When I attended elementary school in the late sixties and early seventies, children like my son Calvin were sequestered to a separate cinder block building across the parking lot. They rode the short bus. The rest of us kids rarely caught sight of them. Some students called them all the names you'd imagine. Today, my son spends most of his time in his high school's Life Skills (special ed) classroom at the end of the hall. He is seen in the corridors and cafeteria, though is understood by few. In part because he is nonverbal, most of his typical peers and their teachers cannot grasp how complex of a child he is. In this busy world, perhaps they haven't the time or inclination for true understanding. I wonder sometimes what disparaging remarks some students have made behind his back. Though I imagine most of his classmates are kind, no doubt there are a few who whisper insults and slurs, mocking his disability like a certain crude official who somehow got elected.

In what seems like a lifetime ago, last Sunday I tuned into part of the Super Bowl, watching first to see if cameras would capture any Kansas City Chiefs fans mocking the Native Americans whom their team is so regrettably and ignorantly named for. It's astounding that Indigenous people's caricatures are still being used as mascots, their cultures grotesquely stereotyped and dishonored in manners resembling blackface, as if the pillage and pilfering of their villages and land, and the rape, kidnapping and slaughter of their people wasn't enough. And though Native people publicly take offense at these mascots, righteously expressing their disapproval, Whites dig in and stand their ground, insisting the opposite is true, clinging by threads to their disrespectful fetishes. Although I saw no cameras panning across White faces swathed in paint and feathers, when I heard the crowd parody a Native chant, I cringed.

At halftime, Jennifer Lopez and Shakira electrified the field, singing and dancing—indeed celebrating women—surrounded by an army of dark-haired sisters in regalia, their bodies 
gorgeous and prancing to Latin American rhythms. Clad in sexy sequins and leather getups, they sang in English and Spanish, embraced a feathery American and Puerto Rican flag, parading their talents, strength and stamina. An all-female string section worked their bows in unison. Smiling widely, I got teary seeing so many women own center stage and make such powerful political statements. They celebrated Goddess and matriarchy, Puerto Rican and other Latin Americans and their music, with nods to various cultures peppered into their mastery. 

In an instant, however, some folks denounced the show as disgusting, crude and unfit for their children. What I saw was altogether different, even as I watched it a second time. 
I saw formidable women take agency, women who no doubt had total autonomy over their production. I saw girls singing, "Let's get loud! Ain't nobody gotta tell you what you gotta do!" I saw gifted women kicking (and shaking) ass, as if to say "kiss mine!" to the intolerant officials who disparage Americans of Color, block the entry of Muslims and Africans, denigrate and separate refugees from their families, putting their children in cages. 

Those who scorned the female performers were likely the same ones watching a field full of mostly-Black athletes like gladiators bash each-other's heads in, risking traumatic brain and other injuries. Throngs of White onlookers—coaches, managers, fans—stood or sat in the safety of the sidelines, bleachers and VIP boxes, drinking beer, chewing gum, cursing and applauding each vicious sack. Boys and girls were also watching the carnage, same as they do in video games, television, and movies.

The condemnation of the female performers reminded me of contemptuous folks who quietly chastise overweight people for wearing bikinis at the beach or pool. I was reminded of the folks who champion dress codes for girls for the so-called sake of preserving boys' precious educations. I was reminded how women and girls are told, tacitly or not, to keep our knees together, to behave, to be ladylike, to smile, to consent, to be quiet, modest, obedient, sedate, yielding, abiding, pretty and chaste rather than fierce, assertive, outspoken, strong, dominant, irreverent. Lastly, I considered how it might please some people if they never had to see kids and adults like my son Calvin drool and limp and writhe in public.

I know what it is to be ridiculed and shamed. As a rowdy tomboy, I was told to wear dresses and skirts. I was scorned for my stringy hair and inflamed acne, even by adults. I've been shamed for how I've looked (too boyish or too sexy), how I've acted (too serious or oversensitive), the friends I've kept and keep, whom I've loved, how I've dressed, and what I eat for breakfast or lunch. I've no doubt but that if Calvin were slightly more able to be independent and mainstreamed, he'd be at times bullied, ridiculed, shunned and shamed for how he looks, and sounds and walks and eats. Likewise, I wonder if the Angolan and Congolese refugees at his school are subject to similar abuse and chastisement by a handful of the most ignorant students and adults.

My best guess is that we've all been mocked, shamed and ridiculed, and have likewise been guilty of committing similar offenses. I too often fail miserably. What are the drivers of these kinds of castigations? I wager fear, ignorance and conceit. My boy Calvin is incapable of feeling these. As such, though he's understood by few, and cannot read or write or feed himself or speak, he is quite the teacher, a rare and pure reminder of how it's best to be.

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