What I have Learned About Race and Racism Over the Past 25 years.

Racism against black people was, and still is, exponentially worse than I originally thought.

 

The real problem with racism is not instances where one person is rude, or “racist” to another person. This is why it does not “go both ways”. Yes, people are rude and “racist” both ways, but these instances are not the cause of inequality. These instances are inexcusable, but relatively inconsequential compared to the bigger problem.

 

Me treating all other humans like they are my family, and teaching my children to do the same, is only a starting place and is not enough to fix the existing racial inequalities.

 

The solution to American black white racial disparities is not simply for Black people to make better life choices.

 

The first step in progress is for more white Americans, myself included, to more fully realize all of the above.

 

We are not collectively through all of the above, and hence, not currently prepared for step 2.

 

Is America Fair: what is white supremacy?

Does America treat black and white citizens equally?

If your answer is yes, then we must grapple with some additional, hard, questions.

If America treats black and white citizens equally then why does the median white family have 41 times more wealth than the median black family? (median white has $147,000 in wealth while black median is $3,500) https://inequality.org/facts/racial-inequality/

Why are black people incarcerated at a rate 6 times that of white people? (1,549 black prisoners for every 100,000 black citizens versus 272 white prisoners for every 100,000 white citizen). https://www.pewresearch.org/…/shrinking-gap-between-number…/

Why do 35% of White adults have college degrees while only 21% of black adults have the same? https://nces.ed.gov/progra…/raceindicators/indicator_RFA.asp

Why the huge gap in wealth, incarceration, and education?

Is it simply the result of individual choices?
Is it that black people are making poorer financial decisions, committing more crimes, and performing worse in school?

To say this, is to imply, directly, that white people make better financial moves, are more law abiding, and do better in school.

Another way of saying that, is to say, white people are better than black people.

If this is your answer it does not mean you hate black people. It does not mean you are evil.
But it does mean you need to grapple with the truth that this idea is the foundation of white supremacist ideology.

When we hear the term white supremacist, most of us envision a KKK member in a white hood, or a Neo Nazi with a shaved head, out committing violence against black or brown people. We are appalled and shocked that such people exist, we condemn them en masse, and none of us think we are anything like “them”. But really, if we think that the disparity between black and white in America is simply the result of black people making bad choices, then the only fundamental differences between “us” and the white supremacists, is hatred and violence.
But the ideology is the same.

The facts are that white people have vastly more wealth than black people, both overall and by percentage. Black people are exponentially more likely to serve, or have served, jail time than their white peers, and white people attend and complete college at much higher rates than black Americans. Are these just benign facts?

If America is fair, then are we to assume that white people are just smarter, better, and harder working than black people and these data points are just evidence? Or could it be something else?

Maybe our meritocracy, isn’t anywhere near as meritocratic as we like to believe.

I have known too many lazy, criminal, and non-academic white people to accept that things are fair. I myself, a white man, have lacked ambition, broken laws, for most of my teen years skipped my homework, and by many measures I am doing great.
Conversely, I have known far too many brilliant, savvy, and law-abiding black people who are not reaping the same harvest as their white counterparts. The cultural, or personal choice, disparity explanation simply doesn’t check out. It doesn’t bear up under investigation.
Yes, all choices have consequences, and we all make choices, but the outcomes, the consequences, are not uniform across the color line.

America simply does not treat black and white people equally.

We can fix this.

But we have to be willing to do the hard work- including the initial prerequisite wrestle with our own ideas and perceptions.

**By “America” I mean our legal system, our economy, and our day to day interpersonal lives.

American Pros and Cons

IMG_9146 (8)Suppose I am a philanthropist who gives one million dollars each year to a certain charity. I love their cause, I identify with it in some way, and it does good, so I in turn, do good.

But every time I see you, I punch you square in the nose. Hard.

