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.

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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.

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

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

Maybe not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Problem With “White” as a Culture.

Current events and some recent conversations, give cause for more explanation. So here goes.

The problem with “white” as a culture, is that it was manufactured at the expense of others. What I mean by this, is that white, as a race or a “culture” has only existed as a means to restrict those deemed non-white from certain rights or privileges.montgomerymen

For example there were once, English, Irish, Quaker, or Puritan. French were French via geographical origin and Catholics were such by baptism. These people only became white after Africans began demanding rights or intermingling too closely with English, Irish, Quaker or Puritan. In the American colonies, where people came from various nations with differing religions and motivations, to settle a land already populated with people who already had ideas of their own, these immigrants looked for ways to group themselves for protection, or to assert power. The French teamed up with the Iroquois, the Irish and Scots were lumped in with England, and Spain decided they were with the Pope. When the dust settled and the Colonies had a chance to be whatever they wanted, they decided that they were white.sideview

I wasn’t there but the records they left seem to indicate they chose to be white in large part to make sure they weren’t obligated to share or serve anyone who was something else. So money, courts, votes, property, rights, all the things under the umbrella of “American”, could be held by those who were once Irish or English, Puritan or Anglican, but not Black or Indian. There was of course the whole issue with women, which was easily solved by saying women could have access to those things if they married a white man, and then they made it illegal for a white man to marry anyone not deemed white. Because of this manufactured umbrella, many people were maybe still a little bit Scottish, perhaps a whole lot Presbyterian, but also white- AKA American.IMG_7571

Over time, many, like my family, became less of one thing and picked up some others, but kept the white all the while. It was synonymous with American. My ancestors who shared my last name, came to the Americas as Scotch-Irish, were here when it became the United States, but by the time I came around all the Scottish was gone. No haggis, no Gaelic, I found myself Mormon not Presbyterian, but I was, and am, still-and-also white. For my people specifically, white needed to be named and claimed till after 1979. Things have changed since then, but you don’t drop off a part of your culture and identity in an instant, and you don’t drop it by simply shifting your vocabulary- though words do help.

But that whiteness only had to drop off once I no longer needed to prove I wasn’t black so I could have the full fellowship of my faith. Sometimes we didn’t call it white, we called it Ephraim or Joseph, but it played the same role. Whiteness meant one had rights and to get those rights, whiteness had to be claimed.

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Mural of former Philadelphia mayor Frank Rizzo in Philadelphia’s Italian Market

Through American history there have been waves of people, or groups of people, Irish, Jewish, even those from India or Iran, who have had to assert and fight, to be called white- so they could be considered American. In 1923 a “High Caste Hindu” from India took his case to the Supreme Court and argued that he should be considered white- so he could be American. He lost. A few years earlier, 1915, a man from Syria sued to be considered white and won. His skin was brown but “white” meant American so he had to claim and become it. He did not become Syrian-American, and the previous man wasn’t arguing to be Indian-American, and there were no English-American, because they didn’t need those hyphens- because they had the word white.

So again, whiteness only existed to separate people from blackness and brownness, to claim power. In the days of Jim Crow, because laws on the books allowed some Black people to be technically American, policy and practice were put in place to make sure power was protected, and it centered on the word white. Public schools were funded by all, but public college was only for white people. The draft for war was open to all, but the GI Bill was only to be claimed by those who were white. HUD provided affordable housing- as long as you were white. You can sit on a jury, hold an office, pursue life and liberty, no matter your Irish, or French, or Russian, or Persian roots, as long as you could claim you were white.

I am white.IMG_8456

There is no need for me to deny it. I was born this way and that is fine. It is my experience, I do not hate it. I do not hate my white family, or my white coworkers, or the white people I meet in the street. Due to my ancestors, geography, history, and some biology, I am American, male, straight, and thanks to my experience, I am also white. I cannot deny my whiteness because it has granted me protection and rights and assimilation without being challenged and without having to claim it. All that was just naturally gifted.

