Philando Castile

castile

NY Daily photo credit

I recently told a friend of mine I have sometime wished I was black, and as the words left my mouth, the expression on his face indicated to me he was immediately offended. I knew I’d made a horrific presumption, and felt compelled to find him a little later on to continue our dialogue.  I wasn’t really sure what I was asking, but he sat me down and asked me a question.

He said, ‘as you sit in that chair, do you feel like you would be where you are, as a black man, including your personality and everything you are today?’

I had to think about the question. I had to get past trying to find the right answer and really think about how I was going to respond. I did not know what my answer could possibly be because I have never been a person of color. I have always been white.

This afternoon, when I first heard the news of the verdict in the shooting of Philando Castile, I felt immediately sick to my stomach. For a year I have replayed that viral video in my mind, imagining only one outcome. I believed the officer would be found guilty of manslaughter. I thought it was an easily defined case. I felt like I had come to know Philando through all the news reports and the expose’s of his life and the stories his community had expressed of who he was in our society. But I forgot one simple truth. He was a black man pulled over for a routine traffic stop. He was suspected of being involved in a robbery based upon his description. The only solid evidence that suggested he had been involved in the burglary was the color of his skin.

If that had been me, a white guy, with a gun pointed at my body by a peace officer, I am willing to bet, I could have said everything Philando expressed in the final minutes of his life, and I could have reached with my right arm and found my I.D. without the officer feeling compelled to discharge seven bullets into my body. This officer didn’t simply fire a couple of rounds, He fired seven times at point blank range. And there in that moment, while his girlfriend recorded the whole incident, Philando Castile died.

Justice seemed evident in this case, I didn’t even imagine the jury would take as long as they did to come back with a verdict. I only imagined it would be an open and shut case. That was until I saw the jury selection. I knew that when we had a jury of over 20 white people and two people of color, the case for Philando had taken a dangerous turn. I knew that when the officer was coached to cry in the witness stand, Philando’s integrity was in trouble.

I also knew I couldn’t get out of my car as a white man and express my sorrow and rage to any person of color without coming off patronizing. So instead, I called another friend, and told him he was the first person that came to my mind. Now this friend asked me if I was surprised by the verdict. I think I waffled my answer and said something like, “Well, yeah, I guess, well no, well I’m just sad.”

He agreed with my sentiments, and then began to speak of the systemic failure of our society to recognize the inherent discrimination of the African- American culture. Interestingly, he didn’t blame the cop that gunned down an innocent man. Instead he talked about how our society (his African-American culture) has to become proactive in changing the mindset of how we cope with our discrimination. He immediately prayed that there would be no acting out and a peaceful protest might occur.

I agreed with him and thanked him for letting me listen to his ideals, those of which I have always respected and believed. I finished the call, and sat in my car, and thought about what I would do next. All I could think about was how sad I was with the outcome of the day’s events. All I could do was feel like a white guy trying to wrap my head around this horrific tragedy. I still don’t have any answers, except only to say I’m sorry Philando, I am truly sorry this happened to you.

On White Privilege

I was pissed today,

they didn’t get it,

instead, they threw it away,

opportunity,

look around the room,

everyone has a set of eyes,

focus on the corneas, nothing else,

notice the tear ducts,

they exist,

Everything else is added baggage,

meant to confuse and display,

every wonder why?

The eyes?

I stood outside in the rain,

a natural cleanse,

when I opened my windows later in the day,

I could see clearly again, another setting sun.

On Racism, Schools & Awareness

Whenever an act of racism occurs in my community, or in the world around me, I never know quite how to respond. My natural reaction is to be appalled and disappointed, then fear settles in, then uneasiness, followed by confusion. My gut tells me I want to figure out who to blame first, and then I want to understand how this impacts the people around me, specifically the students in my classroom.

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Being a high school teacher has its perks. We see immediately what is on a young child’s mind, whether positive or negative. When something so blatant happens that shakes the community, it is sometimes difficult to get a read on how the message is interpreted. What rolls off one’s back as minor might plant a seed of contention in another’s. There certainly always seems to be a level of response to the ignorance of the action, specifically in this case, the desecrating of school walls with epitaphs and racial hatred. The important message to recognize is that it is out there for people to respond to, whether consciously driven or designed by unintentional circumstances. It is difficult to imagine racial epitaphs to be accidental; however, the motivation is unique in this situation.

The initial reports of this most recent incident are that the student was not fully aware of their actions. One could argue this is an attempt to save credibility as an organization, or the truth of the matter might be as simple and basic as it is being described. Whatever the answer to the action, the bottom line is that this unfortunate moment exposes a frightening part of our society that we would sometimes rather quiet than provide a voice of reaction.  As it is, this should be handled as a teaching moment for students, wherever and however involved.

Ironically, we are living in a present society that is increasingly accepting the notion of ‘alternative’ or fake news. Such terms are being bandied about with such frequency that the phrases, ‘Bowling Green Massacre’ and ‘Last night’s terrorism in Sweden’ have become household maxims, and the terrifying truth is they are believed statements by many, despite the originators coming out with statements otherwise.

