Trials Defining 45’s Racism

Racism 

noun

Prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.                    – Oxford English Dictionary

A friend of mine asked me recently to give a good definition of racism and what it means in our society. So I went to the best source I could – the Oxford English Dictionary. When I read the definition itself, I thought about my own prejudice, and wondered about my own bias, and then tried to translate that to the point of this commentary.

I only have to look as far as the first three words and I have found enough evidence to attach this derogatory practice to 45’s exploits over the last year and a half, and evidence would suggest we include the many years before he even imagined the highest position of office in the United States.

In the word ‘prejudice’ it is defined as ‘preconceived opinion’ not based upon reality. We are all familiar with the original stump speech that introduced a philosophy toward Mexicans with the following words, “they’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” (Donald Trump 2016) Now any number of people will qualify that and say he did add the ‘good people’ in the end of the insult. Is that well enough? Or should we look more closely at the greater influence of the sentence – drugs, crime, rapists – and focus on how the words themselves impacted the response to his description of Mexican people to a crowd of supporters.

I want to say lathering supporters, but it took a few months for us to really begin to see his method, and today his campaign rallies time and time again, have become venues for spewing toxicity. I know this personally, because I did attend a rally earlier this year in Duluth MN and was appalled by the general pitch of the speech and crowd reaction. In that particular speech, there was no presentation of substance, only the same rhetoric we have grown accustomed to – hostility, isolation and blame. Therefore, his ‘preconceived opinion’ became the center point of his words and the crowd loved it. They relished it, and if anyone was in opposition, well they had better well keep their mouths shut, or have it shut permanently by rabid supporters. Incidentally, those rabid supporters would also receive direct support from the POTUS at the podium jeering them on.

See I find a problem with that. To me that is a clear case of bullying, and this is something that Donald Trump is the master of in his current position. If he doesn’t like someone, or they go against his own personal agenda, he will rip them apart with a lacking social decorum that leaves a lot of people feeling fear. Trust me when I say to all of those readers that are jumping on the bandwagon to pummel liberals, it is not simply a democratic issue. It is a national crisis that clearly blurs all party lines. To state it simply, 45 uses other people’s weaknesses to bolster his own agenda. That is prejudicial behavior.

Next word, discrimination. How many readers just suddenly had this wave of ‘this is too easy’ come over them when they associate that word with the POTUS? How about we begin with the NFL? Wait too easy, ok let’s talk about Maxine Waters and ‘low IQ.’ Not satisfied, well then moving on, how about Lebron James and education for youth versus cages on the Southern border. Oh, hot point, ok, well, then let’s just wrap it with calling a former White House aide, a woman, a dog. Fill in the missing blanks please.

Finally, when I first looked at the definition of racism as it applies, the word antagonism just lit a fire under me because there is so much evidence out there that Trump has expressed, suggested, mandated to describe his personal agenda with antagonizing people of a different social status, a different political background, a DIFFERENT color of skin. Quite apparently, Donald Trump ran his candidacy and now his current office on a platform of outward antagonism.

Remember, he did say, ‘fire the (s.o.b.) player’ that protests at an NFL game. Ignore the whole idea of free speech and the ability to demonstrate a peaceful protest. Hell, this is a person of stature and they should be held accountable. Paint it however way you like it, but the message that 45 is putting across is that the color of your skin in the NFL has merit to be criticized and thrown out with the trash. Yeah, that’s my opinion, and I say it clearly because the whole idea of supporting this man’s ignorance just makes me sick.

So we can do two things with the definition as it stands. We can take out the word ‘race’ and exchange it with ‘status’ for those of you that genuinely believe that Trump is not racist, but do have misgivings of how he treats people of a different stature than his own. Or we could leave the word ‘race’ in the definition of racism where it belongs.

The fact is, our leader of our country uses racist language to persons of color to antagonize and lather his crowd of supporters. While he stands before us and suggests he is cleaning out the swamp, what he is actually doing is lining his own pockets with the finest opportunity to create a financial network towards his benefit with not just the nation but the world, the global economy. He really could care less about race unless there is a benefit for him.