Not like my brother and I growing up messing around sort of pop, but reconstructive surgery on your face sort of right cross between the eyes. And not just once, but pretty much every time we see each other, which is a lot, because you live in the basement of my house.

Would you care about my charitable giving? How would you feel about me?

Now what if the charity I loved, was one that helped people with broken noses get their faces reconstructed, and I, was a plastic surgeon? Every year I donate that million dollars and 10,000 children with deviated septum are made to be able to breathe through their noses despite their inability to afford the surgery otherwise. Then, on top of that, I grow wealthy doing the work of fixing people’s faces, whether it be from damage, or maybe just some elective cosmetic touch ups, because I am a plastic surgeon. That is what I do.

But every time I see you- pow! And not just you, I punch your family too. Your grandma, your kids, your little sister, every one of you who live in my basement (it’s a big basement), get socked in the face. I go straight-up Tasmanian devil on you and your loved ones till everyone within my reach are bloodied and battered.

How would you feel about me?

Would you care about my charity or vocation?

 

I am a white man and as such I am the beneficiary of my Uncle Sam’s charity. He gave me the vote and a bill of rights. He gave me land grants, and Pell Grants, a HUD home, and the GI Bill. He built me public schools and universities and reduced my work week to 40 hours. He taught me that I belonged in his home.

All the while this same uncle was punching other people in the face. He denied them citizenship and the vote, kept them out of schools, red lined them, barred their testimony from courts, allowed their murderers to go unpunished, and he took their money.

Who am I to tell these other people to look past all of that abuse and praise this uncle for the charity he gave to me?

How Much Will Being White Hurt My College Application: not at all

With news that the SAT is rolling out an adversity score for possible use in college admissions, I have been asked the question, “how much does being white, hurt my college application?”

I have been asked this question before (every time a white person talks to me seriously about college applications) and in light of this new metric I now have to answer with…

“Not at all.”

IMG_2382The truth is, being white has never hurt your chances of getting into college. Not even a little bit. Not even at the most liberal, left leaning, social justice minded institution will being white hurt your chances of getting into college.

When I give that answer, those who know and trust me, argue that this is the opposite of what everyone has ever told them. Those who don’t know or trust me, simply don’t believe me.

May I offer up some points of perspective?

At no top tier American university does any ethnic or racial group outnumber white people. Now, this does not mean that there are not schools, good ones too, where the majority of people are not white. Howard for example is a great school, and there are almost no white people there, but odds are if any remotely qualified white person were to apply- they would get in. It happens. But Howard isn’t really what most white people are worried about. They are more worried about Harvard, Princeton, or State U of wherever. Places they actually want to go, and are worried that their whiteness will be a disadvantage.

I understand.

I get it.

College is not only competitive but high stakes. That is why all those celebrities paid large sums of money to cheat their way in. Diversity is a hot button topic, everybody wants it, and if you as a white person think you don’t have any of that, then you feel disadvantaged.

I know.

I get it.

I may have actually both thought and felt that before. Thinking or feeling that doesn’t mean you are bad. But it does make you wrong.

If you step back for a moment and look at American colleges (or businesses, or government, or Hollywood) you will realize that all of those places and institutions are dominated and usually run, by white people. 80% of college presidents are white.

Yale’s student body is 52% white, Michigan is 65% white, and Harvard is 42% white. As you read that, you might screech to halt at Harvard and think, “that is less than half!” And you would be right. But what you might not go on to think about is that Harvard is not enrolling America, but rather the world, and the world is not white. In fact, that is part of why Harvard is being sued right now. Because the largest group next to white people is Asians (a large swath of ethnicities all lumped together) who make up 14% of the Harvard student body, but 60% of the globe’s population. In fact if you combine all of Europe and North America’s population, you only have approximately 19% of the world… and not all of those people are white. So how in the world (pun intended) are there so few Asians at Harvard… and so many white people? I added that last part. The plaintiff doesn’t mention the white people.

But not every school is Harvard.

