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).

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When Once We Stood Together

Today I remember then,

only when

I cannot quite comprehend.

I know it was with intrigue

I wondered about time,

was this perhaps the proper sign.

I would look to wonder

each new design

a telling of a simple future.

Seems we all have a memory

whereby we might all recall

sweet passion was most kind.

We walked together as one,

hoping for the same,

a recognition of love.

Seemed rather simple at the time,

we all wanted it,

we all shouted the words.

 

Freedom seemed attractive,

easily attainable,

put a smile on all of our –

insecurities stepped in the way,

began to sway

the intelligent soul

toward shutting their door

no one allowed inside

any more, none anymore

we cannot help put pity

upon those we left behind.

 

Words are different now,

they speak quickly,

loud,

their tone misunderstood

or simply not concerned.

Sharply stated.

Rude consequences,

never really apply.

Today

instead of a polite retort,

we rather quickly

use a firearm …

the natural way they say

if a conceal and carry

is the way to go.

 

When once we stood together,

now we elude society

steady in the drum,

the lasting hypocrisy.

 

 

Why Colin Kaepernick is Right for the Green Bay Packers.

When the season began, and Kaepernick again became the center of a controversy for a quarterback with skills not being signed by a number of teams in need, I thought about the Packers, and because their position is secure with Aaron Rodgers, I didn’t give it a second thought.

There wasn’t a need. Rodgers gave our team a lot of confidence week in, week out. That was before this afternoon. When Aaron Rodgers went down with a shoulder injury I immediately thought of Colin Kaepernick. There are a number of reasons why I imagine him to be a good choice to be signed immediately by the Green Bay Packers.

In the immediate, the Packers need a quarterback that can step in and read a defense like a veteran, one who is willing to take risks rather than wonder about the possibility due to limited exposure. Perhaps Brett Hundley will prove the skeptics wrong, but right now, he’s a rookie with green skills playing for a team loaded with talent. If Kaepernick is as good as the critics want him to be then he would be capable of coming in and running the offense of the Packers right away.

The reason Colin Kaepernick is not playing in the NFL in a lot of people’s eyes is because of his statement towards an American tradition, the Star Spangled Banner, and its symbolic measure of our country and society’s allegiance toward a patriotic sentiment. However, the argument has been clear that he’s not slamming our nation for being the icon of freedom we are due to our armed forces and national pride. What Colin Kaepernick speaks of with his actions is the sad reality of the treatment of his own race based upon the color of his skin. That’s an argument a lot of our society would like to ignore and rather than continue dialogue, they might just as soon as brush it off with erroneous statements of race-baiting and displaced systemic error. The fact is, our society needs to face its ills.

Colin Kaepernick represents an athlete with certain skills that are asking for an opportunity to be showcased. I personally stood in line with the critics in that I felt like he was a player surrounded with talent, and when that began to fade, so did his skills. There were seemingly no teams in the league that wanted his talents, and a lot of the scrutiny appeared based upon his abilities, somehow making it easy to ignore the issue of race having anything to do with his pariah-like identity.

So now there is a team that needs him to step in immediately, not a team that at the beginning of the season was willing to shake up their plan. The Packers had a plan and that player went down, and there is precedent for this move.

Our society needs this gesture, in that, if Kaepernick came in and succeeded he would be everything the critics suggest he is not – someone capable of moving a team forward because of his skill-set, someone still capable of leading a team, someone with genuine passion for the game. He plays for the Packers for six weeks, or perhaps the rest of the season, and next year he signs with another team in need, now having redeemed himself as a player in the eyes of his critics.

At the same time, society has to take a step back, and wipe off the egg they have allowed themselves to face due to their own ignorance of the perpetuated nature of his gesture toward the National Anthem. Society can now readily acknowledge the man behind the action actually did have a point to be made, and Colin Kaepernick can step onto a team and play the game he loves and have a chance to prove he can play amongst the best rather than spending the rest of his career being displaced because of a sentiment of systemic privilege.

