Exercise or Weaponize My Privilege?

Back in November 2022, while on our way to the Stanley Museum of Art, we saw the two murals on the East Burlington Street Parking Ramp. It was the first time we saw them in person although photos were available last fall. The Little Village article published an article about them on September 30, 2021. It’s the Oracles of Iowa mural project, conceived by Public Space and the Center for Afrofuturist Studies partnered with the artists, Antoine Williams and Donte K. Hayes. The artists sought to stimulate a conversation in the community about how black and white people relate to each other.

The murals are painted on parking ramp at two locations along East Burlington Street. One says “Black Joy Needs No Permission” and the other says “Weaponize Your Privilege to Save Black Bodies.”

The Little Village article points out that a survey of public perception of the murals revealed that 64 percent of white respondents supported the murals while only 40-50 percent of minority respondents supported them. The stickler for minorities was the use of the word “weaponize” and the phrase “Black bodies,” which were thought to raise impressions of “violence” and dehumanization.

Because I’m a writer, retired psychiatrist, and a writer, the word “weaponize” made me wonder what other word might have been chosen in this context. The only definition of “weaponize” that I can find which makes sense to me is from Merriam-Webster: “to adapt for use as a weapon of war.”

I’m a retired physician, so I have a perspective on the “privilege” to “save” lives, and by extension to enhance health and well-being. I’m also Black. I grew up in Iowa and I can recall getting bullied and being called a “nigger.” I can remember my psychiatry residency days, which includes a memory of a patient saying “I don’t want no nigger doctor.” I didn’t have the option to switch patients with another resident. When I saw the patient on rounds, I did my best and every time the “nigger” word erupted, I left the room.  It was one of a few episodes which were marked by frank racist attitudes.

I was given the University of Iowa Graduate Medical Education Excellence in Clinical Coaching Award in 2019, one of several esteemed colleagues to be honored in this way. Many of those who nominated me were white. It was one of many joyful experiences I had before my retirement in 2020, when the pandemic and other upheavals in society occurred, including the murder of Black persons, resulting in many consequences prompting the creation of the murals.

I have other memories. I was privileged to be given a scholarship to attend one of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) in this country, Huston-Tillotson College (now Huston-Tillotson University). It’s one of the oldest schools and is the oldest in Austin, Texas. The scholarship was supported by one of the local churches in my home town of Mason City. I don’t think it had any black members. Although I didn’t take my undergraduate degree from H-TU, it was one of the most valuable learning experiences in my life. It was the first time I was ever not the only Black student in the class. It was marked by both joy and a struggle to learn where I belonged.

The murals did for me what the artists hoped it would do. It stimulated me to reflect on the meaning of racializing life. They stir me to seek perspective on whether joy has any color and why anyone needs permission for it. And I believe I would rather exercise my privilege to respect and care for others than to weaponize anything, including my sense of humor.

MLK, Jr and me

Snow Day!

I wrote this post yesterday because I didn’t know whether or not we’d have a power outage because of high winds (up to nearly 50 mph) predicted for the Arctic Blast this week.

When we’re not outside scooping our walkway and driveway, we’ll probably be playing cribbage or, God forbid, Scrabble (which I always lose).

We’ve heard about the renewed interest in board games, one of them being Scrabble. We recently found an old Scrabble game at Old Capitol Town Center (formerly Old Capitol Mall). It’s Super Scrabble and it was on sale for $50 at a hole-in-the-wall shop lacking an entrance sign. The high price is because it’s a collectible relic from the past, although a quick internet search revealed it was made in 2004—hardly an antique. You can find them on eBay for $30. On the other hand, you can find them going for as much as $179 at an on-line store called Mercari.

We’ll also probably take a break by munching on our Christmas cookies.

I’m all set for the freezing weather. I’ve got my thermal underwear out and sweats out, along with my heavy gloves.

The wind will probably make shoveling pointless at times. We’ll probably bag it and then I’ll practice the juggling behind the back trick—another pointless activity.

Stanley Museum of Art in Iowa City

We visited the Stanley Museum of Art, which opened in August. One piece impressed us even before we entered the museum. One of our favorites is “Two Lines Oblique” by George Rickey. It’s a huge mobile outside the entrance.

The mural “Surroundings” by Odila Donald Odita is striking. Odita says it’s his answer to “Mural” by Jackson Pollock. I don’t even know the question posed by Pollock’s huge work. I guess some see a dancer in motion.

Sena’s favorites were the mobile and the painting “Spring Embraces Yellow” by Alma Thomas. I initially missed the point of “Heeler III” which Sena got immediately. It’s one of those platform high heel shoes, dang! I guess the platform is back in style, according to a few recent fashion web articles. I guess I’ll wait on putting in my order.

Some pieces of art might be a little hard to say we “like” per se, because they convey a sense of violence or tragedy. I think “Red April” by Sam Gilliam is one of those, because it originated from the grief and horror after Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in April of 1963.

The photos of downtown Iowa City are a kind of walk down memory lane for us. It’s been years since we’ve visited the place. In some ways, it hasn’t changed much. On the other hand, the “Writers in a Café” monument with the quote by Marvin Bell in the ped mall was new to us.

The Iowa Avenue Literary Walk has been around for ages, but Kurt Vonnegut’s quote about “What we pretend to be” was unfamiliar. It seemed like a fresh insight into human nature, but one which we probably already knew.

We don’t pretend to be art critics, but I think we can say we’re art enthusiasts. We’re not pretending that.

A Day Without Glitches in the Matrix

Yesterday was the one of those days where everything seemed to happen for a reason. If we had arrived at Terry Trueblood Recreation Area a few minutes too early or too late, we would not have seen the mesmerizing rise and fall of the shore birds on Sand Lake.