Florida State is 62% white, “The” Ohio State is 68% white, and for so many of my friends and loved ones… BYU is 82% white.

Remember that most schools categorize students as white, LatinX, black, Asian/Pacific Islander, Native American, and other. At U Texas in Austin, a geography with a lot of non-white people, 41% of students are white while only 20% are LatinX. Written another way, the number of white students is double the size of next largest group. It takes all the non-white people bundled together (which isn’t how race and ethnicity functions in society), to ever outnumber the white people.

White people are not having trouble getting into good colleges.

Now there are some other things that will definitely hurt your chances of getting into a top college. Things like:

Not being rich.

Marginal grades.

Marginal SAT/ACT score.

Poorly written essay.

Being the first one in your family to apply to any given college.

Attending a high school that has not sent a student to a top college in our current lifetime.

Not applying.

 

Then there are things that will hurt your chances of getting into a good school:

Bad grades.

Bad SAT/ACT scores.

Poorly written essay.

Being poor.

 

These are different than the things that will hurt your chances of actually attending a good school:

Being afraid of loans.

Homesickness and family pressure.

Notice that being white is not on any of those lists.

Look, I know that there are articles, and people, and even actual policies out there directed at increasing the diversity of college classes. That is in fact a real thing. I participate in those things. That is part of my job. There are people who have dedicated their entire lives and billions of dollars and lobbied and sued and protested and legislated, and argued, and educated and done all sorts of things to push for diversity in college admissions but none of that equates to whiteness being an actual disadvantage.

College is too expensive and elitist and competitive -for everyone- and being brown skinned is not going to remove all the obstacles and check all the boxes and open all the doors that white students are expected to go through.

There is no sentry posted at any college gate with orders to bar the entry of white kids because they are white.

 

Never was.

 

 

Black History Month: whom do we accommodate?

In 1935 Bruce M. Wright was accepted to Princeton and awarded a merit scholarship. When he arrived on campus the administration realized Wright was black, and they refused to enroll him.

Heermance-letter-previewThis isn’t all that interesting or unusual, because it was so normal. We have all heard these sorts of stories before. I’m telling tis one now because I think it is worth looking at what the white men of Princeton said about it at the time. You know, so that maybe we won’t be doomed to repeat it and all that.

In explaining the University’s change of mind, Radcliffe Heermance, the dean of admissions, shared with no intent at irony that, “Princeton University does not discriminate against any race, color, or creed. This is clearly set forth in the original charter of the college and the tradition has been maintained throughout the life of the University”

Heerman went on to explain that he in fact likes black people, “I speak as one who has always been particularly interested in the colored race, because I have had very pleasant relations with your race…”.

He went on to explain that he could not come to school there as he would be the only black person and hence would feel lonely. He also shared that there are quite a number of southern students at Princeton and they would not like sharing their school with a black person. They would make Wright to feel unwelcome.

So Wright was sent home against his will.

In other words, Heermance, with no intent of irony, told a black scholarship recipient that he could not attend Princeton, because white students didn’t want him there, but that this didn’t constitute racism. Because Princeton’s charter stated that they don’t discriminate. It was obvious is both Princeton’s actions and explanation how they ranked and valued humans. The racism of white students was acceptable, worth accommodating, but the presence of a black student was not.

America as a body, has decades and decades of practice doing racist things and explaining that it isn’t racism. Such is evident in the original Constitution, in the way our economy functions, and in so many official documents, judgements, and practices in so many places, locales, and institutions, that trying to separate out racism from these things is like trying to extract the salt from a baked loaf of bread.

I am not sure if this is possible with bread, but I have hope for America. But if it is to happen we cannot over simplify the task at hand or take explanations at face value. We have to step back and evaluate the consequences of our actions and the values they make evident.

And we have to change.

Black History Month

Studying the history of black people in America has taught me a few things that I believe important.

