A Conscious Choice

I wanted to share an exchange I had on a racial dialog group I am active in. I referred to the societal programming of white people to believe they’re white and that it makes them better than others. An astute moderator called me out and said basically that I shouldn’t give a pass to people by using language that removes the conscious choices people make. Saying people are “programmed” absolves them of complicity by making their decision not to resist the status quo a passive one as opposed to something they’re actively doing. I love this group because of the direct way moderators call people out on things like this. We need more of that, or we need more white people willing to hear call outs and not get defensive.

My framework for the “awakening” process for white people has been rooted in the Man Box concept, as I learned it from Tony Porter via his anti-sexism work. To apply it here… all white people are born in the White Box. For generations, nobody even knew there was a box there. Over time, some folks started being aware of the box, then opening the lid, poking their heads out, now some folks are finally starting to try to climb out (I don’t think anybody is out, and I’m not sure it’s even possible right now given the way our society is structured).

So I guess this means to me that there are some (most?) white people who are still oblivious that the box is even there. And then various stages of denial, guilt, shame, ignorance, awareness, acceptance, resistance, etc. So ignorance isn’t an excuse but it is a real condition and, like in AA you have to admit there’s a problem. I’ve always called it programming because that assumes that one can be reprogrammed. You admit that society has taught you a way of being and start working to unlearn and relearn a better way.

What does this bring up for you? What has your racial awakening process looked like? Where are you now versus how you were taught as a kid? Did the things you were taught perpetuate racism? Were you taught that everyone is equal and now feel like that did as much damage as being taught to be actively racist?

Finally Ready To Talk About It

Trump got elected and there are many reasons why, but here’s the big ones.

Sexism. From the very beginning, we’ve been told Hillary is unlikable, despite a lack of evidence to prove it. In fact, in interviews I’ve seen where she lets down her guard and laughs/jokes/shows emotion, she seems pretty likable to me. Maybe she’s a bit reserved, but lifetime of getting the shit hammered out of you by political opponents would probably make anybody a little cautious. Oh and she’s kind of dorky, but she’s a policy wonk so that’s to be expected.

What remains is that no other candidate for president in my lifetime has been sold by the opposition as being unlikable in the way that she has. Opponents to the left and right used it against her. “Shrillary” they called her because her voice wasn’t deep or measured, like a man, all the time. Constant criticism and scrutiny of her style of dress. Again, I’ve never seen a presidential candidate scrutinized so heavily for their appearance.

Her opponent was a man who is genuinely unlikable. He built his entire brand on being unlikable. His whole schtick is centered around the idea that he will fire you, put you on blast, and say whatever the hell he wants whenever he wants and berate, bully, and threaten you if you dare respond. Double standard much, dudes?

Racism. Donald Trump and Steve Bannon tapped into the raw energy and emotion of White Supremacists. Not since Pat Buchanan has a candidate been so blatantly nationalist and anti-immigrant. Overt, active white supremacists were empowered by this election like no other election in my lifetime. Donald Trump might not be a white supremacist like those skinheads and Klan members, but he sure doesn’t care whether they’re emboldened or not. And he sure doesn’t care what consequences his rhetoric has as far as the proliferation of hate crimes nationwide is concerned. You didn’t have to be hood wearing Klan member or shaved-head Nazi to feed into this. There are many more of those racists who deny it than the ones who wear it on their sleeve. They’re the ones for whom Make America Great Again kind of means to make it white again. It’s that subversive racism that is more dangerous than the overt kind because you can’t touch or see it, and it gets people like Trump elected.

America’s working class feels left behind. Here’s where I might depart a bit from my friends. Many folks have been unwilling to look past those first two things. [For the record: his isms and phobias were enough for me. I didn’t need to know more] I also think it’s very important to examine this piece of the election dynamic if we’re going to defeat him and his ilk in the future.

We have to recognize that socio-economic conditions played a role as well as sexism and racism. I’m going to say it plainly: It’s not fair to say wholesale that America’s white working class are sexist and racist and that’s why they voted Trump (those who did). Sexism and racism are pervasive and systemic and white people, especially men, always benefit from it. That’s a known known in my equation. I’m not denying it or excusing it. I do want to separate the issue of working class angst for the purposes of this essay.

My perspective here is that of a stepchild, grandson, grand-nephew, great-grandson and great-grand-nephew of Longshore workers. They worked the docks in Portland and Vancouver and our family is a strong working class union family. Dockworkers have been hit hard by the recession like all of the working class has.