That said, I am not letting him off the hook. He has made far too many declarative statements toward people of color in so many capacities, and yes, he has lumped certain white people into his analogies and disgusting rhetoric. But right now, I don’t really care about the white people, because they don’t have to operate on a different level to make sure their lives are safe and fulfilling. They just, like me, will go out the door in the morning and begin their day without any worry of profiling or discrimination while a person of color walking down the street with them side by side will experience mental and physical roadblocks completely out of their control throughout their entire day.

Think about it for just a minute. This isn’t political. This is reality, and the sooner we begin to acknowledge it is NOT about us, and it is more about the people in our society that have been oppressed for the ages, the sooner we can begin to carry out a realistic and healing dialogue. The sooner we accept that just maybe the words coming out of this president’s mouth can be construed planned, methodical and easily perceived as racist, nothing ‘fake news’ about that – only a reality.

( to be sure I wrote this after a weekend blues festival – my apologies for rambling. )

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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.

White Privilege

white privilege

what I have
would regrettably could
be different as
standing alone in a crowd
without indifference
disguised
preconceived judgmental
scrutiny

let me stand
side by side
in a world of true
compassion
love, human, free
then we will perhaps
all believe
we are not
racist
we live in a
dream

On Being White

nea

NEA stock photo


I have lived my entire life in a predominately white society. Growing up as a child I lived in a white community, later when going to college, more of the same, with a smattering of people of color entering my life gradually until moving to the Twin Cities in the early twenties. Even then, I still lived in an obviously white community, hung out with white friends, worked in places whereby most of my colleagues except for a few were white as well.

Along the way, I met people of color in various situations, college primarily, a few opportunities in the theatre and the occasional co-worker in hospital work. Actually, it was the workplace I met my first true black friend. He and I tested each other out for several months until we came to the conclusion we liked a lot of the same things, sports, politics and women. At work we became fast friends, and we supported each other through many difficult situations. We worked in a psychiatric hospital, where dealing with mental illness was a requirement of the job, skills learned taught us ideals of acceptance and tolerance in many tenuous situations. I think the importance of that relationship has a lot to do with how I would go on to treat people in all walks of my life, with an ultimate focus on respect and a desire to know about their lives and how they might impact my own.

So why do I choose today to speak of being white? I spent my morning and afternoon at the 2018 Conference on Racial and Social Justice, sponsored by the National Education Association, NEA. I knew well I would probably be a minority at the gathering, given the nature of the focus to be on its namesake, breaking down the barriers of racial injustice at the hands of a predominately white society, with a central focus being how educators handle themselves and treat their students in the classroom.

The irony of today’s session with the current events of the news is daunting in its clear connection to the atrocity of the recent Supreme Court Janus ruling and the immigration chaos happening on our border. In the conference which hosted over 800 attendees there was a general feeling of anger and frustration with the current focus toward public education, especially union driven ideals when it comes to protecting the interest of both the student and the teacher in the classroom. Couple that with the issue of racism as it permeates our society, and the break out sessions held much intrigue. I chose to sit in on a roundtable exploration of being a white teacher in a diverse classroom. This seemed readily appropriate because that is the demographic of my own classroom.

I specifically focused my day on sessions dealing with being that white teacher in a diverse setting. During that session I told a story of my own racial bias that blossomed into a heavy discussion of white privilege and the idea of whites needing to at one point, as called out by a member – figure out their own racism before they can address other issues. I immediately felt discomfort, but I was supposed to, this was all meant to be part of an all day learning session. The adage of how do you learn with disagreement and controversy holds well here. I wasn’t looking for a Kumbaya session, and it didn’t occur.

As the talk came to a close the moderators asked if everyone felt ok, and acknowledged hoping there were good takeaways. There were around eight of us at the table. I immediately said, ‘I’ve never felt more uncomfortable in my life.’ I meant it, but not in a negative way. I meant it as a moment of growth. People naturally asked why, and I told them that my feelings were that I am so wrapped up in my own privilege being a white man I have a long ways ahead toward figuring this out. My next statement then proved to be the pivotal learning moment.

