Racism is not an isolated incident, but rather, an interwoven part of everyday American life.
This is rooted in the reality that from the founding, and through the formative years of American history, being white was a requirement for American citizenship and all of its associated rights or privileges. That was racist. The consequence of this, is that society developed in a way that naturally operates to the advantage of White people, independent of anyone’s intentions.
For example, you can pass a law that makes it illegal to segregate schools by race, but that doesn’t really matter if all the White people choose to move away from the schools with Black students. It doesn’t really matter why those people are moving away, the effect remains the same.
This is what it means when CRT theorists say “racism is endemic”
I’m in a Facebook group. It’s a sort of neighborhood watch for the development in which I live, and it has shown me more about where I live, than physically living here ever has.
When we first moved here we took home baked cookies to all the houses on the block with no observable consequences. People were friendly enough, but we haven’t had a follow up conversation with anyone since, at least not in person.
Our real introduction came last Thanksgiving. I saw a notice from Facebook that the group had new comments. I opened it up to see a long thread of mean-spirited notes about parking. It included a story about how multiple complaints had been previously made, there were accusations of inconsideration, and lots of rhetorical questions of how stupid someone must be to park such a way. There was absolute consensus that not only was this bad parking and bad form, but that something must be done. Yes, the abuse had gone on too long and gone too far.
The best part of the thread was the photo of my car.
There it was, plain to see, with passenger side tires on the sidewalk. I had indeed parked it that way- and did so on a regular basis. But there was also another car, my next-door neighbor’s, right in front of mine, parked the same way.
The day we took our initial tour of the property as potential tenants I noticed that this block parked on the walk. I thought it a bit odd, but funny enough, not new to me. I had previously lived 7 years on a narrow block where one had to park similarly in order for cars to have room enough to pass. That was back when I first learned that rear view mirrors folded in for reasons other than the car wash. But that was then and there, here, in my new suburban community with a gate out front, the road was wider, but I shrugged and followed suit. I did as the Romans without asking why.
And here were the Romans ready to turn me into pre-revolutionary Spartacus.
I posted an apologetic comment with a promise to reform, and a deferential request that if I offend in the future, that I would be happy to atone-especially if my errors were in fact brought to my attention.
The thread did a turn-about. There were apologies and discussions about actually getting to know each other in person. One of our neighbors even brought us over a Black Lives Matter yard flag and the moderator of the group even changed its name from a “watch” to a “community”. I appreciated that act. The online reform was sort of nice.
Since then, I have seen things.
Mostly complaints about the front gate not working. There was that one time someone posted a picture of a crane, like the long-necked bird, walking through the subdivision, and then the images of stray trash cans after a windstorm. But I also saw doorbell pictures of the neighbor’s children who I knew, with the heading “beware white car using children to steal packages.” I know those kids from church. They were delivering gifts to the homes of other members of our congregation. I saw a blurry image of a kid on a BMX bike with the text, “Does anyone know this person? He is suspiciously riding around the neighborhood.”
I didn’t know him nor could anyone from the image quality. Photos of cars are posted regularly being declared suspicious or unknown with the caution to beware. I have seen pictures of teenagers hanging out at the park with the caption “troublemakers hanging out at the park being disrespectful.”
And then there was that one time someone posted a video of what appeared to be a teenaged girl wearing a bikini and slippers standing, and sort of dancing, in the middle of the street.
The person taking the video was asking the girl to identify herself and repeatedly asked her if she lived in the community. She refused to answer. The person who posted the video, who I am guessing was the videographer, was asking the community if anyone knew her and insinuated the girl was on drugs.
I wondered to myself why the avenue of the filmer’s inquiry was bikini girl’s address. She was being asked to prove where she lived, insinuating she didn’t live here, which in tun insinuated that the acceptability of her behavior hinged on her residence as well as the assumption that people who own these homes are incapable of acting that way.
Curious. The nature of poster’s question disturbed me much more than the girl’s exposed stomach and legs.
The video was quickly taken down.
Just yesterday there was a complaint about illegal fireworks that inspired the moderator requesting decorum.
