Category Archives: history

Black History: It goes all the way back to day 1

At the beginning of Black History Month we should recognize that people of African descent have been on the American continent just as long as people from Europe.* There was never a time in the history of European colonization of America that did not include black people. Nor was there really a place or time in the Americas not touched by slavery.jumpingtherail

The Spanish had been in the American slavery business for more than 100 years before the Pilgrims got to Plymouth so it shouldn’t be surprising that by the 1620’s the boats full of New England settlers also brought along Black people as slaves.

At the same time the same thing was going on in Jamestown down in Virginia, and in Philadelphia, then Charleston too.DSC02518

Hereditary slavery dictated by skin color wasn’t codified at the start and things took different routes in different regions, but on February 1st, the start of the month when a greater focus is placed on the participation of Black people in America, we should know that Black people have been here the entire time. They were never an afterthought, nor were they simply forgotten, but the stories, contributions, and relevance have been intentionally pushed aside, covered up, and discarded.

Lets fix that.

 

*There are theories and some evidence that Africans visited and even settled on the American continent before Columbus.

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They Didn’t Learn it at Home: they learned it everywhere

I have recently seen a spattering of high school and college kids getting caught on cameras saying and doing racist stuff. The public reaction is most often shock and horror, which is appropriate, and then there is this accusation that this is surely an indicator of nefariousness among the adults who raised these kids. I hear “They must be learning that stuff at home”.1_multipart_xF8FF_5_chimney rock 007

Maybe not.

When it comes to ignoring, dismissing, or disparaging the experiences or ideas of black people in America, that message is taught in the air. No one needs to be at the chalk board. Just like a child learning to walk, if left alone, they will figure it out.

The truth is that very intentional steps need to be taken in the home for a child to NOT learn the messages of assumed black inferiority, or more to the point, the inherent message of white superiority.

The idea that white is the default setting of all things America, be it citizenship, relatability, models of behavior, or representatives of corporate or skilled positions is built into how we go about our daily lives. Yes there may be, and increasingly are, representations of “diversity” throughout our environment, but they are very much just that- diversity. They aren’t the norm or the default but rather representations of the deviance from that norm. There is whiteness and then there is all that other stuff we like to sprinkle into the white pool and we call it diversity. Many of us may love diversity, but really we see it as extra. When all things are left to themselves, they float and rest in whiteness. So much so that it needn’t be named or acknowledged.IMG_6422

Because of this anything outside of white is a thing and people react to “things” in all sorts of ways. Some of us don’t really think we have “things”, as in cross-fit is my “thing” or saving the whales is my “thing”, and those of us who think we don’t have one tend to dismiss the “things” of others. I may think extreme attention to physical fitness is a distraction from things that matter, like literature, and if I am that sort of person, I might even tell jokes about cross-fit (the other day I tried to kill a roach by spraying it with Axe body spray, now the roach is named Blake and it won’t shut up about cross-fit). That would be a bias and we all have them, and we should keep them in check. Keeping our bias in check is not being overly sensitive, it is being appropriately sensitive.front gate arch

When it comes to race, this default setting of white in America means that anyone or any time blackness, or race at all, is brought up, it immediately registers as a “thing” and we tend to react accordingly. Some are into it, some dismiss it, but is not the norm. Those that mock things they aren’t into generally, will likely mock those who complain about the killing of unarmed black people because race politics aren’t their “thing”. Those who generally ignore things that don’t interest them, will likely just ignore those who claim gerrymandering intentionally suppresses the black vote, because making politics a race issue isn’t their “thing”. And then there are those who, like puppies, get excited about every”thing” and jump out to join a march or rally or just a conversation about whether or not the Oscars have been whitewashed with the same uninformed fascination I might give to excavating shipwrecks along the Outer Banks. That isn’t really my thing but it sounds cool.