The reality is that words of hatred have appeared on walls that our youth will see with frequency and then naturally react to afterward. So how do we go about repairing thescreen-shot-2017-02-28-at-5-11-55-pm damage? I think the real solution lies in what are the reasons these events occur, and how can we raise the consciousness of our young people to such a degree they begin to recognize the dangerous precedent of accepting racism rather than fighting to overcome its venomous impact on our society.

Accepting racism is the failure of our society to identify it as problematic to our youths’ value system. What this means is that rather than confront the issue, if we can quietly just pretend it away and not put dramatic focus upon a real issue, maybe it will simply go away. That is about as relevant as imagining that inane rhetoric is more reasonable than the truth from the leaders of our country. There is a saying that suggests, if it said enough times, then people begin to believe it as true. In the case of racism on the bathroom walls of our schools, there is a percentage of students that will certainly ‘buy into’ the hatred rather than recognize it is damaging to our society’s value system. This is where open discussion needs to begin.

When we speak of teaching moments, we have to clarify when and how these opportunities are going to happen. Rather than using band-aids on a segment of our society, we need to rally around the bigger picture. Our youth are the most impressionable people in our world, and their actions will be the foundation of the future of this country, one that is chock full of immediate change and adjustment as that mosaic of assimilation continues to take hold. Rather than rely upon hope without dialogue, we need to begin the conversations and continue to encourage them in meaningful and thoughtful ways. Perhaps then, words on a wall, or rhetoric meant to sway our society will become less and less powerful and the truth will begin to matter.

I Turned Off The News

 

Yesterday, I made a conscious decision to turn off the news. Having watched the now ‘idle’ banter of prognosticators and candidates for the last year, the outcome in hand, I wasn’t excited about hearing any theory, any ‘told you so’ antics, or any patronage from the winning side of an ugly defeat. I told all my classes I was only going to listen to whales singing in the ocean in some New Age melody all week while I gathered my thoughts and wrapped my head around this bizarre political future of our country.

The night did not allow me to completely escape my thoughts though, and the sounds of our immensely serene mammals in the deep blue didn’t contain me as long as I’d hoped. I still felt this urgency to know, to wonder, to speculate just how we had come to the conclusion we had as a voting nation. That answer still evades me this morning; however, what I did see was the peaceful protests throughout the country with our new candidate. The protests hearkened me back to a different time in my life.

I remember in the  60’s seeing pictures of the Vietnam war protests. In a child’s eyes, these were real, these were pleading students and family and friends and co-workers all banding together to make a statement, the riots that would follow later with the civil rights protests, the ever changing climate of our nation. I recall watching all of this through the eyes of my older siblings. To me, these were powerful statements of change and I was a fortunate witness to democracy at its finest – freedom of speech, the right to protest, the right to have a valued opinion. Certainly with that came tragedy, the loss of remarkable leaders from Malcolm X to MLK Jr, to RFK, to so many more names that are part of that tumultuous history. I remember Kent State and wondering how it was, as a ten year old, that our nation could be so angry within our own borders, while thousands were dying in a fruitless war across the world.

We had no advantage of social media to give us instant results. We counted upon Walter Cronkite, ‘and that’s the way it is’ and followed with tears the scroll of lost names in Vietnam on that day, that was the immediacy of our connection to the world around us. The silent protest in our minds became the visible chants outside the White House gates as the protesters ramped up the pressure on LBJ to get our boys out of Vietnam – “Hey Hey LBJ, How many kids did you kill today?” followed years later by Richard Nixon and the ‘tricky dick’ accusations of secrecy and fraud that destroyed his presidency. Back then people were vocal, and as a kid, I watched as it seemed there were good reasons to fight for what we all believed was right.

In that different time, when race and equality were still on the mind of everyone, people began to fight together, and I watched secular groups like the KKK become less severe and threatening as our nation could recognize a holistic approach to life. In the 70’s books were written about ‘The Melting Pot’ a nation burgeoning with immigration becoming one, learning to live with one another and respect each other. Racism and prejudice still existed, but there was this seeming progression, this appearance of ‘love and respect’ that started to gain footing on so many levels. With the onset of so many different cultural mores we began to see a change in the landscape of our society.

The idea of ‘The Melting Pot’ has evolved today into more of a ‘mosaic’ as we gradually become aware of the value of culture, the beauty and elegance that each person in the frame of their own unique heritage brings to our American canvas. We have tried to take the time to appreciate those differences rather than destroy their integrity while lost in our own self-driven egocentric ideals. As a child I was motivated by a naive innocence to appreciate those pieces of our life that I could witness growing up. I wonder about the children of today, and how their exposure has perhaps changed, impacted, or effected their own perception of a modern, electronically driven society around them.