The resulting comments included a man who insisted this online group exist as a watch, because people are too dangerous these days to speak with in person. I, not exactly naïvely but with misplaced hope, offered that in order for community to exist, we must be willing to engage each other directly. He did not agree.
He aggressively countered with “Have you ever had your life threatened?” because he of course had. “Had I ever had someone threaten to kill me just because I asked their children to get off my property?” Because of course he had, and he will never talk to anyone with whom he doesn’t already have a relationship, because people will shoot you for no reason these days.
I withdrew from participation on that thread without pointing out that no one had in fact shot him for no reason in his anecdote. Nor did I post the local crime data I Googled.
Our little city does indeed have incidents of crime; packages are stolen from porches, houses get burgled, and someone painted a penis on the picnic table at the park. Last year, 2 people were murdered. That gave us a 2.2% murder rate, compared to a national average of 6. We have an assault score of 194 compared to a national 282, robbery at 60 compared to 135 nation-wide, and burglaries come in at 329! The national average is 500.
All of these scores have declined since 2017.
I am having trouble understanding my neighbor’s fear.
In fairness, part of this, or even most of this, lack of understanding comes from me not actually knowing my neighbor.
Another part is fed by where I lived before.
My previous neighborhood’s murder rate was 22%. Not 2.2, that is where I live now, but rather “twenty-two”. Assault scored 486, robbery 331, but then burglaries were closer, coming in at 409 (note, Philadelphia is below the national average in burglaries!!!). I was there for almost 8 years, experienced several conflicts with neighbors, and yet, unlike my suburban neighbor, no one threatened to kill me.
I am not relating this to win, danger is not a contest, but more because I worry about fear. People make poor choices when they are afraid, or rather, we are willing to go to extremes when danger is perceived. And fear is a feeling, a perception, not an analysis of data.
I experience danger and fear differently than some. I am just over six feet tall and a bit more than “just” over 200 pounds. I am an adult white man who appears middle class. I walk the world, both corporate corridors and back alleys, knowing that I am physically more imposing than average people and that if cops are called, they will likely see me as an ally or at least they will listen when I speak.
Not everyone has these privileges.
But my fearful neighbor does. Unless he is using a misleading avatar, he is a grown white man just like me. But he is afraid – of me. I don’t think he is anomalous.
I have never hurt anyone, nor even attempted to hurt anyone (sports don’t count) in my life, and yet my Facebook neighbors feel fear. The data show that the things to be feared, are not likely. I do not know what has happened to all those who live nearby, but I can calculate the likelihood. But that isn’t the issue as much as their impressions are.
Now, as I go outside for some COVID fresh air, and ride my bike, or cruise on my long board, or walk with my kids, I know that behind those doors are people who see me first with suspicion and possibly as a threat. Me, and I don’t feel welcomed or safe.
And then I imagine what it must be like for those who aren’t large middle class white men.
How welcome are Black women or brown men? How safe do those who aren’t physically imposing, or whom the police don’t assume are safe, feel? If you are so afraid of me that we cannot speak, how do you react to them?
How safe are they from your fear?
If I don’t know you, or if we won’t get to know each other, how can we fix this? And also, most disappointingly, because of who is afraid and how fearful people act, it looks like it is completely up to those who are feared to attempt building bridges.
Tis the season when celebration without moderation is turned into a newfound dedication to reformation. Thanksgiving feasts lead to Christmas candies all enjoyed while lounging in front of the fireplace because it’s too cold to go outside, and for many of us, this season of sharing love, tends to leave us ourselves, more loveable.
Emphasis on the more.
Then comes New Year’s where we go through the ritual of repentance, or resolutions, that send us back to the gym or on to a diet, in the hopes that we may appear more worthy of love. How love or worthiness might be measured is debatable, and I am not one to say what others should measure, but as for me, I have discovered, or learned, the value of smoke and mirrors. I would need less smoke and mirrors had I never discovered smoked meats and cheese, but I did.