 

I have learned what I think most of us think we already know; that human greatness is an historical constant and exists at equal rates across all racial and ethnic lines. In other words, there have always been amazing people, saints and or geniuses, and that no one group of people holds a monopoly on producing that greatness.

 

I have also learned that segregation and racial hierarchy are not natural occurrences. While some level of greed or tribalism is natural and present in most all of mankind, those negative tendencies do not naturally act out or manifest along the color line. People do not naturally group themselves according to the amount of melanin existing in our skin. In fact, without outside forces or external motivators, people tend to mix when left in close proximity.

 

Knowing these two things sheds a bright light on the whole of American history, because that history has very much been about grouping humans by skin color and claiming greatness for one group while attempting to squash and squelch the magnificence of another. Writing or reading this is not an exercise in fault or blame, though we should not shy away from such when earned, but rather understanding the hows and whys of now requires an honest pursuit and acknowledgment of truth. We must acknowledge not just how great so many black people have been throughout the American timeline or within American borders, but also how forcefully and intentionally America as an organization, has worked to resist, trample, and exploit black greatness in order to favor white people.

 

This is not revisionist history or America hating, this is what the bulk and majority of American history, law, and practice, has been. Because this sort of race stratification and hierarchical division is not natural, there have been ups and downs, progress and regression over time, as some black and white- and brown- people have pushed and fought for racial equality, and those efforts have been met not just with personal resistance, but intentional and systematized attacks.

 

Because there have been ups and downs, we, all of us, must know the hows and whys of yesterday because whatever our now is, whether it be an up or down, we must know that it is not guaranteed nor has it ever been permanent.

 

And we are the ones who create it. We make up whatever now is. It has never been “just the way things are”. It is always however we make it.

Who Is Dangerous?

Current events have gotten me thinking. Or rather reflecting.IMG_0361

The most dangerous demographic in America are white, suburban, middle class, teenaged boys. A close second would be white, teenaged, farm boys in Southern Idaho- but they are mostly only dangerous to themselves, so the rest of the country need not concern themselves with young men attempting to water ski in the drainage canal next to a dirt road being pulled behind a pickup. Yes, that’s a thing.

Growing up I definitely thought the most dangerous demographic was black men in Compton. I didn’t really know any black men but there was Boyz ‘n the Hood, N.W.A., and pretty much any other late 80’s or early 90’s messaging, including the news, telling me so. Why would I think otherwise? I didn’t think the guys and I were dangerous, we were just normal. Maybe even a little sub-normal. Like not quite as cool or fun as normal since we did after all live in Utah and we all knew that Utah, while being great for skiing, was still mostly white, nerdy, and above all else- safe.IMG_0364

It wasn’t till I left the suburbs and subsequently really got to know some people who weren’t white, middle class, or from the suburbs, that I realized that what I saw or did growing up, was horrible.

To understand just how horrible let me qualify this by confessing that I myself have never tasted alcohol. Not a drop. I was a virgin when I got married, I never stole anything, and I never actually swung the bat. That last one always makes me cringe because it illustrates just the sort of faux moralistic chicken I was. While I never swung a bat at a mailbox I was present in a car when at least 250 mailboxes were destroyed by someone else. Not all in one night mind you, it took a lot of nights to run up that score. We also destroyed mailboxes with dry-ice bombs. We didn’t just destroy mailboxes but also trash cans, porch lights, garage doors, and if I remember right there was at least one windshield. But like I said, I never swung the bat. I only cheered. We were just having fun.

rockonprep

I never drank a beer, but a saw a lotta beer get drunk. I have been the guy who drives people home, who hoses someone down, but mostly just been the guy who everyone called a derogatory name for being too afraid, too weak, too uncool to have a beer. Or a Zima. Or a cigarette, or smoke cloves, or smoke weed, or hit acid, or snort coke, or do meth, or take steroids. But by the time I graduated high school I had been present when all of that was done. I was there, I saw what happened, I remember.