But not so for those who are born black or brown. They have and still do, need to claim those rights so naturally enjoyed by myself. Those who were and are legally deemed Black, who then came to celebrate their skin, were and are not doing so to crush anyone else. They are reclaiming their rights and their joys that whiteness was created to steal. Black is beautiful, Black and proud, Black power- none of them were created to oppress or condemn whites as people, but very much a response to why the race “white” was created and the effects it has caused. Despite what laws are written or what words some might say, Black and Brown people still have to wrench and grip and rip their unalienable rights from the historical and sociological grasp of whiteness.

And that is not God’s plan. That is not what the American Declaration says. And that is why I don’t shout white pride, yet can support black power without hypocrisy. That is why I feel no need to say “all lives matter”, when reminded that Black lives matter too. This is why I am fine with myself and all the good that I am, skin included- but will not elevate the word white.

Because that idea and that construct- must be undone.

Racism Without Even Mentioning Race

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?street

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?

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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.

So today…img_0844

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?

Because We Vote Next Week and I Cannot Stop

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.Processed with Snapseed.

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.

 

Football 101: the Ivy League

When you contemplate the upcoming college football season, because I know you do, what schools are on your mind? Perhaps it is the notoriously ferocious athletes at Princeton? Maybe ‘tis the physically imposing young men of Yale? Ah, or by chance you appreciate the absolute dominance of the University of Chicago?

Right. Of course not.1200x-1

I find this amusing. Ironic, in the Alanis Morissette usage of the word.

You probably think of places like Auburn, USC, or maybe “the” Ohio State. You are wondering, or rooting for, who will win the Florida vs. Florida State game, or Texas vs. Oklahoma. You think of the SEC or Big 10. The PAC 12 or ACC. Do you ever consider the Ivy League? No? Let us consider it now.Ivy-League

Once upon a time America was a relatively new political institution consisting of mostly English expatriates and the ones with money wanted their kids to go hang out with other children of rich English expats. So they sent them to colleges. Places like Princeton, Harvard, Yale and Brown. There these young boys had parties, rioted over bad cafeteria food, memorized Latin, and had rituals where they beat each other up en masse. Now there were some exceptions. Some young men went to college because they were both rich and also nerds. These are the ones who read philosophy and were named Franklin Roosevelt. But make no mistake, FDR was the exception, most of them were more like Teddy. This was way before US News and World Report rankings or even before the BCS. Back then college rankings looked more like a pedigree chart and banking network. Back then college kids wore ties. On purpose.IMG_2580

But most schools, at least once a year, took off those ties, usually their shirts too, and had giant shoving matches or competitions. They varied from place to place but it was usually something like Juniors versus Sophomores trying to move a gigantic leather ball from one end of a courtyard to the other.  Or a tug of war. Or wrestling. It was a competition to win a bowl, or a jug, or bragging rights. Important stuff.penn

Over across the pond, where these boy’s granddaddies came from, school boys were doing similar sorts of things. Lots of kicking balls and roughhousing and being rich. At one school, called the Rugby School, they started picking up the ball rather than kicking it. The game started to catch on. This was about the year 1827. Back in 1827, England, or rather the fathers of rich English school boys, had pretty much colonized most of the globe. This colonization did include America at one time, but there was revolution and all that mess, so by 1827 when restless rich English kids graduated University, or when they needed to gain some legitimacy, they joined the Royal army and went and played their roughhousing games in places like Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. The boys at Harvard and Yale were watching their cousins but were soon distracted when some clowns attacked Fort Sumter.  That distraction lasted till 1865.resolver (17)

Once the American Civil War was over the young rich kids from up north had to go back to school. The rich kids from the south weren’t rich anymore and the poor northern kids stayed in the army. Funny thing is that once boys have been to war, or even if they were too young to fight while a war was going on, they get extra restless if then sent to sit in a classroom. Having good memories these young students recalled those games their English cousins were playing and decided to follow suit. This was pretty normal for them, after all the whole college thing itself was a bit of an imitation game. Harvard is built in a place they called Cambridge and Princeton had always been trying to be Oxford.IMG_2026

Anywhose, on November 6th 1869, Princeton visited the campus of their divorced sibling Rutgers and played a game of football. They did indeed call the game football, it was mostly kicking, and Rutgers won 6-4. Seven days later Rutgers sauntered on over to Princeton for a re-match. Playing on their own turf meant they got to propose their own rules, one of which allowed for a player to catch a kicked ball mid-air. Princeton won 8-0. Crafty buggers.