So let me pass on one little tip, only because it took me while to learn, and perhaps it wouldn’t have taken so long had someone told me sooner.
If you have more middle than you would like to show, the best way to cover it is with clothes that fit- not by wearing clothes with extra fit.
The secret is sadly not so much in how good fitting clothes might make you look (and they might) but rather in realizing how much worse you look in baggy ones. Think of it this way, if you wish you were less, the answer isn’t in adding more. More clothes, more room in the waist, more pizza, more-more-more, will always just be more.
Wear shirts that end at your waist, or tuck them in. This one takes guts in that you may feel it reveals yours, but just know that a long shirt just allows more cloth to sag below your belly which draws even more attention to its existence, and also shortens the look of your legs, making you look more round than long.
V neck t shirts or the v of an open collar, hint at a v shape person, where boat necks roundness echo other things that might be round as well, and it is amazing how influential perceptions and hints can be.
Also, choose dark colors. They hide contours and shapes you don’t want seen.
If you wear a tie, the tip should just touch you belt buckle. Any longer and all attention will be drawn to however much material is hanging out in space like a rock climber who fell of the cliff and is now left dangling by a rope. Tie it shorter and you have an actual arrow pointing right at your midsection. That belt buckle is your best bet. Even if that buckle is, uh-hum, buried. Tip of the tie goes right on that precipice.
There you go, my holiday gift to whomever.
I hope it helps, and I know, I know- who Am I to give any advice. You may have seen me sitting at my desk, or more likely on my sofa, or in COVID times only seen me on Instagram, and you think to yourself, “but he still looks overweight”, and you are right.
But trust me…
I am much fatter than I look.
Like- a lot.
(If you are serious about clothes that fit, might I suggest a professional like Commonwealth Proper. They will treat you right)
I think she said, and I quote, “That is the hippiest, eternally un-cool, whitest, most annoying thing I could ever possibly imagine.” She said it matter of fact, with tangible disgust.
We were having a pre-holiday discussion where spouses communicate expectations in hopes that neither would be disappointed. I have been told that the secret to happiness is lowered expectations, which is extra true at Christmas, but I have also learned that the best way to get what you want, is to ask.
So I said “bongos”.
At first she just sort of shot me a look like, “Stop playing around we are trying to get stuff done here,” to which I responded by restating my seriousness. That is when she said that original quote, followed by this threat, “If you buy yourself bongos I am not sure I can respect, (which may be inevitable) or find you attractive, ever again.”
There lives a bro deep down inside me that finds threats funny, but less deep inside me is a middle aged father, and when a Dad thinks things are funny he posts them on Facebook. So I posted my Christmas wish online with the caption that my wife had threatened me.
I chuckled to myself, she did not, but this happens daily so we both went on with our lives.
Yesterday morning as we were wading through the stacks of poorly labeled boxes the Missus started in on a giant Amazon box till she found a note that said “Because you have been such a good boy- Santa.” This indicated the gift was for me, not her, but the mystery of Santa’s identity inspired her to continue the unboxing. As soon as I saw the brand name on the black padded bag I knew what it was and started snickering. She was less familiar but looking at me chuckle made her nervous and suspicious.
I am not sure I have really disgusted her before, no, that’s not true, but this time wasn’t scent related, rather it was a deep repulsion from me as a person. As I watched my wife mentally planning her future as a single mother, I saw a much smaller box with no listed sender and quickly instructed a child to hand it to her mother.
The smaller gift was indeed addressed to her and contained…
a multi-pack of earplugs.
I will not lie and say she smiled, but there was a smirk.
It was the look of someone stung by defeat yet beaten in such style that they had no choice but give a nod of respect to the victor. ‘Twas a mysterious victor- truly not me. I did not collude, I simply put it out there online.
I am proud to have lived my life in such a way that I know the sort of people who, despite thousands of miles of distance, and nearly a decade gap in real communication, will re-emerge with panache’ when an opportunity to troll my wife is revealed. How could anyone be mad at that?
It has been less than 24 hours and both gifts are already well used.