I said to the group that this has been awesome, and I will take the next few days and process this, write about it, think about it and gradually come to terms with what my struggles are. A woman at the table then said to me, ‘I’m glad you’re uncomfortable. You get to go home and process this, and take a week, however long, and maybe write about it and feel better down the road.’ She then said, ‘I’m going to deal with it tonight, and in the morning and all day tomorrow, the next day, and every day as I have been my entire life.’ She was speaking from experience, she was African-American, and she was smiling, and I never felt more welcomed into a learning moment in my life. My whole pitch on what my takeaway should be, or needed to be, or ought to be, immediately shifted. I was grateful, and afterwards she and I had some time to talk and I shared a couple more stories, and so did she, and I walked away a little head blown by the moment.

So why am I suddenly having this revelation even though I’ve walked around thinking about these various aspects of racial discrimination and injustice most of my life and throughout all of my teaching career? My only answer is that I don’t experience it directly, and if I am going to be an ally for racial and social justice in my local and national society, I need to continue to listen in these moments rather than talk through my rationalizations.

This was one experience in a conference that filled me with a new knowledge of what injustice truly means to our society and our constantly changing world we live in today in both America and throughout the globe. There are many experiences ahead, and I do plan to keep listening.

Why I attended a Trump rally

IMG_0087

AMSOIL arena – Duluth


I was recently given tickets to attend the Trump rally in Duluth, Minnesota last night. Given the controversy around the issues occurring on our southern border, I felt like this was my closest opportunity I might have to put myself in a place to show resistance to his actions and the impact he is having on our society and populace. I thought just being part of the gathering of protesters would be sufficient to try to get my point across. I brought a couple of signs with me, that I wanted to hold in rallying support of the opposition. IMG_9316

This billboard stayed in my car because attendees were not allowed to bring signage into the convention. I actually had visions of someone taking a bat to the back window of my car where I had it visually placed, but we parked quite a distance away from the rally so it was not noticeable. I believe that merits the experience I had at this, my first presidential rally. I brought a former student of mine, a decade past his graduation, someone I knew had similar views to my own. We talked about what we were about to experience, but really frankly had no idea what we were about to encounter.

In all honesty, I genuinely believed if I found myself in the arena I would find similar minded people to rally around as we listened to 45 spout the same rhetoric he has for the entirety of his presidency. I was never so wrong in my life. We encountered protesters along the way, in fact, delightfully I ran into another former student holding a wonderful sign of protest – a biblical verse – Matthew 25:34-46. I made it clear to her I had tickets to go inside, but I was on the side of the protesters. We caught up for a few moments, I took her picture and told her there would be a lot of people back home, happy to see her posture on this day. The response from social media indicated I was correct.

This morning, in reflection on the experience, I do believe if I had just driven up to protest I would have been completely satisfied on one level. Having tickets to go inside the arena and experience the rhetoric from 45 is one thing; however, the greater takeaway as my companion pointed out was the mob-mentality of the audience.There was absolutely nothing this leader of our country could say that would diminish the rabid nature of the crowd’s reaction to his every word.

I suppose in reality that is a normal reaction to a crowd of supporters. There was just something different about this energy, and that is what I struggled with for the entire time we were in the convention. We left about fifteen minutes before the end because I frankly could not stomach any more of the speech. Again he talked about similar topics of his concern – numbers in attendance, creating more jobs for African-Americans, the fake-news media section that he encouraged his audience to provide a unifying roar of boos and catcalls, and of course a chant of ‘lock her up’ to get the crowd on the same page. In addition he was adamant toward making a point of isolating any protesters that he then had promptly escorted out of the convention.

At one point he criticized a long-haired protester, asking whether he was a man or woman, telling him to go back home to his mom and get a haircut. I was a little concerned the people I am close to in my life, might fear it was me because I presently have long hair, but it wasn’t me – I was the one standing nearby that kept my eyes down for the majority of the speech and occasionally would clap three or four times so those around me wouldn’t get a sense that I wasn’t there for the right reasons. He once asked the news media to pan the crowd, and I diligently stooped down and pretended to tie my shoes. I was wearing sandals.

