The ‘Not Yet’ Reality of Racism

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Boston rally – photo credit – CNN

A dear friend once used the phrase ‘not yet’ to suggest a descriptive moment in our lives that though I will not describe that context, I will explore the phrase as it pertains to our lives in America today. As I write this commentary, I notice a massive gathering of protesters in Boston to represent all sides in light of the Charlottesville tragedy. To be clear, it has been reported that this Boston ‘Freedom’ rally was planned in advance to last week’s hate melee in Virginia; however, at the same time, authorities are said to be prepared for outbreaks, and have given notice to all participants.

I’m personally very happy to see this gathering, and my wishes are for a completely peaceful representation. After all, wouldn’t it be refreshing to be able to say this evening, tens of thousands of protesters gathered in Boston Commons without incident? We can only hope, but in the meantime, let’s talk about the ‘not yet’ factor of racism in America. After all, a score of you reading this right now may be sitting in your chair at home or in the office, or sharing drinks or coffee with friends having a dialogue, expounding upon the issues that haunt our country’s racial divide, but just aren’t quite ready to become involved. Many of you might even be saying, I believe the issue exists, but I just don’t want to become … not yet.

After Charlottesville and the notable incidents that will appear to evolve from today’s rallies, my suggestion would be that the time is now. We can all in less than five minutes name a string of current events that impact the racial divide in America. It is time to stop suggesting we are over reacting and begin to address the issues that exist in our society today. Right now, today as I write this I feel a stronger tension than I did as a child growing up in the 60’s. Granted I wasn’t yet in my teens, but I listened to my older siblings, and watched the news with a very well informed mother and father.

The fact that civil rights set such a precedent in the 60’s gives cause to argue that what is happening today in our world is throwing all of that effort out the window. It would seem today, we are right back where we started with open violence attached to racial discrimination. There are no filters, and our children, the young people growing up with this mindset should be our primary concern.

What scares me the most is the actions that happen behind closed doors, just like the very pub or coffee shop you are sitting in right now. Those conversations need to be geared toward reframing our thinking, to understand what ‘love’ means as opposed to the insidious nature of ‘hate’ in America. Time magazine recently published a cover page with the American flag and the heading ‘Hate in America’ as its bi-line. I scratched out hate and wrote love above it and posted it on Facebook, but then took it down because of copyright infringement.

We need to start to dialogue together, to inform one another of the long-term effects of racism, not as much our future but how the past has impacted a way of thinking today, that will not improve if society doesn’t begin to collectively listen. Let’s ignore the ‘not yet’ and begin to act now.

In the meantime, let’s wish for peaceful strolls throughout some major metropolitan cities where protesters are presently laying emphasis on the cause for peace and unity throughout this gorgeous Saturday afternoon.

 

 

The Need to Recognize Historical Trauma

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Germany – Luebeck,  Air Raid 1942

Many years ago, during a trip to Europe, I discovered a reality that would change my life forever. The year was 1985, and a portion of my travels was spent in Germany. In a visit to St. Mary’s Church in Lubeck, West Germany I discovered a broken and melted bell that was left in its destroyed condition in the sanctuary to symbolize the bombing of Lubeck on March 29th, 1942.

As a tourist I was humbled by the fact this bell tower was constructed sometime during the 12th century. I was a visiting traveler from a country built upon a freedom of little more than 200 years of independence. However, that would not be the specific revelation I would come away with as a euro-rail traveling twenty something American. What I discovered next was probably the most humbling aspect of my two months travel throughout western Europe.

As I strolled the streets of Hamburg, attended a Christmas festival in Nuremburg, and even walked the somber stone memorials to the victims of the 1972 Munich Olympic festival, I suddenly began to notice an inordinate number of German males in their late 50’s or older with missing limbs, prosthetic arms, legs, or dependent upon wheel chairs to move themselves throughout their daily routine. I then connected everything, from the bell tower to the male population, these were leftover symbols of WWII. This was a time when German lives were turned upside down because of Hitler’s Nazi takeover. Their lives were forever altered and the impacts that the men and women of Germany endured would last a lifetime and be carried over in the lives of their children and future families well beyond the history of the war.

I was 25 years old at the time, and had never experienced such stark realities in my short life in the United States. Certainly, there were historic moments, the assassinations of MLK, Malcolm X, JFK & RFK, and countless other life changing events including the Kent State massacre and the murder of my personal idol, John Lennon. What I had not experienced though was the historical trauma of the war. I had not experienced the dissemination of the Jewish population throughout Europe during the holocaust. I was 16 years away from the horrific reality of 9/11.

