When We Find We Are The Same

Rules need not be broken

to identify our true selves

we haven’t the demand

to walk upstream, to push

the elements aside

for personal gain,

in essence,

it is true that we all

do find the similar grounds

for which

our bodies

strike the earth

as feeling landed, secure,

understanding of time.

 

Oh, we do battle to separate

our lives

from those we disagree,

the them we conclude

are far astray from you and me,

and yet,

who is it we might observe

when the feeling

of not so assuredly confident

might cause dreams

aspirations,

the fantasy of our completion

to become more stirred

angst driven rather

than a peaceful protest.

 

We do,

we can,

we will inevitably

live our lives the same,

if for a moment

we step off the pedestal,

we let go of our divining rods,

loosen our grip on the main-hold

let our bodies, mind, heart

set sail and when we find

we have crossed a boundary

toward some simple freedom,

well then,

be sure to say hello

to everyone whom have all arrived

the same.

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My America (written for contest)

To understand, My America, I wanted to embody a lifetime of experience that could speak directly to my concept of living as a white man in the Midwest. I was fortunate to grow up with conscientious siblings all of whom were driven by values instilled by parents just trying to keep up with the norms of their day. My folks raised five kids, most of whom came of age in the sixties, experiencing the death of JFK, RFK, Shirley Chisolm running for President, the assassinations of Malcolm X and MLK Jr., and countless other life changing events wrapped around the atrocities of the Vietnam War. My sad claim to fame was that in 1972, Kent State had occurred on my birthday. These events all of them tragic had a huge impact on who I am today.

 

I love America, I truly do, I am a patriot by all accounts, thankful for my freedom and the many men and women that sacrificed their lives to help maintain our free society. However, there are times when I am made physically sick by the actions of many, all of whom could find more peace in their lives by just opening their eyes. There is a systemic method of discrimination in our society that permeates every aspect of our lives. Interestingly, as a white person in this time, it seems I would be just fine if I ignored everything around me that is hostile or demeaning to my way of life. I wouldn’t have to deal with it because I am of the color of skin that these realities do not impede. For me personally, that is a problem, it always has been and is resultant in my writing this story.

 

When I was a young boy, I took a trip to New York with my family. I was 12 years old. One night a group of us went to the corner grocery store. I noticed a number of black kids playing about outside the store, and I asked the person I was with if they knew any of them, as the market was only a couple blocks from their home. They immediately responded with, “I don’t mess with any (n-word).” It was at that moment I was struck with fear. I had never felt this way, I didn’t know how to feel. I was raised in the whitest of white America in the Midwest and had never experienced any aspect of the African-American culture, beyond my readings about MLK and X, and my mother’s insistence we recognize authors of color in all of our studies. I was scared for the first time in my life of something I had no control over, I felt threatened without knowing why. It wasn’t until the next day that I could understand my fear was based upon the person I was with and not the people at the corner store who left me feeling curious.

 

The next morning our family was given an auto tour of Manhattan and several surrounding Burroughs including Harlem. As we drove past The Cotton Club and I noticed the streets were filled with black people, I said emphatically to my mother, “That’s who I saw last night mom, black people.”

 

She looked out to the gatherings of people going about their morning, turned to me, and provided me a life changing suggestion. “Thom, those aren’t black people you’re seeing, those are people,” and then she smiled and continued to finish her Tareyton cigarette, like Katherine Hepburn standing with a foggy backdrop, showing logical purpose.

 

Fast forward 30 years, and I am a teacher in a high school classroom. I finish my licensure and am fortunate to be given my first theatre program. During that summer, while working on the coming year, I scour multi-cultural scripts, the only one I know firsthand is Raisin in the Sun, and I keep it on my shelf for future consideration. I can’t find anything I like or understand. I’m having a hard time maintaining my goal of becoming the ‘multi-cultural teacher of the year’ if all I can produce are mainstream script ideas. I call a friend at a local high school with a unique demographic and ask for her suggestions.

 

She states calmly, “I’ve never used a multicultural script.” And I think about that for a moment, and I’m suddenly thrown off wondering how that could be possible. When I asked her why not, her response was my first lesson of a new cultural awareness that I suddenly realized had nothing to do with race and more to do with talent.

 

“I cast only the right person for the character or role,” she stated, and I was in the moment humbled. I suddenly felt like a racist, because rather than focusing on the content, I was centering my aim upon the color of every students’ skin that would eventually audition to be on my stage. Years later that lesson echoes in my mind every time I hold an audition. However, I wish that solution could remain that easy.

 

In today’s world there is a greater need to understand diversity and how it works in our society. Gone are the days of suggesting that issues only apply to one minority. They apply to everyone, and right now as I write this I am questioning my own ability to be an open minded citizen of America that recognizes and respects every culture that I have the opportunity to encounter in my daily life. It’s not easy, but I didn’t come here to whine.

 

In recognizing My America I try to look to the future, given the present turn of events since our last election. We are in the middle of a crisis, that one group of people would suggest is overstated, while another group will cry out, ‘when will it ever be enough?’ Today, my focus is on racism and how it permeates our society to a greater level than even I was kept sheltered from in my formative years, beyond the television and books. Through my family’s eyes, I did experience Civil Rights and I did value its importance on our society. Today it seems all those battles in the 60’s have been summarily dismissed and we are faced with re-tooling our ability to open our minds to an incredibly diverse and beautiful world of people.

