Must I Love A Racist?

Love is a strong word. I’m constantly being reminded that I need to love racists. I’m being reminded of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s words, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” It seems that it always falls on the compassionate, the thoughtful and the progressive to carry the burden of reconciliation. IMG_0167
You know what? That’s hard and I’m tired. I’m tired because those little white men who claim they have been left behind, who claim they are forgotten think anyone who doesn’t look like them stole their opportunity. They blame their failed ambition on anyone but themselves. I’m tired because the political ideology that wields the sword of personal accountability for everyone else hasn’t found the courage to confront the disenfranchised white male; thereby affording them shelter. But hey, a vote is a vote.
So once again it falls on weary but kind hearted people who cling to the hope that it is still true that the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness applies to everyone. Everyone. It is not a principle assigned to white privilege. It never was and it is up to all of us to ensure it never will be. I know you are tired. I know you are angry but now is not the time to sink to the level of depravity that we face.
The fuller context of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s words are:
“The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral,
begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy.
Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.
Through violence you may murder the liar,
but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth.
Through violence you may murder the hater,
but you do not murder hate.
In fact, violence merely increases hate.
So it goes.
Returning violence for violence multiplies violence,
adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness:
only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
Now is the time to hold that legacy near.

A Toothpaste Metaphor

I remember my dad telling me a story about some people he knew getting a divorce over how to squeeze a tooth paste tube. That just seemed like the craziest thing to me. The man liked to squeeze the tube in the middle and the woman liked to squeeze her tube from the end. It didn’t make any sense! I must have been ten or eleven years old the time I heard the story. At that age it seemed so obvious that if this issue truly was irreconcilable the solution was simple. His and hers tubes of tooth paste could have saved that marriage. Nobody listens to kids. IMG_0161
It’s funny how stories like that stick with you. My wife is one of those evil middle of the tube squeezers. It never occurred to me to get angry about it. I simply squeeze the tube from the end like I would anyway and I eliminate all signs of her past transgression. I’m fairly certain that she doesn’t begin each day looking at the tube of toothpaste and screaming to the ceiling, “Damn you Chris! You’ve erased all of the evidence that I stand against conformity and civility by squeezing the tube from the end!” At least I’ve never heard her say such a thing. I suppose I should ask if it bothers her. I suppose it’s no more impossible that she has lived in anguish with that annoying habit of mine, squeezing the toothpaste from the end, for thirty five years, than someone would actually divorce over it. Things could be boiling to a head and I don’t even know it. (My wife would like me to point out that she understands I am somewhat OCD. I’m not sure why she insisted I add this point while editing.)
I suppose that particular divorce was more about spite than anything else. If it were anything else my solution as a boy or the one I employ as a devoted husband would have been enough. I don’t know if that particular couple had children or not. If they did, I would imagine that has more to do with our current state of affairs than anything. We seem to find more satisfaction in political victories than solutions these days. I hope that couple went on to find happiness in their lives. I’m the sort who needs a partner to share my life with. “Live and let live” is an idiom that originated in the trenches during WWI. It was a coping mechanism to facilitate conflict avoidance. It was born of the ideal that while facing arduous circumstance unity was required to succeed against a greater evil. We need more of that. It doesn’t really matter where we squeeze the toothpaste.

 

Trump Voters Aren’t The Problem. Anymore.

It’s interesting what you can learn if you listen. A big thing on many of our minds has revolved around the idea that America has lost its mind, our character, our moral standing. Ask any Trump supporter or those who loath him and we all seem to agree the other side is to blame. How is that possible? Many welcome the rejection of progressive values and delight in the setbacks inflicted upon the liberal agenda. Others abhor the current administration and the irreparable assault upon their values. We can’t both be right. United we stand. Divided… we will fall.

In talking with Trump supporters it is clear that they are fine with whatever it takes to return to a sense that their opinions and their values are recognized. Many who believed progress was made in the Obama administration are quick to assign labels of racist, homophobic and anti Islamist upon the them for that. When you talk to those embracing the Trump administration you quickly get a sense that more than anything they hate those labels. They are tired of values that don’t match their world view being thrust upon them with the condemning judgement with which it is often delivered.

