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Tag Archives: racist
My daughter’s third grade class is reading a book with the N-word in it. I am mostly happy about this. She is old enough to learn and think about right vs. wrong and how complicated these things get when humans interact. I am only mostly, and not completely, happy about this book and subject because I know how teachers of small people usually deal with America’s history of racism and Martin Luther King Jr. and the way they, or really we, teach this subject is incomplete and is in large part why our current state of negative race relations is so hard to eradicate.
My children were taught in school that back in MLK’s time black and white people weren’t allowed to be together. We were forced to be separate and MLK didn’t think that was right. So he organized a speech and a march and got the laws changed. That is the gist of it. Now today, we have a day of service where in King’s name we do kind things for the community.
I like that general message but it isn’t really how it happened and our children need to know a more accurate truth. They need to know because “those days” weren’t so long ago that all of those people are gone. And by “those people” I don’t just mean activists and freedom riders like John Lewis, I mean “those people” like the man who hit John Lewis in the face with a club.
You see, Jim Crow wasn’t really just “how things were”. No, people made it that way intentionally. They made it that way to preserve political power, to gain wealth, and to maintain an hierarchy with white people on top. And when people tried to pry some freedom and rights out of this intentionally created system, those in power reacted with violence. And those people in power were very much white.
In discussing the dangers faced by black people, who weren’t just fighting for a seat on a bus, but for the basic rights to be an American, she asked me if this struggle was dangerous for white people too. She assumed there would be white people helping because that is her experience. I told her about Jonathan Daniels and how he was shot in broad daylight by a deputy for trying to help black people vote. I explained to her that this deputy went to trial and was acquitted. She doesn’t know the word acquitted so I explained this means he didn’t get in trouble. She was appalled.
But she has learned these stories and she is okay. She has learned the truth that just like bullies are real people on the playground, that historical bullies aren’t really just “how things were”. There were bullies who made it that way and heroes that forced the bullies to change and if we want things to be good, if we want to get to the place MLK dreamed of, we have to face reality.
She is almost nine. Nine-year-olds are smart enough to know that bullies can change. She is smart enough and old enough to know that white people, not some ambiguous “they”, are the ones who created this whole back of the bus thing. She is smart enough to know that this truth doesn’t mean all white people are bad. She is smart enough to know the truth… unless we teach her to be otherwise.
I fear that we as a whole are not smart enough to get this lesson. At least our schools, the news, our policy, and the whole state of Arizona don’t think any of us are old enough to learn the truth. There can be no perpetrators in America’s racist past, only loving heros. As if teaching this fallacy in some way better prepares us for today’s challenges.
It does not. So today, I will not argue that John Lewis is a perfect man or perfect politician, but I will remember that a cop hit John Lewis in the face with a club because he wanted to be an American.
Joan owns a house. She isn’t rich, she works hard, she doesn’t have a lot but she has that house. Sarah and her family move in next door, and now Joan’s house is worth less money. Sarah isn’t bad, she works hard as a stay at home mother and her husband is a plumber. Joan doesn’t hate Sarah, but that house represents everything she has and if the price goes down any more, her retirement is ruined. Joan cannot risk that. She cannot risk another family like Sarah moving in, so Joan puts her house up for sale.
Is Joan a racist?
The whole reason Sarah moved into the neighborhood was because the schools were good. Education is Sarah’s passion. She has pinned her hopes for her children to those schools. After Joan left, another family just like Sarah’s moved in. This happened all across the neighborhood and the school district. Before long the whole area has turned over. House prices hit the basement and more and more people who wanted that good school moved in; motivated hard working people.
But now the school wasn’t the same. Many of those who moved out were the teachers. The school was funded from property taxes but now that property values had plummeted, so had school funding. Word got out real quick that the school wasn’t the same and now hiring good teachers to replace the ones who left got harder.