Just because I never had sex before marriage does not mean I am proud of my behavior back then. The guys I knew didn’t just talk about girls as objects, but we acted that way too. I blush when I remember the way we talked in middle school and am ashamed at many of the things we laughed about doing once we got just a little bit older. The stuff I knew about was legally consensual, but very little of it was respectful. While I declined when invited, by the girl, to a train, and I left the house before a planned rodeo (all the guys hide in a closet till a couple starts coupling on the bed, then everyone jumps out of the closet and times how long it takes the girl to buck the guy off) I still knew all the stories. Despite my non-participation I was still one of the guys. I was complicit. I had a number of girlfriends but was incapable of having actual relationships. This isn’t to say I didn’t ever talk to girls or treat them as people, but I didn’t know how to deal with girls as a whole person, both mind and body.  In my mind they were one or the other. I knew what it was to be physical, but not intimate. I didn’t know how to do that. I was somehow incapable.

My church and parents taught me how and where to draw physical lines or boundaries, but that was just prevention of personal disaster, not appreciation of the other. Or respect. Or simple humanity. Again, Incapable.

It was more than that, it was a lot of things. We drove cars recklessly, we were hazed in football and even hazed in choir. We took our turns hazing others. We fought. fist fights, fights with baseball bats, fights with friends and fights with strangers. There was shoplifting candy and snacks from 7-11 or that time we took the neighborhood park’s volleyball net home with us. I never took those things, but I did trade a used pair of cleats for a pair of Ray Bans that I knew someone else had stolen. I existed in a place where right and wrong were distant points at far ends of a spectrum and the grey area in between was vast and mushy. It is like we knew some things would be wrong later, but for now they were just questionable, and what mattered in the end was how we viewed ourselves. And we were safe and good.

We didn’t think we were bad, definitely not dangerous. We were mostly bored and hormonal. We drifted crashed and slurred our way through adolescence protected by parent’s money and the benefit of the doubt. We got grounded and suspended and pulled over, but we were also listened too, believed, and excused. None of us went on to become anyone you have heard of, we weren’t in those circles, but we did become mid-level managers, cops, firemen, teachers and citizens.

Since those days I have met others who because of their skin, their neighborhood, and their budget received none of the grace I was granted. None of them committed even a fraction of what I did and they got expelled, arrested, and banished from the professional realm. On the occasions when I have shared with them, stories from my youth there is always a certain level of disbelief. Those stories don’t sound like me, or the kind of guy that I am now, nor does it sound like where I was from. Beyond that the stories of my teenage years sound impossible to most who didn’t grow up suburban as such things should have never been allowed. But they were. And they are. And because it is who and where I was and that I completely understand what I watched this week in the senate. I understand it and am horrified. Not horrified in that I fear my own history hurting me now but horrified in how much I recognize all of it. I was not in the D.C. burbs nor do I know any of those people and hence can make no claim of knowing what “really” happened, but it is all strikingly familiar. Except the stakes are so much higher than the little burb outside Salt Lake and the marginal levels to which my cohort have achieved. I am horrified because I have met and know kids who were so much better than me, and better than what I just saw in the senate, and those kids will never be nominated to the Supreme Court. Not only will they never get nominated but those doing the nominating are more likely to send these kids away.

For any one of these kids, the ones I knew, or know, in Philly, or Atlanta, or anywhere, they have to be near perfect from front to back. Beginning to end. They live with zero tolerance which means zero grace, zero room for growth or forgiveness.

But then people like Kavanaugh, or like me, can be angry, be indignant, and rail at the world demanding a blind eye regarding their own indiscretions while meting out Justice on others. To be in a position to decide what Justice is for others, and be so blind to the grace, forgiveness, and mercy you have yourself received, makes you dangerous.