 

I don’t have the answers, but I do certainly have the passion and that desire and hope remains with me in every waking moment. My dreams are what fuel an idealism that allows the world to imagine being one.

 

In the words of John Lennon and Malcolm X, with liberties to merge ideas:

“If someone thinks that love and peace is a cliché that must have been left behind in the sixties, that’s his problem (Lennon) … I believe that there will be a clash between those who want freedom, justice and equality for everyone and those who want to continue the systems of exploitation” (Malcolm X).

Capital Punishment

Wait …

I’m not ready

he’s not ready

she’s not ready

not worthy

not right

not exactly operating on all cylinders

When we decide

upon the finality

of death, are we

I mean is it our goal

would we, could we,

do we really want to have that

burden in our mind?

Every day, we may

fight the reality of

a maligned state of mind

while the world ticks on

this creature has torn apart

the fabric of our world,

yet

how can we allow society …

Pass judgment on me,

tell me what I did wrong

for ever and ever and again forever.

The news suggest

premeditated murder.

Well they got that right,

and now

the menace rides deeper into hell

living hell

with bars and soap

and a new society,

yet,

perhaps that is justice.

Death by association not by the needle.

Lee Daniels’ The Butler – A Review

Lee DanielsThe Butler – A Review

I threw on a little Billie Holiday in the background because I hoped it might be an appropriate mood setter for writing a review of Lee Daniels’ The Butler. You see, I’m a white guy talking about something very personal towards a black audience, an African-American topic if I may be so bold to suggest importance of genre in this ever-evolving politically correct society.

Last night, my wife and I sat in a theatre with around six other couples, and a few single participants – all of us white to view the film that has certainly brought Forrest Whittaker back to prominence as an exceptional actor. Now remember, he is one of the black, or African-American celebrities gracing the Hollywood stage these days. My wife asked after the movie whether or not all those people that voted against Obama might be pissed off with the ending. Seems we live in a different time than the march on Washington with MLK Jr. or the preaching of Malcolm X, before they were both gunned down. Billie Holiday sweet words in the background, “After you’ve gone, and left me crying.”

What is naturally cool about Lee Daniels’ The Butler is that the context shared was not from the perspective of a film-maker having no business talking about an issue outside of their own race. Please reference Crash, The Help, and 42, all films by white directors.  In this piece, the director is black and the story is personal, consulting reference points that spoke directly to his, to their own story. Throughout the film, we see effects of life on an African-American family dealing with the divide of living amongst a white way of thinking while teaching their own children the values of identity within their own race, during a time when the racial divide was dangerous, volatile and real. On a personal note, I experienced this time through television as a child, and it had a dramatic effect on my way of thinking. But I didn’t come home to it every night. I didn’t experience it while walking to my corner store. I didn’t feel the pain of divide in my white classroom growing up in a closeted Midwestern town as a child. In the film, we see firsthand the painful realities that Cecil Gaines, the butler has to endure when he returns home from the white man’s world to a confused son that is struggling to define his identity as he begins his own challenge to do what is right for his brethren, under the prolific vision of MLK Jr.’s & Malcolm X’s separate but inclusive philosophies.

Lee Daniels’ The Butler tells a story that we don’t want to hear in today’s feigningly forgiving society. His film speaks to the realities of our time, when we can elect an African-American president that despite his earnest values and attempts, receives nothing but ugly scrutiny and divide from a country that continues to ‘behind close doors’ slam shut the avenues of cultural openness that should be the basic tenet of this seeming ‘democracy’ in the United States. Instead, we continue, perhaps more quietly, to manifest our bigotry and sullen ignorance.

I applaud this film and do hope audiences continue to embrace its indictment of a society that will only begin to recognize its failings by looking each other in the eye and appreciating one another’s contributions as human beings rather than allowing the lens of racism to cloud their judgment. Listening to Otis Redding’s closing words, “Its been a long time coming … change has gotta come” I have to really wonder when that time might actually arrive.

Thom Amundsen

October 2013

Farm road in Champaign County, Illinois Españo...

Farm road in Champaign County, Illinois Español: Camino de granjas en Champaign County, Illinois (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Trayvon Martin

A boy died. A segment of our society painted him to be a golden boy wearing a hood. We don’t know. I certainly don’t know. From what I first read, it seemed that George Zimmerman was his own wannabe crusader that wanted to save the world from society’s ‘cancers.’ In this scenario, it played out to be a young unarmed man. Zimmerman shouldn’t have pursued; the nation has read the transcript. The kid may have felt stalked, and took it upon himself to protect himself, whether that was right or wrong.

Having a gun changes the game, no matter the color of your skin. Having a certain color of skin changes the game no matter the incident. We are a judgmental society. We also, at times, appear to have a flawed justice system – that reality has played itself many times before last night’s verdict and will continue to do so in the future.

So, now as we look to today’s blue sky, and return to our local routines, and justify our existence and opinion – what change lies ahead, and how can we be a part of that raised consciousness without using negative energy to steer our direction? We must seriously look tragedy in the eye and negotiate a forever driven desire to be that change, to facilitate raising our awareness rather than slamming the door shut, again.