A Tale of Two Cities

Paint swatches. Gray, black, extra white.

WHAT THE &$*!?

That’s all I could come up with as I facepalmed in utter disbelief. Although my disbelief was quickly booted aside by a recognition that this would, of course, happen.

Let me let the New York Times tell you. I will interrupt them occassionally with my analysis or maybe, more accurately, my rant.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Armed antigovernment protesters led by Ammon and Ryan Bundy, charged in the takeover of a federally owned Oregon wildlife sanctuary in January, were acquitted Thursday of federal conspiracy and weapons charges.

[Armed antigovernment protesters!!??] What the hell kind of euphemistic bullshit is that? How about thugs with automatic weapons who charged into federal buildings and threatened law enforcement? Or maybe you can’t be a thug if you’re white and wrap yourself in a Christian flag?

And then, [acquitted??!!?] << This. I can’t even.

The surprise verdict in Federal District Court was a blow to the government, which had argued that the group used force and threats of violence to occupy the reserve, impeding the federal workers there. But the jury appeared swayed by the occupiers’ contention that they were protesting government overreach and posed no threat.

Wait. [they were protesting government overreach and posed no threat?!!??] Everybody saw a dozen or so armed cowboys forcefully occupying a federal wildlife refuge, blocking access of federal employees who were unable to do their work onsite. There were 30 guns seized after the standoff. An FBI agent testified that 16,636 live rounds and nearly 1,700 spent casings were found. The terrorists set up a defensive perimeter. They forcefully occupied the area for five weeks. The insurgents destroyed federal property, including archaeological artifacts. By the way, the staff felt threatened, and indeed the people in the county did, too.

In a sign of the high tensions throughout the trial, Ammon Bundy’s lawyer, Marcus R. Mumford, was restrained by four United States Marshals in courtroom tussle after the verdict on Thursday. He was enraged that the Bundys were not being immediately released.

Oh and then their friggin lawyer starts throwing punches in the courtroom? Yeah, like that would go over well in a Baltimore City court. Well, if he did that in Bal’more he’d be shot dead. Maybe not. He’s white.

All of them got off. Even the guy who acted as his own lawyer.

Meanwhile, almost 1,300 miles due east a different verdict is being played out. I can’t give you a link to the NYTimes, though, because they are not covering this other story. So let’s try the BBC. You know, the news source from across the pond.

Riot police have begun removing protesters from private land in the path of the Dakota Access pipeline…Dozens of officers in riot gear, some armed, moved in on Thursday assisted by trucks and military Humvees.

So police are taking down teepees that were erected just yesterday. They are rolling up in tanks, suited in full riot gear. They are shooting “bean bag” shotgun rounds “designed to incapacitate people without causing death or permanent injury” and using pepper spray against overwhelmingly peaceful protesters.

There were reports of rock throwing. After the police moved in, there was a report of gunfire and a woman was arrested. In addition, over 100 people have been arrested. This type of protest–you know the one that disrupts the oil or natural gas industries–must not be allowed to continue. And we can hurt these types of protesters.

To be clear, the protests are being led by Native Americans trying to protect their sacred lands. You know after the Trail of Tears and whatnot.

It’s the best of times for white terrorist ranchers who use violence and a warped interpretation of the constitution to justify stealing from the government to line their own pockets. And, as it has been historically, it’s the worst of times for people of color.

</rant>

Et Tu?

President Obama and Laura Bush watch first lady Michelle Obama embracing president George W. Bush at the dedication of the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Who are the Americans in this picture?

“I, too, am America,” said the president. The President of the United States of America, that is.

He didn’t just say it once. He said it twice, but it seemed like I heard it at least four times. How ridiculous that the democratically elected leader of the free world would say it even once.

But that’s because since he became president, some have been trying to delegitimize him. To say he wasn’t American. That he is other.

I can’t tell you why. I don’t doubt that there are multiple reasons, and I’m sure that different people have different justifications and different combinations of pretext.

But thinking about it, when folks see people as other what does that mean? If they are other, are they not people? Are they animal? vegetable? mineral? monster? Does that make it easier to dismiss that other? To strip from them their humanity, their fears and struggles, their dreams and loves?