Sarah still owed 25 years on her mortgage and the real estate agent just couldn’t find her family anywhere else near enough to her husband’s job.
Meanwhile Joan lives a bit further out in the suburbs and is struggling to adjust to her new surroundings. She misses her old neighborhood, but at least here, her family and retirement are safe and the schools are good.
So again, does this make Joan a racist?
The question isn’t meant to be a setup, and no, the scenario didn’t even mention race at all, so how could anyone, Joan or otherwise, be called a racist? So no, I’m not asking the question to trick anyone but rather in hopes that we might all truly consider the scenario. Of course in the real life American scenario, whether I say it or not, Joan is white and Sarah is black, or Latino, or Asian, or something not white. When non-white people move in to an area the housing prices drop, no matter what Joan or anyone else thinks or feels. Joan and Sarah could be best of friends, soul mates of sorts, and the market would still react. It is our economic reality.
No one has to use the words black, or white, or even race, but school funding shifts, people move, and reality changes.
So the question isn’t only whether Joan is racist or not, but does it even matter what Joan thinks?
At the end of the day, almost no matter where Sarah and her family go, this reality follows them. Sometimes there is, or was, financial shelter if somehow a black Sarah moves in and then no one follows, the market stabilizes. For the most part Joan will always be alright, but not always. Sometimes Joan’s don’t get out in time and they lose a nest egg. Or they are stuck in a school that they see sinking into the abyss through no fault of their own. All of this without anyone saying they hate anyone because of their skin.
But this is how race functions.
I see and hear so many white people, the good white ones not the crazy ones, the ones I think are just like me (because we all think we are the good ones), reacting poorly when black people complain about racism. We get up in arms or defensive and reactionary pointing out that we don’t hate anyone. We look around at each other in wonder because so many of us have never called anyone the N word and we almost never even talk about race and cannot fathom why ‘they’ keep bringing it up. We want to know where all the racists are because they aren’t us and we don’t know them. We get so caught up in who does or does not hate who and why.
But all the while the Sarahs of the world live in sub par housing markets with bad schools and if they call it race, they are asked to name a name and point a finger and none of us are willing to be pointed at. We are so concerned that it not be us, because we don’t hate, that me get annoyed at the conversation and frustrated and say that parents just need to be more involved in ‘their’ kids’ lives. We say that all lives matter. We say that microagressions are just another word for thin skin and we are tired of being blamed for all your problems and why is it always about that when no one is even talking about that. I mean Joan has problems too. Joan had to move, Joan has to work hard, Joan might lose her job but all everyone cares about is race and I want my neighborhood back!
So at the end of the day is Joan racist, and really, does that even mater to Sarah?
I saw recently that Ammon Bundy and his cohorts were all acquitted, found innocent, of any crimes related to their armed takeover of a federal facility. There was no question as to whether or not it happened, they held press conferences, it was just a matter of whether a jury was willing to vote that they should suffer some consequences for doing so. The jury, a representation of us- we the people- let them go (not completely as two of the acquitted have other charges in a different state). I respect the idea that laws, due process and common consensus should rule society; it is part of our “American-ness”, but this instance highlights some things I find deeply troubling.
Ammon Bundy was set free. Brock Turner got a slap on the wrist. Donald Trump is the Republican nominee for president. These three may not truly be related and we could dissect the notion of fairness related to any and everything related to each instance or individual. We could do that. But I want to just stand back and take in the view for a minute. Because when I stand back I see other things too.
I see Officer Johannes Mehserle found not guilty of murder when he shot a hand cuffed Oscar Grant on camera at a subway station. I see George Zimmerman being found not guilty of chasing down an unarmed Treyvon Martin and shooting him dead. I see no charges filed at all when Officer Timothy Loehmann shoots and kills a 12 year old Tamir Rice who was carrying a toy gun. I see no one charged with anything when 2 officers shot and killed John Crawford as he carried a BB-gun he picked up off the shelf in Wal-Mart. I see a jury fail to agree that Michael Dunn had committed murder when he fired his gun 10 times at Jordan Davis, killing him, for playing his car stereo too loud. I see Dzhokhar Tsarnaev setting off bombs at the Boston Marathon, shooting police officers, and being brought to court alive. I see juries fail to convict six officers of anything when they put a live Freddie Gray into a van, only to have him emerge from the vehicle in an injury induced coma.