And that is why we, people like me, are dangerous. It starts with well-funded boredom fueled by hyper sexual masculinity, and then our corruption starts to metastasize more and more every time we get laughter at our stories, or we don’t get expelled, and don’t get arrested. Then years go by, we grow up, and others forget what we did, and we forget we were ever wrong at all.

And in our amnesia, we legislate, enforce, and systematize inequity.

 

Dangerous

Astronomy isn’t About Race: unless there are people up there, then it is.

Race is not a thing. By that I mean it is not an event, an object, or even an adjective.

Race is a who.IMG_70891

Race is not the only thing a person “is”, but everyone has a race, and that race, because it is a social construct, affects how that person, all of us, interacts within a society. For most of America’s existence “race” or “race issues” really means things having to do with anyone who isn’t white. Otherwise those things are just plain old issues.

When the Declaration of Independence was written race was never mentioned but it wasn’t exactly ignored. White was assumed. So really, race wasn’t ignored, non-white people were ignored. The word race would only come up when “We the People” were being talked or written about in comparison to those who weren’t, or aren’t, considered white. So when it came to the constitution there was “we the people”, and then there were also Native Americans and those 3/5ths of persons held in servitude.

Remember that race is always a who.with flag

Because race is a who, making something about, or not about race, is really making it about, or not about, a person.

Knowing this is important, mostly for white people as we are the ones who are less used to our race being spoken of explicitly. We are used to just being people, not white people. We need to realize that when we say “this isn’t about race”, what that translates to is, “this isn’t about you.” Which is ironic because most of the times I hear someone say “this isn’t about race”, or “don’t make this a race issue”, it is being said by a white person who is referencing something involving non-white people whom they have never met.

For example when someone says college admissions should ignore race, what that really means is colleges should ignore that there are people who aren’t white. When a black person is killed by a police officer and our response is, this has nothing to do with race. What is really being said is that said instance wasn’t about the black person- though that is who was shot.IMG_1908

This gets real tricky, or troubling, when it really is about them. Or… maybe it is very telling when we white people talk this way.

As in I, a white person, looks at a situation in which I am not directly involved, and say to the black people involved, “this isn’t about race”, which would mean “this isn’t about black people”- then who is left for it to be about? What we are inadvertently saying is that it is about us. About white people. And if we white people are the ones saying such things we should probably think a little bit more about how we are at the heart of all these race issues.

This is the part, or the point, where we get very defensive and start “No. That isn’t what I said or what I meant.”

But it is. We just don’t like to deal with that. Because any issue or instance where people are involved- is a race issue.

You cannot un-race a person. Maybe one day skin color won’t hold real relevance, but even when that day comes, we will all still have a skin color, we will have simply shifted who “we” includes and the ways in which we value each other.

The Attack on Manhood.

Do not confuse the righting of a sinking ship, or just a plain old sinking ship, with a war on men. Or a war on white people. Or Christians. While there are indeed acidic antagonists who hate all of those things (men, white people, and religion) we should not confuse current efforts, or movements toward equity as a war against {insert demographic here}.IM_A0148

The truth is that white Christian men currently, and have historically, wielded disproportionate power in America. This power has been gained and sustained by money, cultural norms, and quite often by violence.

For centuries white Christian men have been able to do as they (we) please, only having to consider anyone “other” than themselves as a consolation, or out of what they (we) have perceived as our magnanimous generosity. This is not to say that white Christian men have run amok completely unchecked, just ask anyone one of them as they (we) have felt continually put in check, but those external limits on our behavior and power have been put in place and enforced, primarily by other white Christian men. We have lived in a world so completely our own that we have grown accustomed to it like a fish grows accustomed to water, and by growing, I mean gestation, as we seem to feel it natural at birth.

Though unlike fish, we do not need this currently constructed environment to survive. But sometimes, or most times, we think we do.IMG_6345

As the world shrinks, access to information increases, and the true diversity of the world becomes so ever more apparent, and present, many people realize that white Christian men do not hold a monopoly on goodness and wisdom and “how it should be”, and in America, all of those “others”, those who aren’t white Christian men, those who have been here all along but have just never been the ones running the show, start asserting themselves- white Christian men start to freak out.