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Not too far away Harvard, like any rich kid who notices what the Joneses are doing, wanted in on the action. In May of 1874 they invited McGill to come down to Cambridge for a two game series. On the first day they played football with a round ball like they did in New Jersey. Harvard won 3-0. The next day McGill, being good Canadians who never poured any tea in a harbor, insisted that day’s game be played more like the updated version the English rugby boys were playing. It had an oblong ball and running. The game ended in a tie but the Boston boys were hooked. Later that very same year, 1874, 2,000 people showed up to watch Harvard win the rematch 3 tries to 0.

These rich college kids were on to something.wollen_last_cent

At this time all of America was getting “on to something”. Industrialization was becoming a thing, Manifest Destiny was all the rage, and more rich white people were sending their boys off to college to be with other rich white boys than ever before. Problem was back then telephones weren’t all that big and no one had televisions, so it was difficult for rich parents to keep in touch with their school boys and it was even tougher to make sure everyone else knew your kids were rich and important. Luckily one of the great ways to get rich back then was to own a newspaper. The internet hadn’t started the French Revolution yet and so the Bourgeoisie New York Times was free to cover the activities of rich college kids like the internet would a Kardashian.3707358200_0d296eab18_o

The sports page had things like rowing, fencing, and equestrian events. Pretty soon, thanks to all our practice at Gettysburg, Andrew Carnegie, and the White Fleet, there were even more rich people than there used to be and the sports page was covering football games at places like the University of Chicago, Notre Dame, and Stanford. This football thing was getting big. So big in fact that by 1903 both Harvard and Yale broke ground on permanent stadiums just for this game of football. Harvard’s could seat 30,000 people, Yale’s could seat 70,000. Neither school even had 10,000 students. But people were paying attention to the few students there were at those places, and as is always the case with Kardashians, there were a lot of imitators or spin offs. Soon you had people tackling each other and taking duck lip selfies in places like Pittsburgh and Green Bay. Not necessarily at the schools in those places- just in those places. I mean, these people weren’t even in college let alone rich. Just common Etsy users. The nerve!Yale_Bowl

With the spreading popularity of the game and the historically consistent need of rich people to win, the line between student and athlete was quickly blurred. Schools that wanted to make money by filling stadiums-er- wanted their students to learn valuable life lessons through winning intercollegiate sporting events, started dabbling here and there in paying certain individuals with certain skills to come be a student for their school for a few games here and there. This ruffled feathers. Up until this point college was first and foremost, a place for sons of rich people to commune amongst themselves, with the occasional exception for an extra serious student. This whole football thing was trying to shift those exceptions from smart nerds, whom no one cared about, to poorer (not rich) athletic kids, whom the public loved. Something had to be done.IMG_0542

Luckily America was blessed at this time with a president who was also a Harvard alum, so he understood the importance of the situation. He was able to concoct some national crisis or concern about how many people died playing football in 1905 (19). Hadn’t the civil war taught us anything about the value of life? Doesn’t America know we need these kids alive as we ramp up for the first world war? I mean college is where the children of Vanderbilts and Kennedys hang out. Premature violent death is for poor people and immigrants, not Vanderbilts, unless of course they are an officer in a glorious world conflict in places like Cuba, so stay tuned, but for now, football must be regulated! The following year 62 colleges signed on as charter members of the NCAA, a loose organization organized to make sure poor people weren’t being paid to play rich people games, and that the game would be safer. Teddy was great at this sort of thing.IMG_2563