When I stand back and look at the big picture I do not see an America where black and white people are treated the same. I should mention, or make clear, that when I say “America” I mean two things: we the people as a day to day society and the official systems through which individuals interact with government and laws. Both of which are America and it appears that on the whole, something is off. I feel a lot of things are off, but when it comes to race, this offness, no matter the situation or subject in which it begins, bleeds over into and onto everything. Take murder for instance. Murder cases are inherently troubling without regard to anyone’s racial identity, it is hard to prove who did what and why, and due to potential severity of the legal consequences, convictions and punishments get tricky. But it really does appear that when a black person is involved, the tricks normally go against them. Then there is rape. Our deeply sexualized culture and country make accusations of rape a bit tricky. He-said she-said, facts and intentions, all things any individual- let alone system, could easily get wrong. Yet when black people are involved in any way, it appears that more often than not, they are thought of or treated as if they are wrong. Politics and partisanship is full of all sorts of wrong. It would be so if everyone and anyone involved were exclusively white- yet when anyone is black, there is something special in the attack.
Barack Obama won. He would surely have been hated no matter his skin, just like Bush before him. But remember back when his pastor was questioned? Called a racist? Accused of hating America? In that ugly campaign the candidate’s love for country was questioned because he attended a church where the pastor questioned America’s love for black people. Standing back looking at the big picture I wonder the same thing and share that pastor’s question. Back then, those who cared about churches were offended at Jeremiah Wright. In isolation, perhaps the offense would be fair. But I am not isolated and today I see those same church caring people excusing a candidate whose whole premise is that America is currently bad. Trump’s America loses everything is bad at everything is currently failing and those who accused Barack Obama of hating America, currently fail to accuse Trump of the same. But that is not race that is politics. Right? But then there was also Skip Gates and Treyvon and Michelle’s convocation speeches and shootings in Charleston and then Obama talks about race and is sub sequentially accused of seeking to divide America, we the people and our system, along racial lines. So much so that Glenn Beck goes on national television and declares that Obama hates white people. Kanye did that to Bush so Glenn had a precedent, but where Kanye was referring to a cataclysmic disaster where black people were left to die without resources, Mr. Beck was referring to the President criticizing the police for arresting a black Harvard professor with a cane who was trying to break in to his own home. Kanye also snatched the mic from a harmless little blonde girl on stage at an awards show so I suppose it’s the same thing right? But you see, Kanye, and folks like Kanye, have been saying what Kanye says for decades, centuries really. But people like Beck weren’t going on television and saying things like Glen said so openly, till Obama.
No. That isn’t true. People like Beck have said that stuff all along but now people who say it are nominated for president. Now, today, someone who has questioned the sitting president’s nationality, his religion, his dedication to America, and who has himself been sued-as in federal court- for racial discrimination, and bragged on tape that he sexually assaults women, and publicly mocks those who are protected by Title IX (an act of congress), is not only excused, but nominated for president.
Now Trump is not a nominee without trouble. Many in his party are against him. Yet from back here with this big picture view, it still feels odd that the Republican Party sticks with him through mockery of the handicap, refusal to disclose tax records, accusing Mexican immigrants in general of rape and murder, encouraging violence against protesters, insinuating the need for violence to protect against alleged minority voter fraud, and all of that is tolerated for this man? He is touted for speaking his mind and pushed to the front? The President makes mention of racism and he is dismissed as racist?