I wonder about the news, and what it is the media will find important as we now walk beyond the unprecedented electoral process that has for some turned their world upside down, and for others provided a voice of indiscriminate reaction that though maybe quieted in years past with active reasoning, today is suddenly harsh and overt and frightening. We live in a democratic society, so there can be no argument to suggest one person’s right to opinion ought be considered better than another’s; however, there is an element of respect and integrity that right now seems surely to hang in the balance.

So, as I observe our new style of protest in American society, just beyond a full day of electing a controversial candidate to the POTUS, I wonder about purpose, timing and decorum. Is protesting today that valuable in a time when we have already made a decision we cannot turn back on? For some, certainly that is the motivation for hitting the concrete, but for others I wonder if we have newer challenges ahead that can capture or channel our idealism. A friend of mine recently posted there is no more time for tolerance through the ideals of love and compassion, in his words, we need to ‘stand up RIGHT now.” I cannot argue with his passion, but I still do wonder about timing.

Perhaps our protest begins in six months, then we have seen a pattern to create a need for public awareness and change. Perhaps today we need to pay closer attention to the immediacy of our national decision, and recognize the hurt, the elation, the brusque reality of our choices demand a closer eye than simply arousing a formulated statement of disagreement.

Perhaps we do still count on ourselves as being the change we desire in the world around us. Ask a friend, see if they and another, and a friend of their own, a family member, a co-worker might join each other and together determine a time, quite likely in the near future to make a stronger more relevant statement, together.

Perhaps we might leave the news off for a few more days, and pay attention to our immediate surroundings.

This Hatred Is Still Real

There in the quiet, when we all settle in to our own reality,

a memorial stands free, meant to celebrate a young boy,

there is a mindset exists in the world around us,

we sometimes allow ourselves to forget about morality.

I’m not talking about you, not speaking about me,

I haven’t any idea really, who they really might be.

I cannot see them, I cannot call anyone by a name,

who’d rather wear a white hood than celebrate with me.

 

When I was a younger child there were men spoke of being free,

a movement seemed to gather strength, a few men held fists high,

a man named Dr. King celebrated the life of his own upbringing,

and I listened, my folks listened, my siblings listened. We all believed

in the concept of love.

I read the news, well a news story, well it kept being brought up,

and I discovered there was a little boy like me, who as a child

living in innocence, crossed a line apparently.

 

We live in a world of constant facade and hypocritical smiles

One that buries the truth behind circumstance and a false pride,

we live in a world that is losing its concept of democracy,

where the people today can take liberty with the struggles of our past.

We live in a forest of deceit where a young boy named Emmitt Till died

for the color of his skin, and no one cared to honor his quiet humanity.

Nearly seventy years ago he lost his life for the color of his skin, just a boy,

and today, those same followers have been woken up and allowed to believe.

 

His memorial is riddled with bullet holes and angry symbolism,

and like 1955, this young boy, could be living today, in the hatred of 2016.

 

When Childhood Seemed Innocent

We would play, for hours in May,

anticipating the summer day,

those opportunities ahead that contained

no worries, no stress, no school remained.

 

I remember our time spent on the court

the roundball, and later building a fort

we camped in the woods across the fields,

we lived for all the beauty that nature yields.

 

I remember thinking the sun would last

forever as we our own artist’s sketch cast,

running through the day light hours with ease

only needing to answer with occasional pleas.

 

I remember thinking that nothing really bothered

me in my neighborhood, love was always preferred.

I recall knowing there was a life away from mine,

saw it on the news, the fights, the police siren whine.

 

They were fighting in the streets all of everyone

throwing bricks and callous names toward anyone

who seemed to be indifferent to wanting to love

we couldn’t ever the hate we felt rise above.

 

I was ten years old when I first experienced ugliness

I received only confusion to be the answer nonetheless

I kept thinking about all the things I cared about

and suddenly my love for distraction became devout

 

In the meantime though the sidewalks began to fill

with all the hopes and dreams of those who will

eventually want to know the same things I do,

the same freedoms, the similar romances to woo.

 

Yet there in the quiet night of a sunset on strife

we can all realize we’re the sole cause of this life

Let My Tears Remain

Please do not offer me solace,

help me forget the pain I feel,

imagine a different world too soon,

in order to find a peace we all …

 

We’re crying I hope,

I would like to imagine every household,

each quiet ride in a commute,

listening to reality rather than fiction,

I would wish the tears might offer a response.

 

Please be angry, sad, contemptuous, scared,

thoughtful with audible concern.

 

Remember all those conversations about love,

how it is truly a bliss,

a wonder to imagine,

something we cannot ever pin down,

just know we do understand we want to believe

we can all share in that true essence,

yet, we have never really defined love.

 

Soulmate, sister, brother, companion, lover, best friend,

mentor, sage, elder, favorite aunt, chance encounter,

all those opportunities to help us define

our own personal

Amazing Grace

We can live together you and him, and she,

and that bunch across the road,

those people, them imposters,

the new neighbors,

our whole fucking damn society,

wherever we are and however manner we wish

to exist.

 

Yes the conversation has got to begin.

Yes, don’t you dare wipe away my tears,

Yes.