So the NCAA got to work protecting integrity and human life. Most of the schools, Like the University of Pennsylvania, wanted to make the game safer by making the playing field wider. The idea is that if there is more room to run away from someone you are less likely to get ran over by them. Makes sense. Other schools, named Harvard and Yale, wanted to make the game safer by making this new trick called the forward pass legal. The idea is that if you are allowed to throw the ball away when you are about to get trampled, you are less likely to get trampled.Makes sense. This passing the ball idea made even more sense to Harvard and Yale since they had just built their new huge stadiums out of concrete and all those seats might be easier to fill if there was a new trick to watch… and it was physically impossible to widen the field since they hadn’t left any spare room when they built the 50,000 seat concrete facility for student recreation. Fortunately for the Doug Fluties of the world the forward pass won the day. But let me get back to the wide field advocates at places like Penn.out_of_the_game

While Harvard and Yale were the traditional homes of traditional rich people memorizing Latin and rioting over bad food, Penn was the traditional home of more practical press apprenticing Ben Franklin and P&L statement memorizing Joseph Wharton. Add in all the Keynesian economists over in Chicago and just plain nerds at that newfangled Cornell, and you have some relatively influential schools that were highly “invested” in winning football games. The NCAA, which more or less started as a meeting at the White House, settled on being mostly a club where schools could agree on rules like forward passes and flying wedges, and sort of skirted about the whole paying players and filling stadiums stuff so the grand settlement was that Pasadena California should build a big stadium not on any campus and host a “bowl game” every January. This may have been everyone’s undoing as no sooner did they start hosting this big game and writing about it in the Times, than schools like Washington State and Oregon were beating schools like Brown and Penn. It was just like Vogue putting Kim Kardashian on the cover; this was not in the original playbook. USC, Alabama, and Georgia Tech. Georgia Tech? There is a “tech” in the name of the school for heaven’s sake. This desire to fill stadiums and win games got so carried away that in 1916, a full 54 years before USC’s famous game against all white Bama, Brown fielded a brown player named Fritz Pollard. Imagine how popular you would be as a black man with a German name in 1916 (just as an FYI the whole world was in a war against Germany in 1916). Meh, who cares when it comes to football right? Elihu Yale must have been rolling over in his grave. But not everyone was ready to just roll over. Some folks were serious about school and integrity, and rich white boys- I mean education.77

So along comes this guy Robert Hutchins. He was one of those poor white nerds that Yale decided to be nice to back in the day. Huge mistake. First Yale let him in, then he becomes the Dean of the law school, and next thing ya know, bam, he’s the president of the University of Chicago. Ya see, when you let a non-rich nerd take over the show, they turn it into a nerd show. Poor Chicago. In 1935 a Chicago halfback won this fancy trophy they were giving to the best football player in the whole country called the “Heisman” (named after a guy who played football at both Brown and Penn). Four years later, this guy Hutchins CANCELS FOOTBALL! Ends it. Done. No more team. Nerd. Evil nerd. But what else was there to do? This game meant to keep roughhousing rich white boys busy had experienced some serious mission drift and was becoming-uh hum- common. The originally not rich nerd chose to cancel the fun so the school could stay nerdy, but the original club of rich white boys had another plan. They decided to take their ball and go home. In 1936 Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Brown, Dartmouth, Columbia, and Penn, along with that new kid Cornell, unofficially banded together in what they were calling “an ivy league” and for the most part decided to just compete against each other and no longer mess with the rabble. This unofficial league had a gentleman’s agreement that they wouldn’t give any athletic scholarships and would only consider one’s actual scholarship (or pedigree) in deciding college admissions. This was a grand return to their educational roots and original scholastic ideals, though those ideals never really existed in the first place. Isn’t it ironic? Yeah, I really do think.8b04d512846bc903_large