It’s pretty easy to be an American, though. In fact, we’ve welcomed people who are tired or poor. We’ve embraced huddled masses yearning to breathe free. We’ve provided refuge to the wretched from another country’s teeming shore. We’ve provided a future to the homeless and those tossed by tempest.

America has work to do in order to live her ideals when it comes to people of color, people of non-Christian faiths, people who have different abilities, people who are poor, people who don’t fit heteronormative beliefs, people of different backgrounds.

But who is that “America?” Is it other? Is it not her people?

I, too, am America.

Ouch.

Abetting the Deplorable

A rain spattered windshield at DCA. You can see the tower.

I hate taking cabs. Really I hate taking cabs by myself. Really I don’t like a stranger driving me home.

The stranger that picks me up at the airport after a late flight. The stranger that is surprised that a nice Doc like me lives in my neighborhood and wonders if I don’t feel scared and asks how do I like living as a minority?

This is the script that more than one white cab driver recited. I get in the cab, tell them my address and the quickest way there and then they start talking some racist shit like I’m in their bigoted white people club just waiting for the safety of their cab to go all KKK with them.

And I just look out the window while trying not to respond in a way that will either encourage him or insult him. The former because I want him to stop. The latter because he is driving me home and it’s dark and I don’t want to be dumped. This was especially terrifying before we had cell phones. I felt vulnerable. Oh hell, I was scared that he’d force me out on the sidewalk in front of the cemetery on Lincoln Road. I’d be a ways from home without much chance of another cab coming by. They didn’t want to take me home, to my nice middle-class neighborhood, in the first place. And don’t call me ridiculous because anyone who easily and safely spouts dehumanizing and vile comments could just be bilious enough to do something else hateful.

So I wouldn’t say anything to offend the racist in his rant. And I likely made it seem that I, at least, didn’t disagree with him. But I did. And when he pulled up in front of my house, the blue one with the white picket fence that was even brighter under the reflection of the street lamp in front, I would get out of the car as fast as I could. I learned to keep my roller bag small and next to me in the back seat so I didn’t have to wait for the intolerant asshat to open his trunk. I wanted to be away from him and his ilk as fast as I could.

I always felt complicit, though. I felt like I should have told him that I wasn’t a member of his intolerant club. That his racist insinuations–or sometimes a full rant–were deplorable. Instead, I learned to interrupt him as soon as he brought up his surprise at my address. I’d tell him how lucky I was to live in such a wonderful neighborhood with such terrific neighbors.

We are the company that we keep.

What So Proudly We Hailed?

Ft._Henry_bombardement_1814

Are you a patriot? Are you a real American? What does that mean?

Different things to different people, of course. This is #Amurrica. Home of the free and the brave. And of the diverse set of opinions that make us so interesting–if not highly functional.

Back to the home of the brave, some are braver than others. So there’s this professional football player that sat out the Star Spangled Banner for the entire pre-season. And just recently, it was noticed. I decided against tracking down the source of this Nile, I think it’s not germane to the tale-but I bet there’s a story there, too.

So, anyway, the athlete, who gets paid bring-your-team-to-the-Superbowl-but-not-actually-win-it wages, gets in big PR (that’s public relations, also known as yelled at on TV, Facebook and internet newspapers. Likely also in print newspapers, but are you actually physically reading them? I thought not.) trouble. People are saying that he is disrespecting veterans who have fought and died for this country. And there’s some people saying they fought and died just for this type of protest. It’s been noisy. And full of emotion.

Tonight da Twitterz lit up with a hashtag (this is a way for people to coalesce around a topic or idea on Twitter. I respect that many people do not get Twitter, but please, humor me on this.). There are always trending topics on Twitter. It’s based pretty much on volume of a word or phrase that people are using and which pass through Twitter’s servers. For example, it’s pretty normal for #TheBachelor to trend when people are watching it on TV. It must be on now. The Doc has pretty much no knowledge about this hashtag but I see it weekly. [As an aside, why do they call that kind of show reality TV?]