I find it troubling that the election of a black man, with an almost spotless pre-election personal record, has apparently led us directly to the nomination of the most scandal ridden candidate in history to succeed him. Those who support this candidate would consider Trump an improvement. He is their hope and change. I am taking time, while back here looking for perspective, to look inside myself as well. Am I too much an apologist? Am I blind to the dark side of those with dark skin? Blind to Barack’s faults?
I understand those incensed by Obamacare. Insurance continues to be largely unaffordable. I get those who are disgusted that under his watch the Wall St. disaster went largely, or completely, un-punished. Those in power were “bailed out” while average people continued losing homes and jobs. I appreciate those who are enraged at the record number of immigrants President Obama has deported. I even understand those who look to his failed leadership or abilities in regards to our legislative grid-lock. I accept those critiques. I get that anger. But those are in large part, excepting the Obamacare complaint, not the issue I hear being shouted. No. I hear of his hate for this nation, his weakness abroad, his complete lack of character. He is called Muslim, or evil, or socialist, same diff and he must be replaced. Perhaps I could find this trajectory more palatable if Trump was less repugnant. But he isn’t. He isn’t and this shouting against him in this vein is not coming from the obscurity but from the party of Lincoln. It looks and sound like a lascivious white lunatic is preferred to black man.
But then “they” prefer him to Hillary as well. She is most definitely white. So I must be seeing this wrong.
And then Bundy gets off.
After one lonely New Black Panther at a polling place with a stick goes to court, is prosecuted for two years and major political players step down. After all of that, the new candidate encourages vote patrolling and a militia of white men with machine guns invade federal property and a jury acquits! In this current mass shooting climate they are acquitted? No one doubts they were there and they did it but the jury simply says its okay? I wish I was confused but sadly I’m not. I think I see something. Right in front of us. Why do so many who look like me not see it too?
And here is what hurts me even more.
So many don’t know that Ammon is a Mormon name. Distinctly so. I am one too. The thing that I am most, above all others, is Mormon. I suspect someone named after such a prominent character in our faith’s foundational scripture sees himself that way too. I see Bundy over there, and me over here, and I sometimes wonder where the rest of “our people” stand. I am no prophet so I understand myself not being completely surrounded. I have not intentionally, though I am open to the possibility, that I have drifted somewhere off kilter, setting myself aside. Maybe it is me. But then there is him, and while he is definitely not in the center, he appears to have much more of a posse. Ammon Bundy, Glenn Beck, Donald Trump, Republicans, Libertarians, all appear to have more of my people than not only Obama, but they have more of my people than me. Not me as a person but me where I stand. Seeing what I see. Not in this party or that but looking at the same view. My perspective. I cannot help but imagine that if our current election was Trump vs. Obama, my people would still pick McMullin. They, we, would vote for a third-party-nobody because he is one of us, and still complain that Obama is preferred by blacks because of race. They would understand why Ammon would take up arms, but then not have sympathy for Treyvon being pursued by an armed vigilante.
When I was 14 my friend Matt and I were supposed to be sleeping over at Eric’s house, but we all snuck out the window. We didn’t have anywhere to go, or even anyone to meet, but it was summer, we were bored, and we were going to manufacture some adventure in any way we could. In my pocket I had a brick of firecrackers my dad had brought back from Wyoming where they were legal. We headed off for the gully where it was rumored devil worshipers held strange ceremonies involving kidnapped children. Where else would adventure seeking suburbanites go? When we got there we did not find the pagans, but we did find a lone cop, sitting in his squad car with the windows rolled down.
Eric told me to wait in the bushes and he would be back in a minute. I dumbly complied. About two minutes later a string of firecrackers lit up the inside of the cop car. I could hear the officer shouting in shock even louder than the pop-pop-pop of the Black Cats. Eric came hurdling over the bushes and ran down the street not waiting to see if I was following. I was.