Realizing this will help us understand why kids do stupid things regarding race. Understanding this is the first step in changing. And we do in fact need to change. Because America does not need to be white. America has never been a geography or system where only white people live and work. Those who aren’t white deserve full recognition and that recognition should go so far that it is assumed and need not be called out- but we are a long way away from that.

That is the goal and we cannot get there by skipping the in-between parts. That would be like running the first and last mile of a marathon but not all those pesky miles in between. Though I would argue that this is what American has historically done. Every time we start running the marathon of race (see what I did there?) we get a little bit tired and skip all the way to the finish line and just ignore race as if it is suddenly irrelevant. And when we do this without truly changing the default setting of whiteness, what we really do when we ignore “race” is ignore the people and ideas and issues that aren’t white. When we ignore race, deny its relevance, or simply do nothing, we let the environmental default do the teaching for us. We are left to the messages sent by television, peers, music, peers, schools, churches, or even just soccer teams.

And when the default is whiteness, and the default goes unchallenged and unchanged, that is what racism is.

So we have to fight that. We begin by teaching that all people have value and none of that value is based on pigmentation. That is mile 1 of 24. Mile 2, and I think most, but definitely not enough of us have been at least this far, is that skin color, that thing we call race, isn’t really a biological thing. Skin does not make anyone fast or slow, smart or dumb, lascivious or prude. Melanin, hair texture, face structure, none of those things are related. Got it. But then comes miles 3 through 23. I think mile 3 is listening to black people. I don’t mean watching black people in order to be entertained, because America has always done that, but I mean when black people, or really all non-white people but I think we have plenty to chew on if we actually invested any real time and effort listening to African-Americans or Native-Americans. Listening not talking. Again, and I really do need to repeat this, because listening to is not the same as listening about. Plenty of messages out there are about black people, I am saying the work of mile 3 is listening directly. Then next maybe asking- but not sharing. You see most of us, because it is such a human thing, after asking one little bit and hearing a little about someone else, we then share a boat load about ourselves. I know I’m a criminal offender in this regard. But white people shouldn’t do that here. We have more than 300 years of sharing all and everything about white America, we can afford to shut up for a little bit.

There is a lot more to do after that but we have never gotten even this far. There is still plenty of asking, and voting, and investing, and teaching, and repairing, and then probably more investing, before we get to mile 24 and we can start “ignoring”. I’m not sure how long that will take but I do know that marathons aren’t run naturally. What I mean is no one just sat there and waited their time and found themselves having completed a marathon. They had to train and run. We will never get to race not mattering in America by just waiting for it to happen. We cannot just wait for all the older runners to age and pass away. All this does is clear the course but it doesn’t run anywhere. And we all get fat waiting.

If America is a set of ideals, and laws, bound by a physical geography, there need not be any real place for skin color in that definition. If we stick with what America is or should be striving to be, or claiming to be, it also need not be defined by a language. Or a religion. Because the ideals of liberty and justice open to all, should in fact mean all Americans. But historically it has meant white Americans. Meant it so much that we at some point just stopped saying it out loud. But we never changed the default

So when high school kids get caught on video making light of lynching or saying racist things, we shouldn’t act so surprised. We shouldn’t assume that something extra nefarious is going on in that home. It could just as easily be that nothing about race is going on in that home. And that is exactly what doing nothing will get us.

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It Isn’t About Playing Nice in the Sandbox, It is About the Deathtraps Hidden in the Sand.

Let us not twist Martin Luther King Jr’s work into something it was not.

It was not about turning the other cheek and being silent. It was about getting punched in the face and persisting.

It was not about us all getting along and being nice, it was about claiming promised rights and justice.IMG_5719

Too many of us were taught that the civil rights movement was about where someone sat on a bus and how the solution was friendship. Simple friendship and getting along was no more the point than a bruise is the point of cancer. This simple narrative ignores the devastation and violence imposed on Black Americans by local governments, school boards, police departments, corporations, as well as run of the mill every day white people.