That is what I was truly most nervous about, becoming exposed. This was no environment to oppose the speaker, I mean, even a look in the eye felt like exposure, and I did fear for my safety. This is the first presidential convention I have ever attended, but I do not think that is a normal attendee reaction no matter the side of the fence their views might land. (Perhaps people will now reference the Democratic convention of 1968 in Chicago and rightfully so, but was that about party or their angst toward the police at the time? I was nine years old, I only remember the television coverage and some horrific story about Dan Rather’s behavior in a taxi ride.) I watched the room lather with 45’s constant berating nature and bully tactics that were not presidential in any regard.

His speech was about him and his accomplishments thus far. Yes, one can argue that he has made strides with North Korea, but we really don’t know the long term impact, outside of the hostages being released, that is huge. But beyond that what is the impact? There were no reassuring words on his part, in fact at one point he said, ‘maybe it won’t work, we just don’t know.’ My student at that point  said to me later I think that is the first time he had ever heard Trump go back on a declarative statement. I couldn’t argue.

We decided to leave around 10 or 15 minutes before he finished, partly because I was feeling anxious and partly because we weren’t hearing anything new, and we knew the crowd control was going to be crazy leaving. I said to my companion, I could feign a heart issue in the event people questioned our departure but beyond specific glares and questionable expressions, we were free to leave early.

We got outside and found a good amount of protesters awaiting the end of the convention. I won’t say thousands because that wouldn’t be true, but there were numbers, and despite feeling like that is where I should have been standing, a part of me was glad I did stand inside to experience the speech. Here’s why.

I’ve always believed it is important to listen to both sides. I was raised in a family that supported both sides of the ticket and were always able to dialogue about all the relevant issues no matter the stance. I don’t believe in the vision of Donald Trump. I think it is a sham and he has no idea what the ramifications of his rhetoric have on our society. Or maybe he does, and if that is the case, that is an even scarier prospect. He made a comment last night about no families being split up at the border last night, and I haven’t read the news today, and I have no comment on that, all I can do is think about the weeks before hand – the damage is done.

In conclusion, it was the mindset of the people walking into the arena that frightened me more than anything else. I saw a young woman of no more than twenty wearing an American flag that blended into a confederate flag. Why?!? IMG_9321What is it we are trying to create in our society today? What is it this man is doing to the sanctity of our country that is built around the tenet of supporting everyone, no matter their background, or religious affiliation or color of their skin?

 

 

I’m generalizing now, so it is time to finish my point.  Ironically, I’m listening to David Bowie’s ‘This Is Not America’ as I write my last words.

So why did I attend this convention? I was given tickets. I live less than 200 miles away. I wanted first hand to see how we are reacting to this man’s hand on our country’s rewards and ills, and last night I experienced that fraction of populace that supports his ideals. Correct, he is our president, my president and as an American I am asked to respect the office of the POTUS, but listening to a man simply try to lather a crowd with ill meant rhetoric and sad commentary on our society while constantly patting himself on the back is not what is going to lead us in the right direction. The reality of this movement leaves me scared and bewildered.

I can only be grateful that I was in the audience with a mindful companion, because quite frankly I don’t know how I might have handled being in the AMSOIL arena in Duluth alone.

Thanks for listening, and for anyone questioning my loyalties or political leaning, trust me they haven’t changed, if anything they have been strengthened. Let’s go forward … somehow.


Pictures are my own

I’m Upset About a Coffee House in Philadelphia

Last night, I turned on the news and there was increasing coverage everywhere about the Starbucks incident with two African-American men being arrested for ‘trespassing’ in a local store. The incident has gained national momentum and attention to the degree that the CEO has met with the two gentlemen and proclaimed a day of sensitivity training for nearly 8000 stores. I listened to Don Lemon on CNN interview the CEO and ask him whether or not he really believed that ‘one day’ would be a sufficient amount of time to desensitize the discriminate nature of this revealing expose of racism in our country. The CEO didn’t have an answer but expressed an emotional reaction to the controversy.