I have reasons why I want Colin Kaepernick to play for the Green Bay Packers. Primarily, I want them to win games, and I think he’s capable of moving the team forward. But more importantly, I want the saga of his banishment to be acknowledged and brought to light in a manner that gives both him the football player a chance to succeed on the field and our society a chance to redeem its own lack of humility when it comes to facing the ills of racism in this modern century.

Episodic Rituals

There are times when in my real life I cry,

it is sudden,

something I cannot control,

watching the illusion of our reality,

in the episodic nature of historical fiction,

the retelling of the reality,

we would all like to pretend is

that fiction.

 

And yet,

when I cry there are real tears,

I feel my body heave,

my eyes begin to well,

I listen to the story of the abuse of a society,

and I am immediately enraged,

by the many facets of discrimination.

 

Today DACA,

yesterday the Mexicans,

the Muslims, Blacks, and disregarded

sexual identities.

 

We all watch it every day,

wait for the movie to premiere,

we imagine our own lives,

and wonder about a personal connection,

until it become passe to care about anyone outside of ourselves,

any more.

 

I wonder sometimes about the cruel nature of our lives

why it is we suggest we have compassion,

when around the corner,

the examples await our reaction,

in the shadows,

while the world continues to expand,

the narrow nature of

racism,

continues its

by society’s terms,

ridiculous plight toward

validation.

I Have These Friends

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ABC News – Baton Rouge

When they walk out the door,

they have natural instincts,

look over their shoulder,

keep a skeptic eye,

they constantly watch their step

while they attend,

make time to be in,

express a similar value,

as do I,

when I go about living my

regular, normal, daily life.

 

I have these friends,

keep their feeling close,

share their values internally,

in such a manner,

we don’t ever see it,

we only hear about it,

when in a time of crisis,

they are asked how to react

when the world they believe,

crumbles with a menacing force

of vitriolic rhetoric,

aimed toward destroying lives,

for the sake of ignorance.

 

I have these friends,

share love and passion,

a desire to respond to beauty,

have an elegant outlook on life,

they smile, they laugh, they support,

the true responsive nature

of the human condition.

These are your friends too,

in fact,

they belong in everyone’s world,

rather than an exclusive gathering

to showcase their humanity.

 

I have these friends,

they are truly more forgiving,

than you and me.

The ‘Not Yet’ Reality of Racism

boston

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.

 

 

Our Violent Humanity

GettyImages_830617844.0

Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

 

It would seem we haven’t had enough,

Watching our neighbors fall to the sword,

The world around us eschewing the evil

Of a nation lost in a swirl of self-pity.

No one to blame but ourselves,

Yet that never comes into play,

We are soon to discover some outlet,

Easy to say we may fall personal prey.

In looking at the news today, I saw

Real lives being struck down, a society

Lost in its own pitfalls of insecurity,

All of them wondering, remaining alone.

When we might raise a flag to equality,

Shudder the notion that fire might stay,

The real burden of proof is our own lives,

Lost in the façade of believing in truth.

There is a Christian belief in humanity

Spouted from every possible pulpit,

Always with the best intentions, they say

The world will be better without evil.

Yet is it some times the very cross carrying,

Honorable, parishioner borne out of fear,

Might wield the weaponry of utter hate,

The rhetoric of painful prejudice begotten.

Pitfalls occur with anyone’s desire to change,

To make change, ask for change, demand change,

The local grocer suggests we use credit instead,

Yet it seems everywhere, fake news still relents.

I watched today with an ill heart the display

Of a humanity lost in the perils of bigotry,

Lost on themselves, lost on each other,

Drifting aimless in a world beyond reproach.

We might only reflect upon where we came

From in a society that once believed in love,

Today is seemingly hell bent on the otherwise,

The ability to act without a conscience so unwise.

Oh, to find love again – to breathe.