15 Jan
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Book Review: “The Beautiful American” by Marilyn Holdsworth

The Beautiful AmericanReviewed by Bev Scott

I was engaged in this story which begins in current time with an antique dealer, Abby, who purchases a coveted lady’s desk for herself.  The desk is not only the connection between Abby and her suitor, Nathan, but also to primary character of the second and major story line, Jasmine, a slave in the Virginia household of the future President James Monroe.  This second story unfolds when Abby finds a diary in her new desk.

The author’s descriptions are vivid and clear and carried me into the experience of Jasmine’s struggles to help with and learn her letters beside her master’s spoiled and self-centered daughter, Eliza.  Jasmine’s character develops from a naïve inexperienced young girl awed by her opportunity to move into the big house, receiving clothes, an education  to a more confident young woman enchanted with a young aspiring artist she meets in Paris where Master Monroe serves as Ambassador to France. Jasmine supports her mistress, Elizabeth Monroe, in preparations for entertainment, settles the high-spirited Eliza, keeps confidences for Elizabeth and earns a privileged place in the Monroe household.

I liked the inclusion of actual historical characters in this story.  We follow the realistic characters of James and Elizabeth Monroe, as James becomes a significant player in the politics of our new nation.  Monroe is encouraged and supported by Thomas Jefferson.  The author even brings in Napoleon and his wife Josephine while the Monroes are living in Paris.  The story is not deeply involved in the historical realities of these characters but adds spice to bring them into the story

Jasmine’s story is told primarily in her voice.  This point of view allows the author to give us an intimate view of Jasmine’s character by using the dialect of the uneducated slave. Following this dialogue can be a challenge for the reader, but Holdsworth manages to use it to convey image and character of without slowing the reader down too much.  As Jasmine is educated, including learning French, the author drops the use of the dialect.  At times it was a bit confusing when the point of view moves from the intimate first person to the observer’s voice in describing the experiences and actions of James and Elizabeth Monroe.  Since the point of view is Jasmine’s telling of the story, I wanted Jasmine to tell me more of her internal dilemmas and thoughts about her condition.  Does she worry about being surprised and perhaps raped by Gabriel, the bitter rebel slave from a nearby planation?  Did she have internal conflicts about leaving her love in France?  The story doesn’t tell us.

As a reader, I anticipated the evolving romance between Abby and Nathan as well as the outcome for Jasmine.  I would like a little more uncertainty.  The author uses the diary as the vehicle to reveal Jasmine’s story.  Yet I wonder if an uneducated slave would tell her story in a diary.  Despite the questions I have raised, Jasmine’s story as well as the opening story of Abby and Nathan kept me engaged with a quick pace and vivid descriptions in a realistic historical context.

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17 Sep

I Have a Dream, Trayvon Martin and the Voting Rights Act


I Have A Dream - 1This month we celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington and the Reverend Martin Luther King’s inspirational “I Have a Dream Speech.”   In that speech, Dr. King called for our country to meet the “promissory note” written in the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence….the promise that all men are guaranteed inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  He reproached America for defaulting on that “promissory note”.  Yet he optimistically refused to believe that “the bank of justice” was bankrupt.  Fifty years later, we still have not fulfilled the promise.  Recent happenings emphasize that as a country we are still behind on our promise.  Is it any wonder that some worry that the “bank of justice” is bankrupt?

The verdict in the Trayvon Martin case brought forth healthy dialogue in the spirit that would make King proud.  It also, sadly brought forth vicious racist diatribe.  The jury in the case determined that according to Florida law, George Zimmerman did not murder Trayvon Martin.  Many in the white community argue that justice was served, agree with the verdict and don’t understand the angry reactions from the black community.   One of the reasons that many in the white community don’t understand is that as whites we haven’t lived our lives facing the suspicion of authorities that we are a punk, a criminal or involved with drugs. Yes, our hearts might race momentarily when we are pulled over by the police, anxious about getting a speeding

I Have A Dream - 2

ticket. But we do not live with the common experience of suspicion simply because of the color of our skin.  We are not stopped as we drive through our own middle class neighborhood as an excuse to search our cars for drugs, nor are we arrested and thrown in jail on the suspicion that we committed a burglary because we happen to be the same skin color as the burglar, nor are we roughed up, frisked or shot because we look like we don’t belong in the neighborhood.


As a college student in 1963, I remember listening to King’s speech and being inspired by his dream.  That inspiration led me as a young white woman to become an activist in support of civil rights, to work in the “War on Poverty” and to become involved in anti-racism education.  When I first heard King’s speech, I thought the problem was rooted in the South and in big urban areas.  I wanted to change the voting rights laws and remove “Whites Only” privileges.  I wanted to increase opportunity for the poor and disenfranchised.  But I learned from my experience that the problem was not only in discriminatory laws and practices but that the problem was also lodged inside me and each one of us who are complicit often in blissful unconsciousness of how our white privilege serves us.  It is the ignorance of what white privilege means that many of us in the white community don’t understand and it is the knowledge and experience of what white privilege means that angers the black community.   Because of white privilege, If Trayvon had been white, he would still be alive.