I thought of the word “murmuration,” which refers to starlings flying in tight, swirling patterns. I checked the dictionary and discovered that the word “murmuration” refers to the murmuring sound similar to low-pitched noises starlings make as they fly in flocks, swirling this way and that, presumably to avoid predatory birds.

This led to my wondering if starlings were the only birds that form a murmuration.

I wonder of shore birds also do it because we saw them flying in a sort of swirling pattern when there were no visible predators.

We might have missed the light shining just right on a majestic American Sycamore in all its glory, festooned like a Christmas tree with its seed balls hanging from almost every limb. In fact, some people do make Christmas tree ornaments out of them.

We might also have missed the squirrel munching on his lunch in a tree. It was not eating American Sycamore seed balls, probably only because it was not sitting in an American Sycamore tree.

We have walked the Terry Trueblood trail often, in every season, including autumn. We’ve never seen the seed balls before.

And we might have also missed the Subaru Outback with Wisconsin license plates in the parking lot. It was covered with decals. And later I discovered that the word “decal” is short for “decalcomania,” which is exactly how I would describe how the car came to be so heavily decorated—from an episode of decal-co-mania.

A lot happened yesterday which seemed somehow just right. Some people see so-called “glitches in the matrix,” which are events that seem out of place and ill-timed, leading to the idea we’re living in a poorly run computer simulation.

What about the times we see and feel everything occurring so smoothly that we’re surprised by the flow? Maybe we don’t call attention to it so as to avoid interrupting the miracle.

The Screaming Barn of Iowa City!

The other day we went out for a walk on Scott Boulevard. There is an old barn right across the street from the Harvest Preserve entrance. It’s picturesque but on that day, it was festooned with Halloween decorations including goblins and ghouls and the ground was covered with gravestones inscribed with comical epitaphs.

We’ve been in the neighborhood for a couple of years and the old barn never looked like this. I recall reading something on the web about it undergoing this transformation in the past, but I can’t find it now.

I got in touch with Harvest Preserve and they told me that, while ACT owns the barn, they let Harvest Preserve decorate it. That is awesome!

The skeleton flying near the top of the barn is a spooky spectacle. What’s just as creepy is the mannequin inside the barn. There is a big door in the back that’s open and when the wind blew it creaked horribly.

If this were permanent, it would probably qualify for listing on the Roadside America web site.

Scouts Food Drive Pickup Today

Today is the bag pickup day for the Scouts food drive. Bags were distributed October 1-5. They’ll be picked up between 9:00 AM to noon. According to the Scouting for Food website,

On average, the Scouting for Food Drive typically collects over 93,387+ pounds of food from Cedar Rapids, Iowa City and its neighboring areas. This translates to over 77,823+ meals that will be served for those who need it most during the winter season.

University of Iowa Surpasses Harvard, Princeton as No. 2 for Writing

The University of Iowa, according to U.S. News & World Report is No. 2 for writing in the latest rankings. It’s the only public university in the top 10, behind No. 1 Brown University. It’s out in front of Harvard, Cornell, Duke, and Princeton.

Sena’s Epic Bigfoot Expedition!

We know you’ve been waiting for Sena’s next Bigfoot safari and it turns out aliens from the third galaxy on the left have been dropping them into Sand Lake at Terry Trueblood Recreation Area.

The aliens shoot through a gravel road type of portal and beam their Bigfoot pets who’ve outgrown their homes into Sand Lake. They eat like growing teenagers and the interdimensional highway is a convenient way to get rid of them. It’s a good thing they can dog-paddle to shore.

The uptick in Bigfoot sightings probably has a lot to do with the incoming hordes of invasive insects, including the most recent pest, the Spotted Lanternfly. It’s not hard to figure out why. Bigfoot creatures eat the bugs by the handful.

What’s not so clear is where the Spotted Lanternfly actually comes from. Oh, I know the official report is that they’re from China, but that dodges the conspiracy theory by many people (I don’t know them personally) that the Iowa State University (ISU) Extension agents are cultivating them on the sly. Their website downplays the whole affair and says you can send them specimens preserved in hand sanitizer if you’re interested, but nope, there’s no infestation.

Sure; tell that to Thompson Aero, Inc, which has been dusting crops and park woods areas around the city lately, using what they want people to think is Neem Oil Spray. You can buy a product called Neem Oil spray at Walmart. They sell it claiming it kills the Spotted Lanternfly.

In fact, our sources reveal that the opposite is true. Neem Oil actually nourishes the bug and increases their reproductive capacity. The ISU Extension office is in on it because the real goal is to increase the population of Bigfoot creatures (who like Spotted Lanternfly more than beef jerky) in Iowa because the states in the Pacific Northwest, Alaska, and Wisconsin are snatching up all the tourism trade. You didn’t know it was all about money?

This whole business is run by the ISU Extension, which is why it’s called Area 41. Don’t buy into the hogwash about the name pointing to this being an ongoing April Fool’s Day joke.

There’s such a thing as the Freedom of Information Act and those in the know (who I don’t know at all) found out about this scheme. They planned a Storm Area 41 similar to the Storm Area 51 Raid in Nevada in 2019. That was said to have started out as a joke—and then really crapped out.

Anyway, Sena is keeping an eye out for Bigfoot. I can’t promise that she won’t launch another expedition in the future. Even the men in black with their big-ass neualyzers can’t stop us.

ZAP!

You know, I don’t think there’s any such thing as Area 41 or Bigfoot either. Hey, I just saw a tall guy and a pug both wearing black suits walk by my window. The pug was singing “Who Let the Dogs Out.”

That’s weird. It’s way too hot outside to be wearing black suits.

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