Union rank and file, especially on the docks, in the mills, and manufacturing plants are tough and don’t suffer fools. They protect each other, and stand up for what they feel is right. After years of seeing their jobs depleted, being turned away at the hiring halls, and struggling to feed their families, they’d had enough. These folks would have voted for Bernie, because he represented dumping the neo-liberal bosses off their backs, AND a change toward a more egalitarian society. With no Bernie in the picture because of Democratic Party elite-fuckery, they were left with another populist voice, as batshit crazy as it was. Workers strike when wages and conditions get bad, and conditions had gotten bad enough. So the typically Dem voting workers decided to go on strike, and it cost Clinton the election.

The problem. Trump’s campaign hinged one primary narrative: The political establishment abandoned the working class and he was going to bring the jobs back.

This, like a lot of what he says, flies in the face of reality. He said the Globalist Democrats let the jobs go overseas because of these damn dirty trade deals. He spoke specifically about manufacturing and coal in many of his speeches. Well the truth is: manufacturing jobs in a lot of cases were given to robots, not Chinese workers. Coal jobs went away because coal is old technology and the oil industry is phasing it out and moving toward shale.

The truth is that capitalism left the working class behind, and the Neo-liberal politicians on both sides of the aisle did nothing to stop it. Communities, people, and the environment are all externalities to capitalism, and aren’t reflected in the bottom lines that shareholders see. If I have 80 workers that can be replaced by 5 robots, I’m going to save a lot of money on payroll. That’s going to increase profits and I’m going to get a fat bonus. I don’t care about what those layoffs do to the community because that just doesn’t have an impact on the company I’m in charge of.

This is a bill of goods Trump sold the working class though. He can’t make those jobs come back. They’re gone for good – and I haven’t seen any indication that he’s the kind of person who could negotiate the bi-partisan effort that would be required to either create retraining and reeducation programs in these hard hit areas – or – to create a jobs program that would create new opportunities nationwide to rebuild our failing infrastructure. Many, much better politicians [Obama] have promised these very things and have not been able to deliver.

So while I don’t believe that these working class whites voted for Trump because they’re all the kind of overt racists that liked his nationalistic, xenophobic, homophobic, racist, sexist message… I DO think they were willing to overlook it his rhetoric [and that’s just as harmful].

I heard somebody say after the election: Clinton supporters took Trump literally but not seriously and Trump voters took him seriously but not literally. That is to say they took him at his word that he’d shake up the establishment, but they didn’t take every word he said literally – the majority thought he was a goofy gaffe machine.

We can’t undo the severe impact of Trump’s words – the hate crimes, or the fear of further reprisal, that families will be torn apart, benefits stripped, and rights taken away. We can band together though, and we can try to reach out to our working class and rural neighbors and show them some love. We’re in this mess because we let ourselves get closed off to the world outside our bubbles. Rural folks, just minutes away from our own communities, were written off as dumb, racist, hicks – and they wrote us off as snobby, bourgeoisie, city-slickers. But the truth is, we’re all the same in that we’re all different. These labels don’t apply universally to anybody, and we should really make the effort to get to know each other on a personal level, and support each other. That’s how we beat Trumpism and the wave of white supremacy. hate, and other ugliness that his election has brought and will keep bringing. We’re not enemies, but we’ve been divided, and that cannot stand.

I hope you’re all doing as well as you can, in these times.

Love.

Service

This is the first time I’ve sat down at the keyboard to write something since Tuesday. I’ve been through a lot of the same shock and numbness that I’ve seen a lot of people vocalizing. Like most of my white friends, my shock was instinctually rooted in the fact that this country could elect a person like Trump – racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, admitted (proud) sex offender, etc – that shock is in willful ignorance of our POC and LGBTQ+ friends who have been TELLING US for years about the country we live in.

For a lot of people like me – who tend to rely on data and polls – we’ve been preaching that Clinton had it in the bag. Wrongness in the polls at that level would be certainly unprecedented and nearly impossible. We ignored that we’ve never had a candidate like Trump before, so of course something unprecedented was possible.

Over the last few weeks I’ve focused on the data, while many women, mostly the mothers, in my life have focused on their gut. Their guts hurt, they were worried, they couldn’t shake the sense of dread they were feeling.

To everyone: I’m sorry for ignoring you, I won’t make that mistake twice.

But this isn’t an election post, this is about service.