This worldwide pandemic has meant some unforeseen adjustments in my life. One such has been a dramatic increase in online purchases. Some of these have been socially responsible efforts, such as the can of green spray paint I ordered rather than picking up in person, because who knows who is infected with what at Home Depot. Other orders might have been a bit more frivolous, such as the rejected raw cut baseball bat I bought, which then required green spray paint for decoration.
I needed this decorated bat to hang on my wall so that my wife could answer the question, “Why is there a bat on the wall behind you?” while she is on important Zoom calls.
Because I am a team player.
Another example of me contributing to the better life of others is this list of things I have found while slumming through the consumer side streets of the internet. I am doing so now, giving you just enough time to order the same things immediately, and have them arrive just AFTER Christmas.
Modest Vintage Player boxing gloves. These are the most beautiful and classy tools with which to do something potentially ugly and base- punch stuff. I only got the gloves but really want the matching heavy bag and mitts.
A while back I included a steel banded watch on my most wanted list. Now that I mostly sit indoors looking at a screen that always has the time of day up there in the corner, I bought a watch. It was way less than $100, the brand name will impress no one, and I am so, so, satisfied with it. It is exactly what I wanted and that is rarely what I get.
Lest I think myself modest, I balanced out my humble watch by buying two hyper pretentious Penn patches. I am toying with the idea of adding one to the pocket of a blue blazer but know full well such would make me too self-conscious to ever wear it. But I will want to.
Early on in the pandemic I came across an online ad, on Instagram, from a company with a name I had never heard before, in China. I will admit I had my doubts but what I saw was an accordion folding lattice covered in fake leaves that would perfectly screen the peeling paint on my back fence from view. The price was impossible to pass up, so I gave it a shot. After four months of waiting what I finally got was an 8”x11” frame that when expanded covered approximately one of my legs. I was a bit upset by the false advertising, but I did have to admit the price I paid was appropriate for the product.
After 5 years (more likely 15) of looking them up, but never buying anything, I ordered a tomahawk. I recently got a notice that my selected item is on back order and I would be updated when its status changes.
I wallowed a bit in a pool of guilt thinking I should have forgone such indulgences in favor of saving my pennies for more worthy things like sending my kids to college or maybe even a one day affording a mortgage. I felt enough of this guilt that I steeled my will, did the math, and discovered that with the amount I was spending all I would need to do is redirect these funds to high return stocks and in a mere 15 years, with discipline and austerity, I would finally have enough for a down payment on a used 1998 hatch back. Which of course dropped me into a deep disgust for our world but I felt much better about myself.
It rained this week for the first time in 7 months.
I took the time to go walking in the foothills so I could smell the sage brush’s sweetness thick in the air. These days I spend most of my time at home. We all do. Or should.
I commute down the stairs, shop in the kitchen, dine-out on the patio. I work on a screen with a keyboard and camera. The kids are at school upstairs. I can hear one running in place for gym while the other discusses a book with a teacher she has never really met. I talk and I type. I toggle from one platform to another, meeting after meeting, spreadsheets and PowerPoints.
I have ordered 23 bottles of non-alcoholic spirits online. I have learned to mix zero proof martinis, Manhattans, even a gin fizz. Seven months ago I had never mixed a thing. My hair is long. I have cut it once since we all came inside, I paid a private person to cut it in their kitchen. I think I like my hair long and my professional world doesn’t seem to mind, so it stays. It is like the young me is trying to peek through the wear, tear, and weight of the me sitting here now. He is welcome as long as he behaves and doesn’t try to crowd out the better me I have become.
I have oft complained about suburban life and its anti-social construction. Out here we put up walls and fences, gates to our neighborhood, rules about lawn height and house paint. We move about in isolated metal boxes only coming within ten feet of another person in the grocery store or the mall. No one comes into our personal space unless we invite them in to see our new granite counter tops or we need them to fix the air conditioner.
I find it incredibly uncooperative and over protective and now I have to admit it may be saving my life. I am relatively safe from COVID-19 and I am absolutely living in comfort.
A lot of people are not.