That was more than 20 years ago and I have told that story a million times to thousands of people. Eric is a responsible well employed adult now- no harm no foul. Funny thing is this story gets different reactions depending on who hears it. Most of my white friends laugh in wonder at the foibles of youth. Most black people with whom I tell are at best, annoyed. Some are quite upset.
You see, most of my white friends, more than you might think, counter with their own stories. Thanks to them I have quite the collection of stories about idle vandalism and general teenaged delinquency; enough to re write American Graffiti ten times over. But this would be a very white movie. None of the black people I know have the same sorts of stories. No, that isn’t quite true. They do have those stories but the endings are very different. The black stories I hear trend towards much less actual destruction and much more police involvement. It is possible that the black people I know are just lames. Maybe they were blerds. I of course have not met all black people, nor do I represent all white folks, I am just a middle aged collection of anecdotes. But with that being said, we, my black friends and I, are all Americans but we did not grow up in the same world.
This reality was made even more clear to me, and more alarming, last night.
I attended a local public forum on race and policing. Up on the stage were a row of chiefs. There was the local police, the county sheriff, even the school district pd. The mayor, a black woman, sat there too, joined by another row of pastors and local clergy. Out in the auditorium the public lined up behind two microphones to ask their questions, make their comments, and the chiefs gave their answers. It was a mostly cordial event. I support having more of them. Yet there was a theme coming from that stage that troubles me.
More than one officer, and a couple pastors, even one black officer from the crowd, talked about how the youth are different today. They talked about how the youth of today don’t respect the police. One officer suggested kids are responding to things they see about cops in the media and two pastors said this is all a result of the lack of Bibles in school. There was a common thread that the police wanted to understand, more so to be understood, and that they are constantly frustrated by the public’s lack of cooperation.
The challenge of policing in a violent racialized society is definitely complex and difficult. I get that.
But I also get that American Graffiti was released in 1973. I also know that I knew all the words to that Officer Krumpke song from West Side Story when I was ten. That movie was released in 1961. I know that all through my youth the cops were the ones who got mad at you for throwing water balloons or eggs, chased you when you hopped the neighbor’s fence, and cops were the ones who stopped your car when they got calls of possible gun shots coming from a black Tercel. The car was blue, not black, and the sound wasn’t gun shots, it was the noise made when a bat hits a mailbox.
We were never respectful, we were too annoyed that our spirits were being oppressed.
But maybe I haven’t spoken to enough young black kids today. Maybe they are the ones who have changed. Maybe it is the black people of my generation who would never have dared to throw a lit firecracker into a cop car or who got arrested for being out too late. Maybe the black kids today would hit the mailbox or would throw the egg.
Does this mean things have gotten worse?
Maybe bad guys and cops have both been pulling triggers for generations and the only thing different now is cameras. Maybe the black folks who never threw eggs back then are more afraid of bullets and are now willing to throw bricks. I know that plenty of the guys I grew up with, the ones who did the same things as me, have grown up to be cops. These are great guys. I love them.
But did we forget? Where is the empathy? Why has the phrase “kids will be kids” been replaced by the word thug? Is it because these kids today, these thugs, are worse than we were? We, the Dazed and Confused kids were just messing around but these thugs are a real danger? Really?
I struggle with this. I struggle because in 9th grade I watched my classmates smoke weed and shoplift. In 10th grade I watched a bunch of kids hop out of a car at a strip mall and beat up a stranger for no reason. I saw one kid beat another with a bat behind the movie theater over a girl. Jed got stabbed at school. My good friends did meth, dropped acid, sold coke. Stole a car, drove drunk, walked away. I saw all of that. But we are all older now and we have learned our lessons. We have matured now and we teach our children better. We were kids.
Really, the biggest difference I can see between us back then and the kids today, is that for the most part, we were all white.
It was exciting to watch a racially divers group of American women win Gold. I loved the visual illustrating the strength that can come from a unity of diversity. But, I think it is worth taking some time to really consider what this victory tells us, and what it does not.