I’m a Veteran, and this being Veteran’s Day, if I decide to leave the house, someone will say, “Thank you for your service.” I’ve yet to meet a veteran who isn’t a little peeved by hearing that from a stranger. It’s not that we don’t appreciate the sentiment, people always mean well. For me, it’s that it devalues that word.

Service.

One of my favorite quotes is from Dr. Cornel West:

“You can’t lead the people if you don’t love the people. You can’t save the people if you don’t serve the people.”

Love and service are intertwined and without love, service is a meaningless gesture built on sympathy or some other hierarchy where you’re putting yourself above others.

In my head the past few days there have been five words rolling around, looking for traction:

Magnanimity – our actions are rooted in grace, not fear and resentment.
Reciprocity – we give love and receive love in equal proportions so that we can rise together.
Community – we don’t look inward, we think of our neighbor first.
Love – we project it even in the face of hate or indifference.
Respect – we treat each other well, communicate directly, and choose radical honesty over politeness and comfort.

I choose these five things as my personal pillars. My guiding principles going forward. I choose to serve my world, love my friends, and stop shrinking away from my responsibility as a man of privilege to stand up and kick open doors.

If you’re reading this, I love you. Please share it and let’s start a revolution of the heart.

 

Slavery is not an indefinable mass of flesh.

“Slavery is not an indefinable mass of flesh. It is a particular, specific enslaved woman, whose mind is active as your own; whose range of feeling is as vast as your own; who prefers the way the light falls in one particular spot in the woods. . . . ” He goes on to describe, in stunningly sensitive detail, what slavery means for this particular woman born in a country that celebrates freedom and yet will whip her, rape her and sell her children from an auction block. He admonishes his son that he “must struggle to remember this past in all its nuance, error and humanity.” – Ta-Nehisi Coates

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“Slavery was inhumane. Slavery was sadistic. Slavery was uncomfortable. Slavery was unjust. Slavery was a nightmare. Slavery was a despicable act. Slavery is the pebble whose ripple in the river still resonates on and on and on and on. I’d like to think most of you have common sense. But there is nothing more dangerous than a man in a suit pretending to be a journalist giving revisionist history on the ugliness that was slavery. What’s so fun and lighthearted about being shackled? being separated from your loved ones? Being molested and raped HOURLY, being branded with hot iron? being property? being castrated? being flogged? being malnourished? living in high stress conditions? forced to lay in your own feces? being sold in a heartbeat? suppressing ANY emotion (with the surprising exception of singing it was illegal —lashes or death–to read, write, “talk back” or “sass”, cry (how many of you heard “you better NOT cry before I give you something to cry about!”), get angry, or even more surprising LAUGHING (a plantation barrel of water was always in proximity to dunk ones head in so one could express emotions and suppress the sound as to not alert your overseer of your “sassing”—deep history I just learned about laughing and the slave period—the first recorded song “The Laughing Song” was the defiant “F%^k Tha Police” of its day (also where the term “Barrel Of Laughs” gets its origin)—I’m getting beside the point. I dunno if that man’s (never say his name) point is to troll at any cost whatsoever but his entire existence is a 5 steps backwards for any progress made in humanity. My dismay is the percentage of people who get their news from memes/headlines/& sources to whom they have 0 clue is feeding them false information. Human Trafficking in any form from today’s underage prostitution, to the private Prison System we exercise here in the US, to the Holocaust to 500 years of Slavery–and all other examples I’ve not mentioned is INHUMANE & Evil. —watch where you get your information from and the company you keep people.” – Questlove

Did Slavery Really End?

How far have we actually come since emancipation?

I’ve been reading a bit lately about slavery and its evolution, and how that has impacted black folks in America. I use the word evolution very deliberately – because I believe the ugliness that allowed slavery to happen is still prevalent today, and that while the institution of slavery was outlawed, it didn’t come to a full stop, it shifted.

Slavery is not just a thing you do to a person. It is not just forced labor. Slavery is an economic system where, to put it simply, you derive profits from goods created utilizing free labor. That labor wasn’t literally free though, slaves were a commodity treated like any other good on the market – they were appraised and bought, sold, and traded at the whim of their owners. The owners incurred expenses to feed and house them, and provide some modicum of health care.

Slavery was the economic system in place long before we were a nation of states. It was perhaps wholly responsible for the success of this new colony/nation. We were able to become the world’s leading cotton producer because of our slave-based economy. That system was a part of our fabric, woven into our society.

There is a notion that I was taught in school that Abraham Lincoln flipped a magical switch and turned slavery off. That while there was still racism (until MLK fixed it), the institution of slavery ended when the North won the war.