Let’s not freak out.

Let us be honest with ourselves in a way that goes beyond reactionary defensiveness and blind lashing out at those rallying for change. The truth is that there are ridiculously few of “them” out there who are opposed to, or truly against, who we are. No. That’s not quite right. I should be more precise here. There are plenty of people against who we are, but they aren’t necessarily against who we claim we are, or who we strive to be. There are plenty against a lot of the things we do or have done, which isn’t the same thing- unless we unnaturally peg our identity to those things. So, let’s take stock.

Is manhood based on the color blue or our selection of shoes? While I have no desire to wear high heels, I do not think my manhood, or my male-ness, is really attached to my wingtips. I know many men who wear long hair, some of them wear it from their chin, and while I have a slight understanding of facial hair being associated with androgens more prevalent in males, I have never believed that my beard makes me a man or that a pony tail is influenced in any way by my genitals. Now I know that there are those who disagree. There are many men who not only prefer, but believe, that men should not wear makeup or skirts. I get it. I don’t feel comfortable in those things either. I am also not aware of anyone who is trying to make me wear those things.

Neither am I aware of how someone else wearing those things changes my manhood. Nor do those things contradict my Christianity. Choice in clothing or grooming is not the same as choice in sexual activity- and absolutely no one is telling me I must have sex with someone other than whom I choose, so I fail to see the actual connection between gender norms and my religiously dictated sexual conduct. I am a heterosexual white Christian man and no one that I have met is asking me not to be these things. At least not in “real life”.

But there are changes, many of which are quite contentious. Let us take for example, the Boy Scouts of America.

What exactly is it in the Boy Scouts of America, that is truly gender based?

My mother is a better camper than most of the “manly” men I know. So was my grandmother. Sleeping in tents, tying knots, shooting arrows, or earning badges in a quasi-militaristic organization that casually imitates Native Americans without truly investigating their culture has very little to do with my genitalia, my sexual orientation, or even the qualities I believe make a good man. In fact, many, possibly even most, of the qualities that I would claim make a “good man” have nothing at all to do with anyone’s genitalia or sexual preferences. In other words, most of the things, at least in my mind, that make a good man are really just things that make a good person. Honesty, chastity, benevolence, moral steadfastness, kindness, service orientation, civic mindedness, leadership, preparedness and progression, pretty much everything built in to scouting to build good boys, are the same things I try to teach my daughters.

No one is fighting that.

But I do acknowledge that boys and girls are different. I acknowledge it enough, and here is me exposing my own needs or feelings, that I long for and appreciate male spaces in my life. Sometimes I like to hang out with other guys. I’m a cis gender heteronormative straight Christian white male and carry with me plenty of the social preferences that go along with those norms. Sometimes I wanna hang with the guys. I get it. That is me. And I am not being attacked.

What is under attack is the infrastructure that gives me, and those most strictly like me, disproportionate privileges.

The Boy Scouts have been in a long decline for a lot of reasons beyond American gender norms. While many of the principles of scouting are not, nor have ever been overtly race or class based, the delivery and socialization of scouting absolutely has (just like most things in America). Yes there is a push against gender exclusivity today, but we are also more urban, more international, more technological, less economically homogenous than in the past and more adults spend more time working, and children have more organized activities than existed when the Scouts were founded. All of those things have led to declining participation in the Boy Scouts.

There is at this same moment, as in all moment spast, a lack of true equity for girls. When it comes to what the Boy Scouts do (or have done), or the resources the Boy Scouts have on hand, there is no true female equivalent.