I did experience the trauma of Vietnam through the eyes and struggles of an older brother who became one of the hundreds of thousands of military men and women who received no recognition for their valiant efforts in a senseless war. I certainly do not minimize the lives of all of the family and friends impacted by the perils of that state of confusion. For the sake of this writing though, I want to remain focused on the Nazi nation of WWII.

During my travels I began to recognize how many of the lives of the people I noticed living throughout Germany would be affected forever. They would pass on the confusion of their trauma to their children and the society that evolved beyond that horrific time.

So I do wonder about that time as I speculate the vitriolic response to the events of Charlottesville, Virginia. Throughout my adult life I have often heard the phrase, ‘get over it’ when referencing the systemic nature of racism in America. The one that jumps out at me the most is the accusation that none of our Black Americans have ever experienced slavery, so why keep mulling over the past? Because the past is still the present, and many of the children and families we live, work and laugh with today, had family that were part of the slave industry, much like children of WWII, much like any aspect of oppression that exists in our world today.

It is time we stop tossing blame at other communities, other groups that would like to bring racism into the conversation and start listening instead. I am often accused of ‘white guilt’ because I am that entitled white guy that has not experienced the direct impact of discrimination in my life. It is true, but I still see it. I see it in my classroom, in my community, in my society.

It is unfortunate that we have a POTUS that would like to blend the issues rather than take a stand against known evil – White Supremacists, Neo-Nazi factions, anti-Semitic groups and all hate groups that would rather tear apart the fabric of our country rather than learn to recognize acceptance and love.

The only silver lining in all of this horror is there does seem to be an increased dialogue in social media that would rather address the divisions in our country instead of fueling the hate that separates our lives. We can only pray the dialogue might continue in a proactive and positive manner … forever.

A Tossed Salad

I wonder if we might ever know,

just when

how the display of our lives would really go,

if by some design, certain hearts,

those with a common soul,

a difference in mannerism, attitude, energy,

I do sometimes think together,

there is just so much we don’t know,

yet while the sun crosses the sky,

we could still try to, imagine,

we might be able to,

just for a moment,

recreated a world to flourish,

the sort so designed, delightful, delicious,

we’re never quite sure about the dressing.

Learning to Hate

I don’t know where it started,

one day as a child,

I think perhaps when they stole my bicycle,

I hated that it wasn’t locked up,

I hated not having any control,

I hated the embarrassment of being vulnerable.

I was only a child then,

I believed in the impossible,

I knew that anything could happen and I would always be safe.

…  I became a father …

I remember the first time she cried, and told me the reason,

I wanted only to protect her,

she only had certain words she could express,

“I hate it there” she said,

“I hate everything about it” she cried,

“I hate having to go there” she wailed even louder,

I knew that she didn’t mean it,

this was just the easiest word to use at the moment,

we later laughed when the years went by,

we reflected upon what is important today, what became

a priority that when we were children seemed like endless pain.

There appeared to be a constant though,

when our lives paralleled childhood,

we both experienced a part of life we didn’t understand.

We made adjustments over time,

we learned to tolerate, to accept, to better engage in reasoning,

we realized that hate was a far more powerful term than we might imagine

We decided to become conscious of how we chose our words,

carefully,

with sensitivity,

we began to think before we spoke,

we thought everyone would do that same thing,

eventually.

We then discovered the evening news …

State of Mind

Well it seems rather simple when we look it square in the eye,

you’re either thinking racist thoughts or your not,

it seems like it ought to be that simple in our world today,

yet, we now have to include state of mind.

~

We used to get away with recognizing hatred as evil,

a mile away you could see it in their eyes

today, we stand right next to one another and yet still

really haven’t a clue of that state of mind.

~

Inside a church where people stood and prayed and bled

they fell together in their efforts to be led

though hadn’t any idea of the person standing so nearby

on that particular day amidst their state of mind.

~

We go to work sometimes in a dull morning only wishing

to stay in bed sometimes for lovely reason,

yet we smile, we nod, we open doors altogether while

inside we may discretely hide a state of mind.

~

So who is it that can wonder how to corner the market

stand next to one another and smile genuine,

who knows the next time we are all leaning toward the sun

we won’t be yearning upon a certain state of mind.

~

I suppose it might be easy to offer a simple solution

It always is so much better in the right state of mind