if you disagree with what they say, you call them a racist. 
I took my video down for a moment. I wanted to talk to my husband. I’m gonna put it back up. My family was getting threats from the supposed Catholic community.
SF: Who was threatening you?
AJ: People who subscribe to you. It’ll get worse once you put this out. 

SF: What kind of threats are they making?

AJ:  People saying they’re gonna call CPS, they’re gonna do everything they can to remove this child from my home. That’s ridiculous. And, this probably wasn’t a Catholic person, but one man messaged and put up a comment that said I didn’t deserve to be a mom, and someone should shoot me and put me out of my misery?


SF: Did you screenshot that comment?


AJ: I immediately deleted it. I don’t want to look at that. 
This is the kind of hate that’s being spread right now. What you’re doing right now will only add fuel to the fire. That’s probably what you want. It’s just a very tense time, and it’s unfortunate people can’t share the things they want to share; they can’t share the things they discuss with their friends, with their family. They can’t talk about things without receiving threats, without being attacked from within the Catholic community. It’s a sad time. 
SF: If we could, I’d like to go back to those studies you read that showed that there’s a push to change notions about black fatherhood. You said there was more than one. Do you remember where you saw those studies?
AJ: It led me down a rabbit trail. I looked up fatherlessness in general in homes, and that led me to fatherlessness in the black community, not that it was seen as appropriate that they weren’t in the home, but it was saying: In black culture, it’s acceptable for black men to be regularly in and out of the home, and more often than white fathers. 
It did talk about black fathers being more likely to do more domestic things with their children, bathing their children, one study talked about that. Feeding their children, things of that nature. But there were other studies showing that fatherhood just looked different in the black community.
To me, it simply appeared they were trying really hard to justify the 70%, and to reduce the 70% number that’s been hanging out there for years and years. Instead of trying to get to the root cause of the problem, it seemed like they were trying to justify the number. 
SF: Are you aware of statistics that show that black men are more likely to be arrested more often for the same crimes that white people commit, and given harsher sentences when they are charged than white people who are charged with those same crimes?
AJ: I just simply looked at the statistics that were out there. Black men are disproportionately incarcerated. 
SF: Is it possible that they don’t actually commit more crimes, but that they’re incarcerated more often anyway?
AJ: I don’t know. I’d have to look at numbers showing that. I don’t have that data in front of me. I think it’s possible. I think we just have to look at data as it comes. I’m always interested in looking at data. I can say that I am a person who, in general, appreciates data over emotion.
SF: If black fatherlessness is at the root of black incarceration rates, what is at the root of black fatherlessness? What do you think is the cause for that?
AJ: I’m not sure. I’m not a historian. I don’t have all the answers to everything that ails us in our society. I think there has to be something at the root of that. I think Alveda King has talked about that a little bit. Cultural expectations are different for various reasons. I don’t know all those reasons. I’m not a sociologist. 
Why is breastfeeding different in the black community? That goes back to the time of slavery. I know there is something there that causes the stats to be the way they are. [fact check: there are modern, ongoing causes of racial disparities in breastfeeding] Why are serial killers 95% white? I don’t know. [fact check: the racial diversity of serial killers mirrors the general population] I don’t have the answer for that, either. Why are the majority of white collar crimes committed by white men? 
SF: If you know police officers are more likely to see your son as more of a threat than your white sons, do you discipline him in different ways from your white sons?

AJ: No, that’s a disgusting question.

SF: You said it would be smart for a policeman to treat them differently, so wouldn’t it be smart for you to treat them differently?

AJ: That’s a disgusting question. For you to think I would treat my children differently. The fact that you can’t see the difference is disgusting. 

SF: Does the pro-life movement have a racism problem?

AJ: I think racism exists, yes.

SF: Do you think this video will help?
AJ: I didn’t create this video to extinguish racism. I created it to share my thoughts. 

SF: You said you took the video down, but you’re going to put it up again. Why is that? Will there be a disclaimer or an explanation when you put it up?

AJ: I don’t need an explanation. 

Here are some useful links for further reading. I will continue to add to this list. 

A view of the mountain

Last month, my siblings and I worked out the final design for my father’s gravestone. We opted for a single stone with both my parents’ names on it, thinking forward to when my mother will die. I remember being glad that at least the part with the names was straightforward: one husband, one wife, one last name.

But even as we arrange to have that name carved in stone, I cannot help thinking about how transient it is. That name, my maiden name, is French, but our family is certainly not. My shtetl-born ancestors fled their home on a French boat, and some overworked Ellis Island official made the switch, either translating the name or just not listening very hard, Vito Corleone-style. Our true name is lost, and my family name is less than a hundred years old. So when I gave it up for my husband’s name, I was not giving up much.

And when we gave my husband’s last name to our children, that was not much to give, either. The auspicious name of “Fisher” came into being when my husband’s great-grandfather did something regrettable and had to flee the country quickly. When he came back, his name was “Fisher,” and that is all we know.

What is a Fisher? Some combination of whatever we cannot shake and whatever we decide to build, just like everyone else in the family of man. Trace anyone’s ancestry back far enough and you are almost guaranteed to hit a question mark or a lie or else an idea that may not sit well: that the family we really belong to is the family of man.

Most of us have a history of going back and forth across continents and oceans, whether we were dragged there or seeking fortune or fleeing oppression or escaping justice. Back and forth, around and around we go, taking on and shedding and making up names as we go. I do not say that history does not matter. But individual family names matter less than we like to admit; and eventually they will be taken away from us.

Shortly before he died, my father said that God was taking away more and more things from him: his health, his ability to visit my mother, who has advanced Alzheimer’s and lives in a nursing home, even his ability to walk. He told my sister it was good, to lose these things. He said God was getting him ready for death. He had a clear view of where he was headed . . .

Read the rest of my latest for America magazine.