My daughter has no interest in selling cookies in front of Target (and I know the Girl Scouts do more than that) but she would probably love to get SCUBA certified at a huge discount like I did when I was a Boy Scout. But she doesn’t, nor do I as her parent, have access to that. In this case the only difference between the programs offered and the benefits involved, is that boys get to and girls do not. I am not opposed to boys SCUBA diving. Letting my daughter do the same would not constitute an attack and masculinity. Those two should not be confused. In addition, my church is one of, if not the, biggest supporters of the BSA and while I know my faith values my little girls, I also know that it does not offer anything for them that is quite as robust or well-funded (even with the current BSA decline).

Does this mean my girls should join the scouts? I don’t know. I don’t really have any interest in them doing so, but if someone else did, or does, that does not constitute an attack on me or who I am.

But it isn’t just the scouts, nor is it just my church, rather we are experiencing a broader nationwide shift in power. Or at least a shift in perception, as most of those who have historically held power still hold it, though I am not one of them, and many people who are the most like me- can feel it. But just like stepping on a nail with bare feet, we jerk our knees without having to think- because we feel it.

The only problem here is that we haven’t stepped on a nail but rather we have been shod in power our entire existence and suddenly now our boots are off and we are being made to feel the pricks and prods of those on whom we trod. We are not knee jerking at nails but rather reacting to women, black people, Hindus, non-English speakers, immigrants, and on, and on, and on. Our boots are off and our white Christian manly feet are tender. It is unfair that for centuries this country has been primarily, if not explicitly, just meant for me, and if I am in any way trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, or reverent, I will step up and adjust to what is right rather than kick barefoot against the pricks.

Because in the past, despite my lack of elite status or a well-stocked wallet, I have never had to struggle shoulder to shoulder with all those “others” but rather I have been wearing well insulated boots which allow me to stamp on top of all of “them” while competing against other white Christian men for my American dream.

Those boots are not “who I am” and being asked to take them off is not an attack. It is simply doing what’s right.

Black Firefighters: Black History Month

America’s first firefighting company was founded in Philadelphia by good ol’ Ben Franklin in 1736.

The first “Black” firefighting company in Philadelphia was founded by a free Black man named James Forten 82 years later. Back then all firefighting was done by volunteers, no one was getting paid to extinguish flames. But still the white people protested against this new fire company and the city shut it down in less than a year.IMG_1297

The city started paying professional fire fighters in 1871, but none of those professionals were Black till they hired Isaac Jacobs in 1886. The catch was they didn’t actually let him fight fires, just clean the stables. Mr. Jacobs wasn’t satisfied being a stable boy, he wanted to fight fires, so he left the department after 4 years.

In 1905 Philadelphia hired its second Black fire fighter, Steven Presco. He insisted on fighting fires and was killed doing so 2 years later.IMG_1299

Twelve years later, in 1919 Philadelphia founded its first official Black fire station, Engine 11. Despite being designated as the Black station, Engine 11 was captained by white firefighters and not used to fight fires but was strictly restricted to city maintenance work. They were the city’s original pothole crew.

It was not until 1952 that Philadelphia officially integrated its fire department. That makes a full 134 years between the city’s first black firefighter and actual integration. What a long hard road full of death and humiliation to fight for the privilege of protecting people from fire.

Philly’s story is not unique and similar story lines played out in Virginia, New Orleans, and an especially interesting case in San Antonio.IMG_5303

The city of San Antonio formed a number of professional fire brigades immediately after the close of the civil war. Their cadre of companies included 2 engines run by freed Black men. The catch was the white brigades were paid by the city and the Black brigades were not paid at all. Yet they still functioned. That is until these two companies requested to be paid like the others and in response the city simply banned Black people from being in fire companies.

All of these stories illustrate a couple of different things. First, that there existed qualified and willing Black people since the very beginnings of American firefighting. Second, is that the obstacles to full Black participation in this form of professional, or public life, was not the Black people themselves but a combination of the general American population and the white people who ran city governments.

But despite the obstacles intentionally placed in their way, Black people continuously persisted and fought.