Black people were not fighting for the right to sit on a bus or drink from a fountain, they were screaming, shouting, fighting, and dying, for basic rights promised to all Americans. Those rights were being systematically and violently denied. The “colored” signs and fountains were just a little token on the surface to warn against those who might be tempted to scratch a little deeper. This was never really about sitting happily next to each other, it was about the fact that one group of people weren’t allowed to ever sit and rest.

Friendship without rights or justice is a degrading sort of condescension that was never a goal of the movement. Simplifying the issues of racial injustice to the basics of treating everyone kindly is similar to telling a child not to sneeze on a gunshot victim in the ER. Of course we should be kind to each other but there were, and are, bigger issues at play.

But Dr. King did talk of the day when we could be friends. I dream of that day. I think we have seen glimpses of it, but we should never fool ourselves into thinking that the friendship is the goal. It isn’t.

It (friendship and harmony) is, and would be, the natural consequence of actual justice and equality- which we have never completely attained. The field was never leveled, injustice persists, and many of us haven’t woken from our dreaming state to do the hard work required to get to that promised land.

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It isn’t my Family’s First Time in Town

Five generations ago Charles and Louisa Booth lived in India. He was an English officer and she claimed to be a native of Manila. They met missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and joined them. In those days becoming Mormon meant moving to America and the Booths sold everything they owned, which by their account was a lot, and prepared to move.

They boarded a ship and sailed to San Francisco. Once there they traveled south and joined an oddly multi racial and multi national group of Mormons who had settled in San Bernardino. They thought this was the final stop but in 1857 when The United States declared war on the Mormons, Brigham Young called all the Saints to gather in Utah. The Booths sold everything again, and walked up through Las Vegas, to a place called Beaver. IMG_1968

Beaver has grown quite a bit since then and still, it can at best be described as a town.

I paid a visit to the San Bernardino historical Society to see if I could find any records of where exactly in town my great-great-great- grandparents lived. The didn’t know. All we found was a tax assessor’s record showing they paid taxes on a plot of land and one horse. I imagine it was a mangy flea-bitten horse.IMG_73431

By the time all those generations filtered down to me, there was, or isn’t, at least not than any of us are aware, any inheritance or property to pass along. They left all that in India. All that they left to their descendants, was the Mormonism.IMG_1958

And that amuses me just a little.

I find it funny because it isn’t a thing I can own and while I can in many ways inherit it, gaining it, my Mormonism, strictly that way would make it kind of worthless. Beliefs held simply because those before held the same, aren’t inherently valuable. Or true. Plenty of generations are gifted traditions that oppress or misguide, so to simply assume that those gifted me are better than the rest is at best- dangerous.IMG_1969

But I am still very much what they were. Five generations and I’m still Mormon.

Because I choose to be. I understand all the reasons one might not, and to be quite frank, I really dislike a lot of the reasons many choose to stay. No tradition remains unchanged over hundreds of years and despite the things I hold as truths, there is other junk in there too. I despise those things and I will work on those things and while I see those things- here I am.IMG_1965

Because I think I have found what the Booths found. They found it in India. I found it somewhere between third and fourth grade. And while I couldn’t find the place they lived exactly, there is a common ground.IMG_1966

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A Prayer of Thanks and Thanksgiving

For some of us there is an inexplicable need to crash into another person. There is no malice in it, just a reciprocal pleasure in collision. Its fun.

At this season of giving thanks, and turkey bowls, I must offer my gratitude for those who have fostered God’s great game on Earth. Whether it be the primordial birth at English boarding school, the formation of an ivy league, or the frozen tundra of Vince Lombardi’s soul- thank you.133982157633763565_FF2pqoAT_f

Thank you to Joe Cool, Ronnie Lott, Jerry Rice, the backfield combo of high knees crazy eyed Roger Craig and smash mouth soft handed Tom Rathman and the greatest second string QB to ever play, for making the fandom of my youth worthwhile.