But back to the point, thousands of people are tagging their posts with #VeteransForKaepernick. Like this one.

And this perspective on the national anthem >>

These are among the many moving and patriotic tweets from veterans across the country. People who served in different wars in different parts of the world and who represent the entire diversity of the U.S. And, no, there is not a consensus among veterans and active duty around the way the football player is protesting against racism in the U.S. That’s #Amurrica, too.

Last, there’s nothing that I could write on this topic that would be more meaningful than this tweet by a vet >>

Yes, that is how a patriot sounds. Thank you for your service, good sir. And thanks for the reminder that we all have a role in making our country better. #AmericansForKaepernick, and, as they say, “Hooah!”

No Safe Harbor

A selection of crayons that show a spectrum of color, all called flesh.

When I was a much younger Doc, AM and BC (after marriage and before kids), I worked with Lynn.

Lynn was older than me–in the way that when you are young everyone seems older, but looking back she hardly was. She was the backbone of the organization. She suffered fools not at all, and everyone respected her. Frankly, most of us wanted to be her friend. She was the friend that would tell you TRUTH and the friend that would have your back. Okay, we wanted her to be our friend. I don’t know that most people knew how to be her friend.

She was the commensurate professional as the new guard took on a leadership role. Others were unsure and insecure. Lynn? She rolled with it. She knew she was good. She ran the member database like a boss, negotiated hotel and AV contracts like a shark and charmed the board like a bartender who makes everyone believe they are friends–but they really aren’t. They have a business relationship.

Over time, Lynn decided that I was okay. That I could be trusted. That she could talk to me. That we could share lunch. And it was one day over lunch she told me that she was relieved that her son could get his non-driver’s ID. He was thirteen.

I was like, “What’s that about? He’s not learning to drive, is he?” I knew her delightfully goofy, barely teen son. What was the point of an officially laminated card for a middle-schooler?

“Oh, Doc,” she said, “My son is only thirteen, but he is already 6’2″, so to the cops he is a black man. I want, that when they roll up to him because someone a few blocks away was robbed or the gas station was burgled or a drug bust went down, he can prove-by showing an official government document–that he is NOT a man. That he is a thirteen year old boy. So they can run his name to see he doesn’t have a record. And for them to know it wasn’t him.”

I am sure I looked at her like a confused puppy. With my head cocked to one side and the opposite brow raised in a question.

“Doc, let me tell you what I told him. If a police car pulls next to you, STOP. Do not move. Always show your hands. Never run. NEVER never run. Do not mouth off. Do not challenge. Keep your eyes down. If they tell you to get on the ground, do it. I’ve got on the floor to show him how. Because they are looking for someone, and it’s easy if it’s my son if he’s in front of them. And they would not hesitate before they shot him.”

I heard her. I didn’t know. My eyes were likely like saucers. I know that my mouth was dry. I had heard love in her voice when she spoke of her son. I had heard pride in her voice when she shared his successes. I had heard joy in her voice when she told of their exploits.

But this day? I felt fear in her voice. And she was never afraid. Of anything. She shared something with me that white people miss. That we are ignorant of. That is foreign to our existence. And I was afraid for her son. She spoke a truth that I didn’t know, but she taught me.

So, White People who don’t know, let me explain white privilege to you.

You who don’t worry about your children having an encounter with the police. You who had the cops call you when your kid got pulled over for drinking because boys will be boys. You whose kids have cursed out cops. You whose kids come home safe after cursing out said cops. You who tell your kids that if they’re in trouble to call the police.

You who haven’t had “that talk.” No, not that one.

The talk where you tell your kid to be polite, to defer, to acquiesce, to say “Sir” and “Ma’am,” to take the insults, to keep their hands out of their pockets, to not run, to swallow their anger at being falsely accused and harassed. Because when they have an encounter with the police they just might end up in the hospital or…or…or….

I can’t bring myself to type the next word. I can’t imagine telling my sons that they have to walk an arbitrary and capricious line, a line that may shift, a line that holds their life in the balance. Because of anything and, in this case, because of their skin color.

