Racism. What Is That?

When I see Confederate battle flags fervently flaunted I can’t help but to judge harshly. I try to live my life with “assume positive intent” as a guiding principle but I can’t get past the presumptive “fuck you” as the intent of displaying such a deplorable icon. The Confederate battle flag had all but disappeared from post Civil War America with the exception of Mississippi adopting it into their state flag in 1894. I guess the bigotry of the deepest of southern states was ahead of its time. The revival of the flag began in the 1950’s and the beginnings of the civil rights movement. It served as a symbol for white supremacy to Dixiecrats who abhorred the idea that all men are created equal. It is not a symbol of states rights or southern pride unless you believe racism is something to cherish and be proud of.

We like to talk of American exceptionalism like it’s a badge of honor but I don’t think we truly understand that exceptionalism in and of itself holds no particular positive connotation. “Exceptionalism is the perception that a species, country, society, institution, movement, individual, or time period is “exceptional” (i.e., unusual or extraordinary) in some way.” (Google) We truly are exceptional in the way we salivate at the suffering of those who don’t qualify as being like us, and those who have values or priorities unaligned with our own. The proliferation of white supremacy under the Obama and Trump administrations is alarming. This proliferation under each administration is fueled by separate but equally disturbing motivations. The former being intolerance of a black president. The latter of leadership that campaigned on the rejection of diversity.

What is that? What short sighted comfort can be found in the hatred of others based upon the color of their skin? By its very nature bigotry rises like bile in the throats from which we draw breath and take nourishment. Hatred invokes the stress of fight or flight and stands in the way of enlightenment and peace. The deliberate discrimination of others, founded in irrational fear, Group 5 fists hold closely togetherserves no purpose in our values of life, liberty or the pursuit of happiness. It robs us of the opportunity to align with the universe, our creator, or any justification you might ascribe to the meaning of life. Bigotry robs us of the most sacred sense of our humanity. Man alone is not equipped to have survived the cruel selection of evolution. It was by working together and our sense of community that we were able to shield ourselves from harsh elements and superior predators. And whether you subscribe to evolution or creationism there is no denial that our linage ties back to a common origin. Think about that.

My prayer is that this festering growth of white supremacy and bigotry would abate and be abolished in our lifetime. I pray that those who’s lives are less than they hoped for would let go of the idea that their plight in life is anything other than the way they see themselves. You can never find peace, joy or happiness with hatred in your heart. After all, I’m sure that peace, joy and happiness is all any of us really want in this life. Change begins in our own hearts and by standing up to oppression whenever we encounter it. This is on us. We can do better.

Photo credit, Time Magazine

Do Black Lives Matter?

 Dontre Hamilton
 Eric Garner
 John Crawford III
 Michael Brown Jr.
 Ezell Ford
 Dante Parker
 Akai Gurley
 Tamir Rice
 Rumain Brisbon
 Jerame Reid
 Samuel DuBose
 Brendon Glenn
 Freddie Gray
 Natasha McKenna
 Walter Scott
 Christian Taylor
 Akiel Denkins
 Gregory Gunn
 Alton Sterling
 Laquan McDonald
 Jamar Clark
 Philando Castile

This is just a partial list of unarmed blacks killed by police over the last few years. If the list had one name it would be too many. Enough! How do we have a reasonable discussion about something so unreasonable? How do I teach my youngest son to respect the police when these actions are so un-respectable? IMG_0144How do I look my black friends in the eye and not feel shame? I didn’t ask to be born white anymore than they asked to be born black. I have no words to explain to them how painful this is. I have no perspective to understand how they must feel. I have no comprehension of what they might think every day when they get in their car to go to work or the grocery store or to pick up their kids from school when a patrol car appears in their rear view mirror.

There are those who read these stories who figure the victim did something wrong, anything wrong, or they wouldn’t have been killed. There are others who are just happy there is one less black life on the planet. Some find these stories sad but then move on. Some are outraged but figure there is nothing to be done about it. And then there are those who have lost all trust and respect for the police and hatred is boiling up inside. How do we reconcile any of this?

I am a proud supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement. I don’t approve of all that has been done by a few individuals in its name but the legitimate basis of the movement and its tenets are held close to my heart. I bristle and feel embarrassment for those who would retort “all lives matter” in response to hearing Black Lives Matter. That has nothing to do with the ideals behind Black Lives Matter. Of course all lives matter but you can not tell me all lives matter if you can not say black lives matter. Can we agree on that?

There are two things I believe need to happen. First, we need accountability for any officer who would kill any unarmed person. Period. I don’t even care if they are resisting. Something short of lethal force is demanded. Second, I want to see law enforcement take the stand that the killing of unarmed people is unacceptable. I want to hear them condemn the actions of those who act as judge, jury and executioner.

The victims, families and communities affected by police violence have lost the foundational right to feel safe in our society. Imagine you were in those shoes. How might you react? What irreparable harm might scar your heart and psyche if you could not trust those entrusted to protect you? Do you think that is hyperbole? I think the victims families might disagree. We should feel fortunate we do not know that feeling and afford our deepest compassion for those who do. So I’m asking that the next time this happens, and it will, consider the whole story. And when a community takes to the streets to demand justice, have empathy instead of contempt. You would appreciate the same if our place was reversed.

Reaping What We Sow

In the movie Citizen Kane, the protagonist was born of austere means and rises to achieve world class wealth and power. At the end of his life, Citizen Kane, Charles Foster Kane, realized that he got everything wrong. In a flash of deathbed clarity, he recognized what symbolized the only true happiness he had ever known. The story unfolds as a reporter tries to find the IMG_0143meaning of his enigmatic last word: “Rosebud.” It’s a story of lost youthful idealism. Rosebud was the simple wooden sled Charles would ride as a care-free boy, perhaps too busy having fun to realize he was poor.
Nobody would ever know the secret of Rosebud. Even when they had Rosebud in their hands. They couldn’t see it and tossed it into an inferno. They couldn’t see it because they didn’t know what they were looking for. It was a shame that Charles needed to be on his deathbed to finally recognize a truth that could have been his most significant contribution of value to the world. It was a bigger shame that he had lead his life in a way that nobody could have ever imagined his secret could be so profound. And the biggest shame of all is, what likely blinded everyone to the secret of Rosebud was, the same thing that kept the truth from Charles Foster Kane. We value the wrong things.
By all accounts Charles personified the American dream. And yet at that most lonely hour, where he contemplated his life achievements for meaning, his life came up short. Brooks Brothers wrapping might cover a man’s character to the outside world but a cover can work both ways. Blind ambition kept Charles from finding fulfillment in the moment it mattered most. It should be our greatest fear that we would take our last breath with regrets. I don’t want to live anything like Charles. And I certainly don’t want to die like him. I contemplate what drives happiness in my own life. It always comes back to times when I’m more focused outward than inward. Those times when I can afford peace, love and light.
We need more peace, love and light these days. Maybe it would be good for all of us to examine what it might look like if we purposefully pursued satisfying and well lived lives. We all do that to some extent, unconsciously. We intuitively try to be good people. But how often do we actually contemplate and plan to lead richer and more meaningful lives? Think how impactful it might be if we devoted time and energy to making the world a better place for the people around us. Or Rosebud.

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