Thank you Walter Camp for making Web Ellis’s game into a militaristic chess match and thank you Bo Jackson for knowing.

There may possibly, but only maybe, be some other way to satisfy the mannish desire to dress up in armor and gear and run and jump and win and lose and scream and play and dance and fall down and put your face right into someone so hard that snot bubbles up in their nostrils and spit flies from their throat and then you offer your hand to help them up. Or maybe you just stand over them and roar. There may be some other way, or venue, to do these things, but they are, or would be, inherently inferior.bowlfight1905

Thank you Barry Sanders for shifting sideways better than everyone. Thank you TO for giving me reason to say out loud, “Wait! Did you see that? Did he just pull a Sharpie out of his sock and sign the ball? Did you see that!?” Thank you Lawrence Taylor for that moment of sympathetic terror we all had in those moments when you got around the corner and the QB hadn’t seen you yet. Oh yes thank you for that.

Thank you Jonah Lomu for being a freak before Jevon Kearse and thank you Jerry Collins for making my sternum hurt despite having never met you.Chabal_Rugby_Racing_vs_Stade_Toulousain_311009

Thank you Chad Hauser for that one time in wind sprints where you didn’t see me coming and thank you Asi Mohi for my first broken nose. Thank you Deb Bilbao for teaching me in 6th grade that a girl can pick a boy up over her head and toss him away like trash, and thank you Vern for teaching me every dirty trick a lineman should know despite my being 2 years and 100 pounds your inferior. Thank you gigantic racist Afrikaner for teaching me that if you reach your right arm all the way over toward the loosehead’s waistband it will keep him from boring in.270919733803588039_YMsWTYK4_c

Thank you Jon Brown for being both classy and terrifying. Thank you Randall Cunningham for throwing the ball in Randy Moss’s general vicinity so he could make amazing things look easy, and thank you Steve Atwater for nearly chopping people in half.

And thank you Thanksgiving for providing a day to celebrate gluttony and collisions together.

click here for a visual ode to beauty, grace, and truth.

Also… team in D.C…. Change your name. You are ruining everything.

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Buffalo Soldiers

Bob Marley’s song Buffalo Soldier was played at every youth dance I ever attended. I’m not exactly sure why that song, out of Bob’s hundreds, was such a mainstay on the dance circuit, right alongside Alphaville’s Forever Young, but without fail you would hear that brass prelude, duuuuuuuh- duh dah. Duh-duh, dah-dah, duuh da-da! Then we would all start bouncing and singing along.​

​They didn’t play that song at the National Buffalo Soldier Museum grand opening in Houston Texas this Veteran’s Day. It was noticeably absent. My brother and I on the other hand, were present. So were a grand assembly of 10th Cavalry reenactors. Formed in 1866, the 10th Cavalry, while not being the United States’s first black regiment, they were the first black regiment formed during peacetime. Now of course “peacetime” is a bit of a misnomer since the U.S. was indeed engaged in a number of armed conflicts with various Native American nations, and also Spain, and then Mexico, and also with a bunch ranchers, miners, and farmers intent on putting the “wild” descriptor solidly into the Wild West.

From 1866 through 1918 the Buffalo Soldiers fought against all of them. They fought well enough that over that time 26 of these soldiers were awarded the Medal of Honor. All those medal winners are notable for a number of different reasons, but the biggest one, is that despite those hard to earn honors, officials in the United States government, the military, and white Americans in general repeatedly withdrew praise or sanction whenever things got anywhere near complicated. And by complicated I mean whenever white people complained.

This makes sense when considering the relationship between black people and the United States overall. It has always been this sort of “complicated”. Let me offer a few examples that illustrate what I mean by complicated, and remember, these guys earned 26 Medals of Honor.

After the civil war, where black units like the Massachusetts 54th earned high praise, the ever striving Armstrong Custer accepted a demotion rather than accept command of the Buffalo Soldier’s 9th Cavalry. With a lower rank he took command of the 7th and headed for Little Bighorn.

