Blog: Here's what Tom says about that!

Criss-crossing the country with Bruce Springsteen

Posted October 23rd, 2012 by Tom

Yer killin’ me here, Bruce!

As regular readers of my blog are well aware, I’m on the road with my writing partner Sharon Morgan. We’re touring America to spread the word of our new book, Gather at the Table. Crowds are good. Response has been great. Lots of folks going home with a signed copy of the book in their hands.

We have just two appearances remaining in the Northeast portion of our tour: Wednesday, October 24 at Trinity Church in Boston, Massachusetts, and Thursday, October 25 at the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center in Hartford, Connecticut. We look forward with great anticipation to these two events.

At the same time…

Bruce and the E Street Band are also touring. I did catch a show in Detroit in April, just an 8-hour drive from where I spoke the previous day in Wisconsin – no big thang… but THIS week is killin’ me, Bruce! Read the rest of this entry »

I Confess: The Obama “birther” controversy is all my fault…

Posted May 31st, 2012 by Tom

I remember the first time I walked into my literary agent’s office in New York City on March 2, 2007. The lobby was quite small. The walls were lined with book-filled shelves. A small table sat between two chairs in the corner where one particular book caught my eye. Dreams From My Father, by Barack Obama, sat right there staring up at me.

I asked my agent about it. She told me that, sure enough, they represented Obama for his first book. And they represented me for my first book. Hmm, I thinks to myself, Obama was a big name in the news right then. He had just announced his intention to seek the Democratic nomination for President a few weeks earlier. Though the agency did not represent either President Obama or me for our second books, he and I will forever be tied together by that small literary thread (no matter that he won’t return my calls about offering up an endorsement quote for Gather at the Table, I still consider that bit of serendipity a positive sign for my future as an author).

Unless, of course, I got tangled up in this “birther” mess. I paid close attention when I read about the recent kerfuffle “The Donald” has once again “Trumped” up regarding Obama’s birth certificate. Doesn’t he have something better to do with his time? Somebody should fire that guy.

Well… I hate to admit it. I really hate to admit it. But it turns out Trump may be right after all. And when the media machine understands the full scope of this conspiracy, yours truly may finally merit my own secret FBI file. So I’ve decided to do what no one else seems willing to do: I confess.

I’m ready to face the consequences; to Meet the Press, if you will, to appear on all the big news shows from Rachel Maddow to Bill O’Reilly, from Good Morning America to The Daily Show. I’m willing to face the news icon I fear most: Stephen Colbert. I’m even prepared to do a joint press conference with President Obama in which we admit our joint complicity in a conspiracy to dupe America.

Here’s what happened. A promotional booklet produced by Obama’s and my literary agency included the statement that he was “born in Kenya and raised in Indonesia and Hawaii.”

Yes, this is absolutely, undeniably, in point of actual fact, true. This is the smoking gun the “birther” conspirators have been looking for. President Obama’s and my former literary agency, and by extension, he and I, must now take full responsibility.

The conservative website Breitbart.com did the responsible thing and published a copy of the booklet. Trump turned up the volume on his “crazy” machine… er, sorry… I mean… Trump also did what any red-blooded American patriot would do and beat this dead horse just a few more times. And the news media, of course, is all over it.

I now humbly await that dreaded knock on the door from the FBI and/or the 60 Minutes news crew.

But wait! What is this? According to ABC News, Miriam Goderich, now a partner with Dystel & Goderich (in 1991 she was the agency assistant for Acton & Dystel – same agency, one changed partner) fact-checked the booklet. Aha! Gotcha! And what does Ms. Goderich have to say about the conspiracy of the century; the crime that will surely bring down the Obama Administration?

She says it was simply an error. “There was never any information given to us by Obama in any of his correspondence or other communications suggesting in any way that he was born in Kenya and not Hawaii. I hope you can communicate to your readers that this was a simple mistake and nothing more.”

A simple mistake? They missed one? Sort of the way that Mitt Romney’s folks missed one when he clinched the GOP nomination for President of “Amercia” yesterday? (I just ordered my “Dog Bless Amercia” bumper sticker… sorry, couldn’t resist). Well, folks, it appears the “birther” conspiracy is once again unraveling.

Oh, dang. You mean I won’t get caught up in this dastardly web after all? No FBI secret file? No Fox or MSNBC knocking down my door? Can I at least have a “Beer Summit” with the President and Trump to sort things out? Colbert? Can I at least get on The Colbert Report? No?

Well then, allow me to hop up and down indignantly on my high horse and bellow!

