Today was lost to autotune and Charles Ramsey. This doesn't - thank god - happen to me frequently. I lost a day to Sarah Palin when she first came on the scene. I lost a day to the Murdoch hearings before the riots the summer of 11. There is a part of my brain that is so curious it overrides every other circuit and I guess I should just let it take over when it needs to but instead I try to whip it into shape by wheedling about my childcare and job responsibilities. To wit, I was intensely self-critical after I had seen the autotune 20 times or so. I felt I should be working instead of listening times 21-30.
Charles Ramsey is one of the people who helped Amanda Berry try to escape from his Cleveland neighbor's house. She was one of three held in slavery there for a decade. He was interviewed by a local news guy, who cut off the interview when Charles explained that he knew something was wrong when "a pretty white girl ran into a black man's arms . . . something's wrong here." The tape of his 911 call after he successfully broke the door down with Berry and unnamed others has also been released. The operator asks him to identify the victim as white, black or Hispanic. When I left America the 911 choices were black and white. It is great that Hispanic is in there now. (Also the Salsa music reference) The operator asks Ramsey what the victim needs:
Ramsey: [TO BERRY] You need an ambulance or what? [TO DISPATCHER] She needs everything, she's in a panic bro, she's been kidnapped so you know put yourself in her shoes.
The last sentence I think is why I fell in love with Ramsey. What perfect empathy. What effective communication. Watching him is like watching an August Wilson play. With phrasing and delivery, he tells such a rich story. I don't really care if he was a hero or not by rescuing Amanda Berry. I would like to think that Amanda Berry probably deserves some credit for her escape. He's a hero to me despite the rescue. His heroism is in his communication: effortlessly rich. In a few sentences, he tells me more about America than a thousand Huffington Post articles: McDonalds, the growing Hispanic influence in our culture, the entrenched racism despite a black president, the eerie American sexism (his comment that the kidnapper had big balls to pull this off, as if anyone with big balls would want to enslave women)
I was just posting my favorite of the many auto-tune mixes on Facebook when someone else in my stream posted a violently sanctimonious piece in Slate condemning affinity to Charles Ramsey as a sign of closet racism. Saying that being entertained by him, like being entertained by Antoine Dodson, is in itself racist.
As usual, Slate could not have missed the point more. The point is Ramsey's line, all his lines, tell us the refreshing and unvarnished truth about the prevalence of sexism and racism in American culture, the reality of a powerful Hispanic cultural presence: all the realities of Charles Ramsey, told from the heart, are realities I want to know about. It's information. I mean, I feel like things from the States have been indescribably grim for some time, with the drone attacks, and responsive terrorist attacks, and failure of gun control, and repeal of Wall Street reform, and repression of free expression, and money (as well as the party system) choking democracy.
But Charles Ramsey gives me hope. Because he probably displayed more intuitive intelligence and descriptive power than a lot of Ivy Leaguers. So when people like Slate are denigrating our admiration of him, I think what motivates them at a deep level is that scary but true fact that: Charles Ramsey is as smart as the white college kids over at Slate. Plus he has a moral compass. The middle class should meet some more Charles Ramseys.
When I was down at Occupy my mind was really blown. Here I was thinking that with a law degree, some years' experience in litigation, a decade of experience as general counsel of a company, mother of two, I really didn't have too much to learn from the people down there. The first five people I had conversations with thought the whole movement would succeed or fail based on the placement of crystals. This tended to confirm my opinion going in.
Of course, I was wrong.
You can listen and learn from people or not. When I listened, I learned . . . from everyone. Here's some news, America: Republicans and Democrats are not that different and you are not all that much smarter than Charles Ramsey. From the casual description of the fundamental racism in the culture to the profound request for empathy-- "put yourself in her shoes"--there was a lot, and he said it well. And he said it as a free man unencumbered by politics or corporate interest, which is more than the reader can probably say. It wasn't a marketing message, it wasn't massaged by the media (it was to be fair created by the 24-hour news cycle) but still. He said what he said. All is not lost. I don't mind that it is late and I just ordered a "Charles Ramsey Cleveland Hero" T-shirt online. I am grateful for the hope. The hope that people acquaint themselves with Charles Ramsey's reality.