John J. Pershing, before he became the commander of all American forces on the western front of World War 1, was the commander of the 10th. He sang the unit’s praises and in return was mocked by the rest of the army who gave him the derogatory nickname “N—-r Jack”.  When Woodrow Wilson, the president who re-segregated the Whitehouse staff and held screenings of the film Birth of a Nation, placed Pershing in command of the whole army, Pershing abandoned the black units, handing their command over to the French. He refused to allow any other American units to integrate with, or be commanded by, anyone but other Americans.

In 1897 the Buffalo Soldiers were considered the best equestrians in the armed services and it was proposed they take over the riding instruction at West Point. This proposal was ignored or declined for ten years till 1907 when West Point’s cavalry unit was designated as a colored unit. It remained so till Harry Truman desegregated the Army.

It should be remembered that this period in United States history, let’s say 1866 through 1920, encompasses a number of different era’s ie. Reconstruction, Industrialization, the Gilded Age, the Nadir, Westward Expansion etc. I call that entire time “White People Gone Wild”. Those were the days where defeated confederate soldiers burned down black neighborhoods to regain political office. That was back when live ammunition was used to break up steel worker strikes. This was when prospectors got military backing to kick Sioux of their designated homelands, bison nearly went extinct due to recreational slaughter, and Chinese immigrants were encouraged to help build railroads after which they became the target of our countries first immigration law aka the Chinese Exclusion Act. This was an era where America decided, officially on paper, that it was going to not only stretch from sea to shining sea but that it would also continue to be explicitly the home of white people. And the government was more than happy to wield black soldiers in the fight against brown people in order to establish national whiteness.

That is what I mean by complicated.

All history is messy. American history around race is especially so. Things aren’t all that clear cut today either.

But what was clear on Memorial Day in Houston Texas, is that there exists a strong tradition of African-American military service and a well-earned pride in the history of that service. A pride that despite its complications was fought for and claimed, and it is a history that should be preserved.

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Kicks, Cars, and the Green Book: Route 66

I first knew the song thanks to Depeche Mode, my Dad probably knows it thanks to Chuck Berry, most kids today probably know it from Pixar’s movie Cars, but the song Route 66 first hit the charts in 1946 thanks to Nat King Cole.

I live on Route 66.

I get both my kicks and my groceries there.IMG_0374

Touted as Americas first interstate, Route 66 stretches from Chicago to
Santa Monica. Oddly enough, for a road that stretches across so much of the country, most of that road goes through nowhere.IMG_6160 My particular stretch of that old road is the kind of no where that filled up with people yet never quite became a place. There isn’t a solid there here.

When driving through nowhere you best mind the gas gauge.IMG_6165

Back before the Prius cars needed lots of gallons for very few miles and this meant pulling over and filling up in places like Cucamonga California- or Barstow. Because of that long gone need, or maybe somehow in honor of it, my little stretch of this road is frequented by all sorts of cars you don’t see every day in other places.

I live where old cars go after they die.IMG_1699

When me and my little one stopped by the only museum in my city, they had one artifact that surprised me. They had a Green Book. I had heard of it, known what it is, but never seen one. It wasn’t in great shape and was framed.IMG_6153

The Green Book was something like a AAA travel guide for Black people. This was necessary because, much like planning out where to plug in a Prius, in those days you had to plan out your pit stops, and only certain pits would do business with Black people. The Green Book listed the places a Black family could fill up, eat, or stay the night.

Which I knew but didn’t really think about in California. Not that California is immune to that sort of thing entirely, but sometimes in my mind, back when stuff like that was in its hey-day, California didn’t even exist.

Sometimes my mind is wrong.IMG_3176

Anyone out there know where I can get my hands on a copy of the Green Book? That little museum (which has the friendliest docents I’ve ever met) could use a better copy.

Green Book

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