This whole issue is absurd!  It’s always been absurd! Worse yet, it’s racist! It’s the worst sort of political mud-slinging! The fact that right-wing conspiracy nuts keep harping on this got old a few years ago! The fact that news outlets continue to cover it is further proof of just how low they’ll stoop just to have an attention-getting headline! Shame on them all! Shame!!!

And the fact that an author who hardly anyone has heard of would try to connect himself to the whole conspiracy theory AND the President of the United States by the most tenuous of threads just to try to get more attention in advance of the publication of his next book?

Well, that’s just brilliant…

The Problem We All Live With

Posted August 25th, 2011 by Tom

Thank you to my Coming to the Table friends Sharon Morgan and Edie Lee Harris for sharing this story.

In 1960, a 6-year old African American girl named Ruby Bridges was escorted by federal marshals into an elementary school in New Orleans after integration became the law of the land. In 1963 Norman Rockwell captured the image of that day in his painting “The Problem We All Live With.”

President Obama recently authorized the placement of Rockwell’s painting in a hallway outside the Oval Office. I strongly encourage you to read this article about the President’s action. It is a jarring and provocative work of art and speaks volumes about what a 6-year old girl, and so many others, faced in the recent past. Then watch this short YouTube video that shows Ruby Bridges discussing Rockwell’s painting with President Obama in the White House.

Thank you also to my friend Nina Hoffert for sharing another story with me; one that reminds us that discrimination due to race continues today. Read about Vance Gilbert’s experience on a recent United Airlines flight here.

The struggle continues.

American Idol: Randy Jackson pops my cousin in the mouth–and sends her to Hollywood!

Posted January 28th, 2011 by Tom

My sister wrote to ask me if we’re related to Molly DeWolf Swenson, the phenom who sang Sitting on the Dock of the Bay on American Idol on the January 26 episode. Molly became an instant sensation both for her terrific voice as well as for her encounter with Idol judge Randy Jackson’s hand.

“Of course we are,” I wrote. Molly is our 7th cousin, twice removed. Our common ancestor was born in 1695 in Connecticut. We’re descended from that guy’s older son, Simon D’Wolf; Molly is descended from his younger son Mark Antony D’Wolf.

Those who have read my book Inheriting the Trade will recall Nancy Abercrombie, in whose home my roommate Ledlie Laughlin and I stayed while we were filming portions of Traces of the Trade in Bristol, Rhode Island. My dear friend Nancy is my 7th cousin. Consequently, her granddaughter Molly is my 7th cousin, twice (two generations) removed. My grandchildren and Molly are 9th cousins. Got it? (if not, please inquire about genealogy lessons… ;o) Read the rest of this entry »

Senate Republicans block Obama circuit court nominee

Posted August 7th, 2010 by Tom

So what? Political wrangling over political nominees happens regularly. But this time the Emmy-nominated film of my family’s journey, Traces of the Trade, is tangled in the intriguing web.

Thank you to my cousin James DeWolf Perry for alerting me to this latest action through his excellent blog The Living Consequences.

Earlier this year President Obama nominated Goodwin Liu, an Associate Dean and Professor of Law at UC Berkeley School of Law, to serve on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Opponents to the nomination seized upon comments Liu made during a panel discussion on May 6, 2008 following a screening of Traces of the Trade at the Newseum in Washington, DC.

Much like the recent controversy over comments made by Shirley Sherrod, in which clever video editing gave a false impression of her views, Goodwin Liu’s comments from 2008 have also been taken out of context.

Senate Republicans have now employed a rarely invoked rule to send Liu’s nomination back to the White House. My cousin James notes that President Obama plans to re-nominate Liu when Congress returns from recess in September.

Stupid, stupid white people…

Posted June 19th, 2010 by Tom

The editor of Beacon Broadside–the blog of my publisher Beacon Press–asked me to write an essay in connection with Juneteenth. The request came just after an incident in which my friend Sharon Morgan was subjected to a stupid, racist comment about President Obama by a white guy at the Post Office in the small town where she recently moved. So the focus of my essay shifted just a bit…

You can read the post here.

Controversial Obama 9th Circuit nominee Goodwin Liu update

Posted April 19th, 2010 by Tom

On March 30 I wrote about a “weapon” opponents of Goodwin Liu’s nomination have employed: comments Liu made during a panel discussion on May 6, 2008 that I attended following a screening of Traces of the Trade at the Newseum in Washington, DC.

This is a process I’m going to follow closely.

Last Friday, April 16, Liu’s confirmation hearing began before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Republicans attacked. Democrats defended. Truth and decorum were battered. Politics as usual these days, eh?

But this post isn’t a report on those hearings. THIS update is to thank my friend Jennifer Carr of Borderline Media for locating a YouTube video of Liu’s comments from the panel discussion 2 years ago that is just a tad longer than the 2 minute, 18 second clip that opponents were using to claim that Liu supports financial restitution (reparation) for historic slavery.