In a followup after the interview, Don Lemon brought on W.Kamau Bell to speak to the general reaction and commentary of the CEO, Kevin Johnson, of Starbucks. Bell hosts the exceptional series, United Shades of America, (Season 3: Premieres Sunday, April 29 at 10 p.m. ET/PT) on CNN.

To be clear, I’m a white guy reacting to an issue that impacts black people every day, not just an isolated incident in a Philadelphia coffee shop, and that was the general pitch of Don Lemon and W. Kamau Bell’s final commentary. In a manner of speaking they theorized how might a white CEO of a major industry empathize with the reality of racism in today’s society. Certainly, Kevin Johnson is putting a face on a possibility, but I think our society needs to realize that is only a start. Much like the students of Broward County and their efforts to raise awareness in a privileged society, I listened to their final words because I personally am looking for an answer.

I know racism exists. I know I have my own prejudicial misgivings. I think what bothers me the most is when people seem to suggest that not talking about it will just make things better, make things go away. The reality is, by not having dialogue, the resentment, the frustration, the explosive backlash becomes a greater concern than if there were a conversation. The discussion takes time though, takes courage, demands commitment from all people involved.

I think what Lemon and Bell are suggesting is that too often we bandaid the issue, and it rises up again. Tonight, in social media a friend of mine indicated that everything is about hate. What if we actively turned that around? What if we made everything about love? What if we got past the idea that it is easier to despise than it is to put effort into understanding? What if instead of declaring the Philadelphia incident as an anomaly, we admittedly took action to recognize such discrimination exists? We don’t have to define it, we simply have to accept the reality of our society’s ills and the need to open our hearts to admitting the surface level of fear that creates such a problematic mindset is real and not overstated by a liberal versus conservative party of thinking.

I can’t help wonder what it might be like to create dialogue between differing parties without onlookers with agenda and attitude to tear down the chance to allow people to learn from one another rather than destroy opportunity. Seems idealistic certainly, but its really. If we understand each other, we can look one another in the eye. If we remain afraid of one another, then the wall will remain in tact.

In Philadelphia an individual seemingly, well quite obviously overreacted to a normal gathering of two human beings who began their day never imagining their world to be turned upside down by a discriminatory motive. Let me restate that. The two gentlemen in Philadelphia began their days completely aware that at any moment their lives could be marginalized by racial profiling because of the color of their skin. However, in their lives, they have learned it is a necessary reality for them to constantly be aware of a negative circumstance unfolding right before their very eyes.

That happened in a Philadelphia Starbucks, and the two individuals wrongfully arrested created a hailstorm of controversy that speaks to what certain cultures have to accept and go through every day. I’m a white guy, and I don’t have to experience this, but I see it. I’m a teacher and I have students of every race in my classroom, and the one thing I demand of my day, is that every individual in my room is respected as much as the next person. The two gentlemen in Starbucks need to have been treated as equally as anyone else in the store.

The need exists, the dialogue, communication, desire to understand must begin. We cannot continue to simply look away.

MLK Jr. – 50 Years Ago His Words Began

MLK Jr.

photo courtesy Bustle


I knew this man,

well, my mother,

she taught me

to know this man.

 

i remember when he spoke,

his voice was beautiful,

a rhapsody of passionate

words to speak to everyone.

 

A scared nation,

completely aware

of what really is hell,

what was this man’s tell.

 

I remember my mother

saying to me one night,

Martin Luther King, Jr.

means love, he speaks love.

 

I remember being fascinated

by this preacher’s voice,

he kept returning,

he wouldn’t go away.

 

Despite bricks being thrown,

a society being scorned,

he basically smiled, stated,

‘I have a dream.’

 

I knew this man,

50 years ago tonight,

right around the evening

hour, we lost his voice.

 

Jesse Jackson, described it

like the clap of his hand,

the bullet was immediate,

and MLK Jr. was gone.

 

I love this beautiful man I never knew

but I believe I do, he did truly love you.