Perhaps some of you do not like Alanis Morrisette, or are not of my generation so you have no idea who that is (the Drake of the 90’s), and consequentially you think I am being unfair in my historical descriptions of the non-scholastic motives of these birthplaces of God’s great game. This might be the case. I was once an offensive lineman so I am not above playing dirty. But consider if you will the idea that before the 1920’s there were no real admissions requirements other than graduating high school, for one to be admitted to college. I mean, way back when colleges started there wasn’t even such thing as a high school. There was only money. But in the 20’s a lot more people started enrolling in colleges and not just more people, but different kinds of people. Some of these people were burly non book reading types who were being paid to play football at Penn, but those guys were asked (paid) to come, and after all, there are only so many players on a football team. No one really cared. But there were also these non–rich only semi-white guys who enrolled in huge numbers called Jews. They hadn’t exactly been invited. Colleges saw this as a problem and thankfully for them they had almost 200 years of previous practice as a coalition of rich white guys and the occasional nerd to devise such things as “geographical balance” and “extracurricular considerations.” These were more or less quotas. In many cases, they were actual quotas.In the 1920’s places like Columbia (in this case Columbia specifically) upon realizing they had become 40% Jewish enacted these extra admissions considerations and successfully got that Jewish percentage down to 20% within two years. Now mind you this is the same Columbia that beat Stanford for the national title in the 1933 Rose Bowl. Go Lions!cops_gordon

New York was not the only place struggling with an influx of non-rich semi-white students. Consider this official statement from Harvard in 1922: “The great increase which has recently taken place in the number of students at Harvard College, as at the other colleges, has brought up forcibly the problem of the limitation of enrollment.

We have not at present sufficient classrooms or dormitories, to take care of any further large increase. This problem is really a group of problems, all difficult, and most of them needing for their settlement more facts than we now have. Before a general policy can be formulated on this great question it must engage the attention of the Governing Board and the Faculties and it is likely to be discussed by alumni and undergraduates.

It is natural that with a widespread discussion of this sort going on there should be talk about the proportion of Jews at the college. At present the whole problem of limitation of enrollment is in the stage of general discussion and it may remain in that stage for a considerable time.”0d1248ee26f2d6cbf70ee83156f27329

It was almost like the game was getting dangerous and Harvard found themselves unable to widen the field and instead chose to pass. They, and the other bastions of college football, were in danger of being trampled and unfortunately US News & World Report wouldn’t start publishing college rankings till 1983 so they were still dependent on pedigrees and bank accounts to decide which schools were best. In fact, these were such dangerous times that it was beginning to be hard to know what exactly was meant by best and how it should be measured. So Chicago quit, the Ivies formed a league, and Southern Methodist University eventually got the death penalty.exit the stadium

This all matters because I recently purchased this special eye black that comes in the colors of the university that employs me. I care about the intellectual development of my children and as a responsible parent I intend to decorate them in collegiate regalia when we go to the games starting this fall. It matters because we have recently learned that football teams in Illinois outrank the college president and that in North Carolina football players can get grades in a whole course of classes while the professor is away on sabbatical. These are great schools. I know this because both the BCS and a magazine tell me so. I have been to a great school and consequentially, and I write this with no irony, I can proudly pronounce the name Chris Fuamatu Ma’afala, with no help and ignore the red Microsoft squiggly lines with confidence. I am confident in my education.jefferson football

I was recently reading Walter Camp’s suggestions on how to train a top notch defensive end. His instructions included rowing and eating toast. Walter should not be ignored because he is who created Knute Rockne, Bear Bryant, Bobby Bowden, and Bill Belichick. I may even give old Walter Camp credit for Joe Montana, Joe Brown, Joe Paterno, and Joe Theismann. Yup, all of them. As I peek at ESPN.com while at my desk, listen to Jim Rome during my commute, or watch Sports Center while doing whatever verb describes what you do on an elliptical (ellipticate?) I think of Walter Camp.

And Walter went to Yale.yalecoaches

What we Can, and Cannot, Tell from the Olympics

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.

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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.636063899599085136-USATSI-9441778

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.owensgold

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.Duke1912

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.french-rugby-team

And the Australian.aussiegold

And South Africa.south-africa-rugby-medal-injured-seabelo-sanatla

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.fijigold

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?

No.

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.usa-today-9450107.0