Progressives scorn the Republican politicians who wrap legislation cloaked in populist language that convince many of their constituents to support policy against their own interests. We say they are stupid. But are they? The messaging from conservative interests are incessantly wrapped in patriotism, talk of family values, anti-elitism and a disdain for intellectualism. They narrowly define a homogenous demographic that matches the communities from where their voters reside. They convince a populace that suffers the challenges of a changing world that they are looking out for people like them. Imagine your manufacturing job is gone. Imagine the variable rate mortgage you refinanced became unaffordable and you lost your home. Imagine you’ve lost your health care and forget that before Obama it was impossible to get with your preexisting condition. People who don’t look like them but face the same struggles are inaccurately blamed. When those people who lost the same things they did speak out demanding the same things they do they see them as standing in the way of a life that can never be reclaimed. Then some good looking millionaire tells you none of this is your fault. You’re the good guy. You love God, America and your family and if it weren’t for those other people you could be a millionaire too.

Progressives can’t see past the idea that we are all in this together. They think everyone should understand that. When a desperate mother or father subscribes to the conservative message we wield our righteous superior thinking and obvious better education and expect them to recognize how stupid they are, how racist, how small minded. When Trump supporters continually hear the talking heads of mainstream media condemning their values and conservative media keeps telling them they are not the problem, liberals did this to them and if they stay tuned in America will be great again; where would you get your news? The divide is reinforced in a vicious cycle and we are all certain that we are right.

The one thing I’ll cling to in this us vs them divide is that we are, all in this together. We will never have the political clout to effect change if we continually fight amongst ourselves. We need to let go of the repulsion we feel when people fear monger and blame others while refusing to accept accountability for their current condition. Both sides. Politicians drunk with power and commitment to big money are the problem. Both sides. The challenges faced by this country are not new. When facing the struggles we all face it comes back to the old adage, follow the money. Who benefits from the policies and agendas put forth? One thing is certain, it ain’t we the people. Maybe, if we do want to make America great again, that’s where we need to start.

The Dignity Of Labor Through A Son’s Eyes

As I mowed my lawn in the ninety degree heat Saturday I watched the lawn service trucks moving through my neighborhood. With sweat getting in my eyes I fantasized about the luxury of allowing a crew to do my work. There are three reasons I dismissed the notion. First, I actually like mowing my lawn. Second, I was raised to do the work in capable of doing and finally I find great comfort in the reminder that I come from working class roots.
I do love to mow. The combination of the smell of fresh cut grass, the sun shining on my shoulders and the instant gratification of seeing my lawn transform with each pass is, in its own way, intoxicating. There is an almost spiritual element IMG_0152associated with tending God’s green earth, the proverbial hands in the earth thing. I grew up in Iowa and there is a great respect for farmers born in the gratitude of their hard work and bountiful harvests. In some small way the attention I show my landscaping brings me closer to my agrarian heritage.
My parents were raised feeling the economic hardships of the depression. They never stated as such but I sense they thought it foolish to pay someone else to do what one was capable of doing themselves. There’s nothing wrong with providing opportunities for others as a means to defer tasks one might not enjoy. My opinion is that a man’s character can in part be measured by his willingness to do what needs to be done. As much as I love to mow; would I prefer to be out on my Harley or purusing the local farmers market? Yes. Yet somehow those activities are a little sweeter after I’ve completed my chores. A side benefit is that mowing my lawn racks up over 7,000 of the standard 10,000 steps fitness standard.
The final reason I may never pay anyone to mow my lawn comes from respect for my father. My dad was the CEO of IMG_0153Clayton’s DX, a two bay neighborhood gas station where my grandpa and I, after my older brother, served as his only employees once I was old enough and outside of school hours. Anyone who has spent time around an auto shop knows there are few professions more physically challenging. It’s heavy dirty work that is hot in the summer and cold in the winter. My dad did that ten hours a day, six days a week and then would come home, do his books and attend anything and everything that was required to maintain our home. He never complained. He never required down time or alone time. For him, life’s value was found in being with those he loved and attending to their wants and needs.
I think in my dad’s best year he cleared $18,000 and yet somehow I don’t recall ever wanting for anything. I have the luxury of a job I love and the freedom from any real money concerns. I think my dad never questioned his state in life AD02B0D8-179D-4900-97D7-A0A53AC9003Bbecause he was driven by duty and found honor in providing a safe, joyful and loving home. I think of him often when I mow. I remember the silly straw hat with the red bandana he wore when he worked in the yard. I still have that hat. I don’t wear it because if I breath deeply enough I imagine I can still smell the sweet aroma of his hard work.

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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