Many have jobs and homes but work in those grocery stores or hospitals. Some have lost their jobs and worry they will now lose their homes. Some are staying home with unpleasant people while others are locked down all alone. Some, too many, have moved from homes into hospitals. Others even worse. I should be, and am, grateful.
But gratitude feels a little like gloating if it isn’t accompanied by something other than taking and keeping. I feel there should be a next step. A more. But maybe not just giving back. Giving back to others who have given turns those gifts into transactions. Those are fine, if that is what they are, but in closing that loop we remain closed in- or off. These circles don’t help anyone outside a preexisting loop, and most of us that are doing fine, are doing so in large part because we are lopped in.
So I need to open up. We need to give out. Gratitude for what I have is best expressed by sharing with those without.
And how do I do that while locked inside my safe suburban home? COVID safe behind closed doors and community safe within my gated community? I have to do it. Me. I have to think, try, and follow through. If I can spend on mixed mocktails I can also spend on a shelter. If I can Zoom and click for what I want I could find ways to do the same for others, and I should. If I have comfort than I can surely give more. If others are without, I should help. I could give more. I could give almost all. I really could.
I know I could and should give more because in this time of turmoil, where I have a new couch and armchairs, where payroll automatically deposits checks into my bank every month, where the temperature outside doesn’t influence my clothing choices at all, where I click a button and people bring me things right to my door, the things that have made me happiest, are first:
the people in my home, but second- is the dusty smell of the sage brush wafting above the damp ground.
Now is the time for me to help those who don’t have those things.
One, the understanding that dressing appropriately is all about context. Where will you be and what will you be doing? This should determine the item, the color, the cut, the fabric, etc.
And two, the fantasy that my life is somehow much more interesting than it really is, or at least the fantasy, that it will be so at some point in the future. I need to be prepared right?
I still own a pair of rugby cleats though it has been ten years since I last played.
I own two pairs of snow pants though it has been 15 years since I last went snowboarding.
In fairness to the ten suits or odd jackets I own, such was daily wear for me pre-pandemic, though I must admit it has been multiple years since I half of them fit comfortably. I am convinced they will al fit again.
I realized the other day that while I have shoes in which to jog, I do not have the right shoes to play basketball. This is appropriate since I haven’t even touched a basketball in maybe five, wait, seven, years, but now that I see the clothing gap I am convinced the shoes are why I’m not playing 3-on-3 right this instant.
I saw an image yesterday of a small stadium where cars race around in a tight circle with a track banked at almost 90 degrees. It was wild. Spectators watch from seats right along the top of the track so they can look down and see cars zip by sticking to the wall as if with a high octane Spiderman superpower. While looking at this awesomeness what stuck out to me most was that one car had an obviously insane man sitting mostly outside the window of this moving car, and I cringed. Not because of the danger but because he was wearing this ill-fitting, multi-color striped, long sleeve golf shirt. It looked like a secondhand cast-off from Old Navy; like the wearer just grabbed something out of a pile with no thought as to size or taste. It robbed a little bit from the spectacle. Evel Knievel understood this. While I may not share his same taste for star spangled Elvis jumpsuits, Mr. Knievel understood how to dress in context. As to the driver in this motodrome, I am convinced that a leather motor cycle jacket, or a shirt in colors that matched the car, or maybe even no shirt at all would have made this whole scene so much more spectacular but instead of thinking this guy was just as cool as his stunt, I was pondering if perhaps this guy was only driving on a wall because he had no other options- because I had to assume he had no other shirts.
I love the idea of owning a tuxedo. I get that wearing a tux tailored to fit, will make me look and feel better, and in any setting where a tux is called for, one would of course want to look and feel their best. I have read and learned enough to know the little details that matter, texture, tailoring, lapel style and jacket length. I need to do more testing to really decide the size of bowtie that works best with my face, but I do know how to tie one, and know that I should.
But then also, I have already lived most of my life, and in all this time have only experienced four occasions where my wearing a tuxedo was appropriate.
So. Should I do a better job honestly curating my closet, or do I find some way to get a yacht to go with my boat shoes?