That, friends, is white privilege.

I have extra sons. Sons that are brothers with my sons but from different mothers. Sons who have brown skin. I tell these young men–young men who were scouts together, who ate my waffles, who walk my dog when I’m lazy, who call me mom–to put my number in his phone. And always, no matter what, call if he needs me. I hope he never needs me.

Wrong Headline, Wrong Story

In the ongoing effort to make the 2008 Presidential Election all about race and increase readership or ratings or something, today’s Washington Post has the inflammatory front page headline “3 In 10 Admit to Race Bias” and chronicles the trouble Barack Obama is having in getting the (play dramatic music) White Vote.

If you read on to paragraph 9 on the second page, you will discover what I found to be news. That is, Democrats running for president have been having trouble with the (play dramatic music) White Vote for the past few election cycles–and according to the article, this trend has been going on since Jimmy Carter ran in 1976.

This is hardly the first time a Democratic candidate has faced such a challenge — Al Gore lost white voters by 12 points in 2000, and John F. Kerry lost them by 17 points in 2004 — but it is a significantly larger shortfall than Jimmy Carter or Bill Clinton encountered in their winning campaigns. — Wash Post

Somehow, though, the Post acts like Obama is having a problem with the (play dramatic music) White Vote because he is black. That’s not what I see in the data.

Hey Post, I think that if you actually read your data–to make it easy I made a graph with a trendline–you would agree that the story is either

  1. Dems have been in trouble with white voters for a while, OR
  2. Obama’s race doesn’t seem to be having much of an impact on the voters–so far.

The Post piece is NOT good thinking.

A Race to Race

Statue of Abraham Lincoln in the Memorial with a bunch of 50's tourists looking on.So, will Barack Obama’s speech on race–you know, the speech he really did not want to have to make –be noted in future histories as a turning point in U.S. race relations? And more importantly, if it is an historical “event,” will it be in the context of the election of our first black president or in the context of a failed candidacy that helped to bring an open discussion of race in America?

Too early to tell. Too early to know if this will have any long-term impact. Too early to tell if skittish white-folk will use Rev. Wright as a reason why they can’t support Obama. But for the skittish, they would need to find something anyway.

So when Obama offers nuance and context about race in America, does he inadvertently give an out to folks who like to have simple choices laid out in a menu of numbers on the wall? [I’ll take the #2 meal, Britney Spears burger, Bill Cosby fries, with a supersize of O.J.?] When there is no easy sound bite–precisely because this is a discussion and NOT a sound bite–can it be heard?

Only a tiny fraction of Americans will ever see the speech in full. Once it went through the media sausage grinder all you were left with was him failing to disown the pastor,” says Michael Munger, political scientist at Duke University and a libertarian. “It showed he is the kind of candidate we should want as president but not the kind we tend to elect.Financial Times

Okay. Maybe I am just a pseudo-intellectual snob. And maybe I just need to learn more about stuff white people like.

And maybe, just maybe, no matter what happens in this upcoming election, we can actually

“…continue the long march of those who came before us, a march for a more just, more equal, more free, more caring and more prosperous America. [B]ecause [we] believe deeply that we cannot solve the challenges of our time unless we solve them together – unless we perfect our union by understanding that we may have different stories, but we hold common hopes; that we may not look the same and we may not have come from the same place, but we all want to move in the same direction – towards a better future for of children and our grandchildren.” —Barack Obama

Yeah, like that.

Paint Department

The 15-year-old was in the kitchen, and we were putting away the groceries. Okay, I was putting away the groceries and he was talking.

Him: Today at school we were like we were the Home Depot paint department.
Me: Hunh?
Him: Well we were at our table at lunch and we realized that we were all lined up by color. The lightest to the darkest.

Me: [still confused]
Him: Well, Jay was out of order. So, we said that he needed to be restocked. And put in the right place.

Me: Oh. Well, where were you?
Him: It’s like a color circle. From the lightest to the darkest but all not in a line but in a circle, from me to Avery.

What is wrong with other folk? It’s a circle, dammit. Everyone is connected.