First, it definitely displays that America does NOT look like just one color of person. The United States is a racially diverse country. I love this. I love this in theory and in those moments where it appears we are coexisting in some sort of harmony, I love it in reality. Those moments and instances do happen and they are worth appreciating.
But those aren’t the only moment and they aren’t the whole reality.
Remember Jesse Owens? That was way back in 1936 that the United States showed Hitler that his Aryan ideal was in fact inferior. Now keep in mind that once Jesse went home he had to sit at the back of the bus, enter through the back of a restaurant, and he better be really careful if he had any intentions of trying to vote. But he did win America a gold medal.
Then there was Duke Kahanamoku who won gold even further back in 1912. The USA has been winning athletic gold with a diverse population of athletes for more than a century but life is more than sprints and flips. Life, and society, are complicated.
Society is also not on a continual march forward toward utopia. This is illustrated by the fact that Jackie Robinson was in fact NOT the first African-American to play pro baseball in the USA. That honor belongs to Moses Fleetwood Walker who played in 1883. We think it was Jackie because we conveniently forgot that back in Moses’s day we (America) reacted to people like Moses playing, and winning, pro baseball by banning all black people from the majors.
You see, things were getting better before they got worse. History is not a straight line.
I do not point this out to illustrate how horrible we Americans are, but rather to caution us against looking to integrative success and then assuming that we are on a natural progression toward improvement. Improvement only happens through intentional sustained efforts. Things can just as easily get worse as they can get better.
And let us keep in mind that we Americans are not the only ones.
France. France is decidedly old world European with everything that moniker connotes. This is the French Olympic rugby team.
And the Australian.
And South Africa.
Oh wait but then there is Fiji. Fiji, who has before yesterday never won an Olympic gold medal, crushed England, the country that invented rugby, with a decidedly non-diverse team.
Not only were/are they not diverse, but they won with what may be one of the smallest populations pools in the world from which to draw. Fiji, a group of tiny islands ravaged by the world’s worst cyclone, struggling financially, stepped onto the world stage and won with one of the most beautiful games of rugby 7s I have ever seen.
Shall we then assume that Fiji’s lack of racial diversity is superior to the efforts South Africa has made to unify?
Because diversity is never the whole, or only, story.
So let us appreciate the American women’s gymnastics victory for what it is. It was wonderful. I love what it looked like, I love the potential and promise it illustrates.
But it is a snap shot-not a panorama.
Oh, yes… and this. Simone Manuel. Congratulations Simone.
The ’96 Olympics in Atlanta brought out crowds like we had never seen and we had to capitalize. We called our display “Big True”, an 8 foot tall display of Arnold Friberg’s illustrations of the Book of Mormon. We set up this wall of images and used it to strike up conversations with the crowds of revelers. We thought it a great tool.
A Black man wearing a tunic and kufi walked by, paused, and then began looking closely at each individual image. He stood back a moment, then turned and looked me in the eyes.
“Excuse me, but where are all the Black people? How do you have images of hundreds of biblical people and not one Black person?”
Every one of the other missionaries took a big step backwards. They all looked down at their feet. No one was prepared, nor wanted, to field this question or deal with this man. A crowd of Judases.
He was looking right at me. He wasn’t smiling. Why me? Judases.
“Um… Well… You see these are images from the book of Mormon which happened thousands of years ago in the ancient Americas. It’s the story of two groups of people, one brown and one white. The two groups found it hard to get along. Eventually the brown folks killed off all the white ones, because the white people were wicked, leaving only the ancestors of the American Indians. The Black people didn’t show up till a couple thousand years later when the Europeans brought them over against their will.”
My companions looked at me in terror. The man looked at me, back at the images, then smiled and asked, “How much to buy one of those books?”
The other missionaries told me it was the worst answer they had ever heard.
I’m not convinced it wasn’t the best answer I had ever given.