I wrote recently about the excitement and celebration for the Supreme Court decision striking down DOMA and allowing the lower court ruling against Proposition 8 in California to stand.  These decisions are great leaps forward in support of the civil rights of gays and lesbians.  Yet that same week, the Supreme Court delivered another decision which also highlights our current default on the “promissory note” of equality for all.  That decision I Have A Dream - 3struck at the heart of the 1965 Voting Rights Act allowing states with histories of voter discrimination to change election laws without federal approval.  Some states moved almost immediately to require voter identification and to begin re-districting as this Supreme Court decision allows without federal oversight on the potential impact of disenfranchisement.

The Court seems to believe that we are beyond discrimination at the ballot box almost fifty years later.  Do they believe the “promissory note” been paid off? The moves by these states demonstrate that it has not.  To counter the moves by these states to enact so called “anti-fraud” and other laws of potential disenfranchisement, civil rights leaders are now acting in defense.   They recently announced a campaign called “American Values First” which will fight for legislation and will offer templates to expand voting rights in all 50 states.

Dr. King said “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”  The arc is not complete.  We still must bend it toward justice when it veers off,  take a stand to pay off the “promissory note” of freedom and liberty and fulfill King’s dream, “that one day this nation will rise up, live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’”


17 Aug

Striking Down DOMA and Proposition Eight

Doma3The Supreme Court struck down DOMA, The Federal Defense of Marriage Act, and allowed the lower court ruling against Proposition 8 in California to stand!  I was surprised, thrilled and celebrated with my spouse in our Castro neighborhood in San Francisco.  It was a celebration marked by music, congratulatory speeches and the excitement of thousands who have advocated and hoped for this day.

“But, what does it mean?” many have asked.

There are many legal nuances in the complicated rulings.  However,  to simplify and personalize it, it means that my partner, now spouse, of over 35 years and I can now benefit from the over 1100 federal benefits granted to heterosexual married couples including social security and inheritance benefits.  We were married along with 18,000 other couples in California during the breathless few months when same sex marriage became legal because the California Supreme Court recognized our relationships as legal under the California Constitution, and the time when voters influenced by misleading ads voted in November 2008.  Passing Proposition Eight by a small majority limited marriage in the California Constitution to a man and a women.  Striking down Prop 8 now means equality among same sex couples in California who want to marry.  Many of our friends, denied the opportunity when Prop 8 passed, are now headed to the altar.

Wedding-B-C-440x320The rulings also mean filing taxes will be easier…a joint return filed with both the Feds and the state instead of the contortions of filing a joint return to the state tax board and separate returns to the US Department of Treasury…and potentially paying more.  It reinforces the right to visit and make health decisions for same sex spouses in medical facilities and the recognition of the non-biological spouse as a parent.  Many more benefits will come to light as the Federal Government works to clarify how those over 1100 benefits will be available to same sex couples.

Most important, the rulings mean acknowledgement of our full equality, rights and privileges under the law.  We are not “less than”, ignored or undeserving.   It means that our loving relationships deserve the same respect, recognition and appreciation that heterosexual couples are given.  I have been grateful for many years that my heterosexual married daughter readily acknowledged that her “moms” provided her a model of how to be in a long term committed relationship.

Wedding-HandsAlthough it is exciting to celebrate and to be swept along with the tide of this current civil rights movement, there is still a lot of work left to do to ensure that these rights and benefits are extended to couples in other states.  The Court did not give us a ruling that provides full equality to same sex couples in every state.  Only thirteen states currently allow same sex marriage and it appears that the ruling will require the Federal Government to recognize and provide benefits to those married couples.  But, thirty one states have passed constitutional bans against them.  The same sex couples in those states cannot marry or receive Federal benefits accorded either heterosexual couples in their states, nor same sex couples in the thirteen where same sex marriages are allowed.  Many who oppose same sex marriage believe that our love is immoral or goes against tradition or their religious beliefs.  However, I believe love ultimately transforms hatred, bigotry, intolerance, ignorance and even traditional beliefs.  One day our love, our relationships, our families will be equal, recognized and respected in every state not just thirteen.

(Note: This blog was originally posted in the Transition Network National Newsletter – August 2013 and the Vibrant Nation website).

8 May
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Book Review: “Redemption” by Joe Prentis

RedemptionReviewed by Bev Scott

Based at the end of the Civil War, a time of turmoil, suspicion and great uncertainty, Sargent Oakley and Private McCade, who have been loyal Union soldiers fighting for and as aids to General McClellan, find themselves under the suspicion of participation in an assassination plot of high level government officials.   The author does a masterful job of describing the environment, the historical context, the politics and the personal qualities of his characters.  I felt I was there.  As a reader, I was drawn in immediately and the plot development kept me engaged to the end.    At times, I was a little confused regarding who might be part of the plot and who was not.  In a way that reinforces the story and the political chaos and complexity of the historical times.   I liked the redemption of Sargent Oakley, although I was disappointed in what seemed like a story brought too quickly to an end.

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