Stir It Up: Going undercover

Nov 30, 2016 at 1:00 am

I was all set to rake up the leaves that had finally fallen from the trees late this fall. When I opened my garage door, there was Mulenga Harangua skulking in the shadows.

"Mulenga, what are you doing in my garage?" I asked.

"Hanging out," he said.

"But why are you hanging out in my garage?"

"Did you expect to find me here?" he asked, and continued talking. "I'm trying to be where nobody expects me to be. Like one of those martial arts fighters. Now you see me, now you don't. I'm mostly trying to not be seen right now while I figure out this post-election world."

"Well I can see you now, so you may as well come out," I said.

When Mulenga stepped out into the sunlight, I saw he was growing a beard. Not one of those neatly trimmed affairs. This was a ragged, unkempt thing with a couple of thin spots where the hair was uncooperative.

"Mulenga, what's with the beard?" I asked. "And where is your blonde wig? You told me that you'd be going undercover with it if Donald Trump won the election."

"Well I was planning to do that but then you told everybody about it," he complained. "How can I hide behind the blonde wig when everybody knows I'm wearing a blonde wig?"

"Oops, sorry about that," I said. "But what's with this beard action? That's not going to help you assimilate."

"It's my Fidel Castro tribute beard," he said. "Now that Castro is gone I figure somebody's got to rock the beard for him. There is going to be all kinds of re-evaluation and retelling of his story. I'm trying to hold onto him."

"So you're trying to be undercover by assuming the most recognizable attribute of a Latino communist, the thorn in the side of America this past half century?"

"Well yeah," Mulenga said. "I don't think I have much to worry about. Nobody is worried about communists anymore. They're all worried about Muslims. Remember when Afghanistan was at war with Russia and we supported Afghanistan? Well we switched sides."

I grabbed my rake and couple of yard waste bags. Most of the leaves in my yard came from my neighbor's tree, but now they're my responsibility. So it goes.

"So you're not afraid of being taken for a Latino?" I asked. "I mean there has been a lot of talk about deporting Mexicans and all."

"But nobody is talking about a registry for Latinos the way they are for Muslims," Mulenga pointed out. "And while they're talking about sending the undocumented away, they're not talking about blocking immigration from Latino countries the way they talk about Muslims. I'll take my chances. I'm thinking about changing my name to Manuel."

"I guess Muslims are the bottom of the barrel these days," I said, making creepy music by scraping the tines of my rake across the driveway.

"It's hard to say," Mulenga said. "There are plenty of us near the bottom of that proverbial barrel. I'd say that Native Americans are usually near the bottom most of the time. Just look at what's going on at Standing Rock where they are protecting the earth against that oil pipeline. From the beginning of this country, the Indians have been screwed left and right. The government makes agreements that certain areas are Indian land, but when folks figure out there is money to be made on that land, things change."

Mulenga held a bag open while I tossed the leaves in.

"Well at least we live in a metro area," I said after a few minutes. "We don't live out in rural Trumpland."

"That doesn't mean much," Mulenga said.

"What do you mean?" I replied. "Didn't Trump win because the Democrats failed to connect to the rural working class people?"

"That seems to be the prevailing notion, but I don't think that's the entire story," Mulenga said. "Exit polls show that 63 percent of white men and 53 percent of white women voted for Trump."

"But those were the poorly educated, rural, low-income people," I protested.

"Wrong, wrong, wrong," admonished Mulenga. "First of all, rural people were only 17 percent of the electorate this year. More low-income people voted for Hillary Clinton. More high-income people voted for Trump. The average Trump voter makes about $70 grand a year. It was white people period who voted for Trump. He called out the white voters and they came through for him. They want to protect that income."

"Oh," it took a minute for that to settle in for me. I had swallowed the conventional line about the recent vote.

"That whole 'make America great again' line was a callout to make America the 1950s television fantasy that never was," Mulenga said. "It was a call to pretend that people who aren't white Christians don't matter. And the people who responded to that are right here among us. It was a call for America to be white again after eight years of a black president."

"So you think that beard is going to help?" I said. "It's kind of the pre-Castro era we're reaching for here with that great America — the one that benefitted from all that diversity but wouldn't admit it."

"Man I'm just trying to do something, anything, to get through another day in one piece," Mulenga said, eyeing some of the last few vegetables still alive in my garden.

"I see you're eating with your eyes," I said. "Take what you want. But you can't live in my garage, especially with that beard. People be coming around telling me they spotted the abominable snowman back here."

"Make America bearded again; maybe that should be my mantra," Mulenga smiled. "Maybe we'd all get along better if we just had a little more hair."

"I don't think the skinheads are going to go for that," I said. "Come on, help me get these bags of leaves out to the curb."

Illiterate state

The state of Michigan argues that literacy is not a fundamental right for Detroit schoolchildren in opposing a lawsuit calling for a constitutional right to literacy in the state. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the students by the Public Counsel, a national public interest law firm. The state response to the suit explains an awful lot about what's been happening to public schools around here the past couple of decades. While they argue about whether literacy is a right, after the amount of tax dollars that go into the education system, it should surely be a mandated outcome.