This ignores so much of what came after the war and emancipation.

After slavery was technically abolished, southern states created a system of laws that only applied to black folks, called Black Code Laws. These laws sought to control newly freed black people and limit their upward mobility by removing rights to own property, and forcing them to sign labor contracts or be arrested.  The poor white men who were formerly employed as fugitive slave hunters transitioned into jobs enforcing these laws. If a black person violated one of these laws, they were arrested, sentenced and then leased to plantations, manufacturers, and other corporations. The leasing price paid the cost of the government to house the “inmates” and of course the inmates were paid nothing. So – slavery was outlawed and a set of impossible to follow laws were created and black men were arrested and forced into free labor. But now they were called convicts and it was all legal. They had broken the law, and were “paying their debt to society.” These inmates were never given appeal and often held prisoner until they died.

Now let’s look at today. Hopefully by now you know about the mass incarceration rates in the US. We imprison more people than China and they have way more people than we do. While black people make up around 13% of our total population, they make up 40% of our prison population. Stop and Frisk Laws are strikingly similar to Black Code laws in that it’s up to the discretion of the officer whether to impose them – 90% of the people stopped are Black or Latin, and 90% of them are innocent. The War on Drugs is another iteration of Black Code, targeting poor black communities for crimes like simple possession of pot, even without intent to sell, and making those crimes felonies garnering double digit sentences. While whites charged with the same crimes would get off with a misdemeanor and probation. So today, we still have a series of laws, policies, and procedures in place to control the movement, freedom, and societal mobility of black people. Black Code and Jim Crow were eventually defeated in courts as we made legal progress, but that hasn’t stopped the underlying ideals from being ingrained in policies and procedures at our financial institutions, prisons, and government bodies.

So while we who speak up or stand up for justice have made some progress, we have to remember that we’re not the only ones fighting. There is another side, and they’ve made progress also. They were once the establishment and made the rules. They learned how to work our system of laws, and take the practice of slavery and make it legal by creating the prison-industrial complex, and manufacturing the myth of the dangerous criminal thug, so even “good white people” would turn a blind eye to what has been happening in prisons all over our nation for the last 150 years.

Today, the minimum wage for a prisoner is .23 cents per hour. How do you justify such low wages? Well, you start by considering the people less than. Maybe 3/5ths of a human. And then you can rationalize just about anything, I suppose.

 

#charleskinsey and our racist programming

“Why did you shoot me?”

“I don’t know.”

In case you don’t know, the facts as seen on cell phone camera: Black man. Social worker in the line of duty trying to calm an autistic patient who escaped from a group home and was having a bad episode – patient also happens to be a person of color. Someone calls the cops because the toy train the patient had in his hand looked like a gun they saw a black man in their neighborhood. Police arrive on the scene and Charles Kinsey does every last thing black parents tell their kids in The Talk. He was calm, respectful, he laid on the ground with his hands high in the air and did not move. He was not armed. Complete compliance. And they shot him for it.

After the officer fired on him, the above exchange took place, Kinsey asking, “Why did you shoot me.”

The officer responded, “I don’t know.”

I don’t know
I don’t know
I don’t know
I don’t know

It’s the most honest, sad, infuriating thing I’ve heard an officer say after one of these shootings. Usually it’s the “You shoulda…” or, “I warned you…” a transference of responsibility for the officer’s actions to the person they shot.

The officer who shot Charles Kinsey, in that heated, soaring, emotional moment when everything is happening quickly and he just shot a man, said, “I don’t know.”

And he’s right, he doesn’t know. Because you can’t know implicit bias. You can’t see or touch hundreds of years of racist programming. It’s the air we breathe. Without quite a lot of work on yourself and unlearning of old habits, you can’t know why your blink instinct is to see black men as dangerous and want to suppress them.

The officer shot Charles Kinsey because he had been programmed to. It’s exactly the problem and exactly what we have to take a hard look at in ourselves. Most of us don’t carry guns around with the authority to use them. But, my dear white people, don’t think for a second that you don’t possess the programming to shoot a black man for no reason. What decisions are you in charge of in your daily life? How many racist micro decisions do you make everyday? How many prejudiced and biased thoughts do you have? Start being aware of yourself, your thoughts, your actions. Hold yourself personally accountable. Constantly check yourself. This is how we can reprogram our racist minds, by doing and thinking a different way. You’re not powerless to change. It’s not a hopeless cause. In fact, you have all the power, and you’re the only one who can change it.