Watch this 6 minute, 46 second clip for a more accurate contextualization of the discussion of reparations that evening.

As I reported on March 30, if you actually listen to (or read the transcript of) the whole discussion of repair that evening it is clear that Liu believes that each of us has a moral duty to make things right in the United States; to repair the lingering damage from historic oppressions including enslavement, Jim Crow and other forms of discrimination. Until we repair systems (education, housing, employment, health care, criminal justice, etc) so that they become equitable and just for all Americans, the legacy of slavery will continue to both haunt and harm us all.

Count me as being in total agreement with Goodwin Liu on this issue.

Traces of the Trade tangled in controversy surrounding Obama’s 9th Circuit Court nominee

Posted March 30th, 2010 by Tom

I did not see this one coming.

President Obama has nominated Goodwin Liu, an Associate Dean and Professor of Law at UC Berkeley School of Law, to serve on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Opponents have seized upon comments Liu made during a panel discussion on May 6, 2008 following a screening of Traces of the Trade at the Newseum in Washington, DC that was sponsored by the Council on Foundations (I wrote about the event here).

The distinguished panel was moderated by Harvard Law Professor Charles Ogletree and PBS Senior Correspondent Judy Woodruff. Panelists discussed the major themes in the film and how they connect to the world of philanthropy; how foundations can effectively facilitate discussions on race, the legacy of slavery, and the need for healing. When government lacks the capacity–or will–to lead the way in creating a more just world, how can we best encourage grass roots leadership in undoing racism and other forms of oppression.

Goodwin Liu’s comments were right in line with these themes. Yet if you Google “Goodwin Liu, Traces of the Trade” you’ll find several links to a YouTube video clip, just over 2 minutes in length, titled “Obama Appeals Court Nominee – Goodwin Liu – on Reparations for Slavery.” You’ll find an article by Ed Whelan, prominent conservative legal analyst and blogger, in which he claims Liu “…would make those who were not complicit in slavery pay the price of his grandiose reparations project.” You’ll find many other bloggers chiming in.

But if you watch the entire discussion (which you can download here) you’ll find that what Liu was advocating in saying that each of us has a moral duty to make things right is that,

…instead of looking for the single national strategy, which is what everybody always looks for, think about what you can do on a much smaller scale in much smaller communities, around specific problems that people face, whether it’s in their schools, in their workplaces, access to health care, in their housing; whatever it may be.

For far too long we have allowed extremists and the media to define “reparation” for historic slavery as that “single national strategy” in which people who never enslaved anyone pay the price for checks being written to people who were never themselves enslaved. Such a definition serves well those who rely on division and controversy to serve their own ends. But it isn’t helpful to those who want to make a positive difference in the world.

Reparation is repair; repairing damage from past harms to the best of our ability. And there remains much to repair in connection with injustice and inequity in connection with race. Goodwin Liu rightly asked, “What are we willing to give up to make things right?” He mentioned several. I would add to his list two important things I hope we will give up: our silence and our ignorance.

I hope as a result of this controversy that more people will see Traces of the Trade and read Inheriting the Trade. People who read the book will find much of the last chapter “Repairing the Breach” and the “Afterword” devoted to the issue of reparation. I believe some folks will be surprised by my conclusions. Hopefully people will then embark on their own journeys of discovery about what impacts still linger from the legacy of slavery that cause inequity and injustice in the United States today.

And then, as Goodwin Liu encouraged those of us gathered at the Newseum that evening, I hope we’ll join together to repair the damage.

NOTE: I’m pleased to report that this essay has been re-posted at Beacon Broadside.

Let us be thankful for Luis CdeBaca

Posted November 25th, 2009 by Tom

I’m thankful for a lot this Thanksgiving… family, friends, love, health, and those who are committed to justice and peace.

And I’m thankful for Luis CdeBaca.

CdeBaca is President Obama’s “Ambassador-at-Large” who fights modern day slavery.

As many of us sit down with our loved ones to partake in a bountiful meal together let us also be mindful of those who suffer enslavement due to the greed of others. I encourage you to take a few minutes and read this article. Then consider what you can do to end modern-day slavery.

I think that at the end of the day what stops this is not government enforcement efforts, it’s the cultural shift where people start saying, that woman’s not just a prostitute, she’s somebody’s daughter. That shirt is not just something to be worn, it’s something that I need to know how it was made and who made it. In other words, that notion of getting everyone involved in the cultural change. At that point, I think we end modern slavery.

Copyright 2012 by Thomas Norman DeWolf | Website: James DeW. Perry