REDSKINS AND COWBOYS …

I always thought the name “Redskins” was a little culturally tone deaf (I mean no offense to people who are tone deaf or to people who take offense to people taking offense to being called tone deaf – if you think this disclaimer is merely comical, you’re not living in the current state of things. No offense to people who aren’t living in the current state of things).

Anyway …

Even as a kid, I would often think, “Wow – I wonder how Indians feel about that name.” (Back then we called them “Indians.” I mean no offense to Native Americans).

Having said that, it never kept me up at night. And I have a hunch it never kept anyone else up at night either…not even “Indians.”

Either way, I wasn’t a fan of that football team. I was a Cowboys fan.

I became a fan when I read a comic book, detailing their first Superbowl win. In that book, Roger Staubach talked about giving thanks to God and praying and spending time with his family instead of partying, and basically reflecting all the stuff I was immersed in as a child, that wasn’t part of mainstream culture.

I distinctly remember thinking, “This guy is on OUR team. He’s one of US. He believes in God and Jesus and prays and says some of the same things my dad says. I can root for him. He’s on MY side.”

That’s how a seven-year-old thinks.

I developed a personal connection with Staubach (Captain America) and lived and died by his wins and losses right up until his retirement. A lot of people did.

By extension, I developed a love for the whole Cowboy franchise and all the people involved. By the time the team won the ’77 Superbowl, I was ten and had the football cards of the entire starting line up – offense and defense. I knew Too Tall Jones’ sack stats and how fast Tony Dorset could run.

The star on those helmets meant something to me. It was all drenched in tradition and America and good guys versus bad guys and the clean, white jerseys triumphing over those evil, black Steelers jerseys.

The Cowboys were the Sheriffs and whoever they were playing were the outlaws. That’s how I processed it…as a child.

This year, the Washington football team is getting rid of that name – Redskins. I personally think that’s a good idea. But a lot of people are upset by it and I totally understand why.

It’s not about the name change as much as it’s about the constant cowering to political correctness pressure we see everywhere, these days.

People don’t like cowards. They don’t like to watch someone shrink in the corner and give in to the demands of a mob – even if the mob has a point. Stand up and at least make your case.

The point, to the team’s ownership being, why does the name bother you enough to change it now, when it didn’t bother you at all when you bought the team?

Either you weren’t culturally sensitive then, or you’re just pandering now. Nobody likes either of those traits.

But it goes deeper than that.

People are feeling their footing quake and their society – a society they thought they could count on – start to crumble a little at a time. And that scares them. And fear brings out anger.

We were all fine with Aunt Jemima. We loved her. She made us feel good. She had syrup in her bottle. We didn’t think of her as a slave or servant or anything of the sort. We just liked her syrup and kind of saw her as our “aunt.”

Now she’s gone. And when your Saturday morning memories start disappearing, it’s unsettling. Especially, when they tell you it was fundamentally racist to have that connection with Aunt Jemima.

The 4-year-old in all of us was reaching out to her in tears as they took her away from us. And that made us angry.

For a lot of Redskins fans, this name change has a similar effect.

When you’re raised rooting for a helmet and a jersey, and you’ve emotionally invested yourself in the men who played that game in those things, the abrupt disappearance of it – based on a political calculation to keep from getting erased by the cancel culture – just makes you wonder what else they’re coming for next.

I’ll tell you what else …

Cowboys represent the underlying issue with all of the protests and upheaval in this country, at present. Cowboys “settled” the west. That’s code for “killed all the indigenous people and stole the land.”

And if we’re going to keep picking at this wound of who owes who what, and indicting America for sin after sin after sin, we’re going to eventually get to Cowboys.

Cowboys fenced off the acreage they wanted and just took it. Then they started farming it and ranching it and making a lot of money in the process. Now, Cowboys control the American west. And you don’t have to go too far back in time to get a bloody snapshot of how that happened.

Also, Cowboys work with cattle – hence the name “cow” boys.

And for those not keeping up, cattle, the cornerstone of the western diet, are being blamed for using up a lot of the world’s natural resources; from the water it takes to keep the cows hydrated, to the enormous swaths of land it takes to keep them grazing.

Activists assert that if we all went to a plant-based diet, we could open up all those recourses for other crucial things.

Then, there are the cow farts that are supposedly destroying the planet as well. Watch the newest Burger King commercial and you’ll see that I am literally not joking.

The American Cowboy stands as a stark representative of what some consider to be everything that’s wrong with the United States, and really, western civilization as a whole. Watch one episode of Yellowstone and you’ll see where those battle lines are still drawn. It’s fiction, but all fiction is based in something true.

I can foresee a movement to change the Dallas Cowboys name one day. Now, when I see that star on a helmet, I know it’s only a matter of time before the mob comes for it. There was a time when I thought that would be a far-fetched notion. But not anymore.

But it’s not just the names they’re going after. All of that is window dressing.

All those things I thought were good things to aspire to, as a child growing up in America, are being rejected as racist, xenophobic, nationalistic privileges.

And while that star might’ve meant something positive to me – it meant oppression and theft to someone else.

We’re going to have to keep having this conversation until we finally reach the bottom of it and enough people have had enough.

The “tear down America” crowd has tipped their hand and showed us exactly how much of this country, its traditions and its basic way of life, they want left standing – none of it.

The end game isn’t about the Redskins. It’s ultimately about the Cowboys.

And if you don’t know that, you’re not paying attention.     

  

R

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REPARATIONS …

I’m for reparations.

Most people would read my Libertarian blogs and assume that the government paying reparations to the descendants of slaves, would be something I am against. But I’m not.

I’ve always been in favor of reparations. Aside from turning every black person in America into an instant Republican (depositing seven figures in someone’s account makes them instantly and acutely interested in tax policy), I think there’s a case to be made for it…as long as it’s done correctly.

Unfortunately, doing it correctly, is complicated …

There’s a road in Burma that was built by British prisoners of war, for the Empire of Japan, during WWII. Some of the surviving prisoners have tried to sue the current government of Japan for damages. I’m on their side.

Keep in mind, these are ACTUAL people who were forced to build this road against their will. Not descendants of those people – not great, great, great grandchildren – these are the ACTUAL people. And even given that, they have yet to see any justice in their claim. Why?

Well, things get complex when the government you are petitioning for damages isn’t the government that was in place when those damages occurred.

Japan now, isn’t anything close to what Japan was then. It’s literally a different thing completely. What is was then, was pretty much wiped off the face of the Earth by the United States Marine Corps and two atomic bombs. The country of Japan didn’t force those men to do anything. The EMPIRE of Japan did.

You might as well try to sue the country of Italy for something that happened under Julius Caesar. It’s simply a non-starter.

The country of Germany was ordered to pay reparations, after WWI, for all the damage and death they caused. And that pretty much led to WWII.

After WWII, rather than asking the living to pay for the sins of the dead, we decided on something called “The Marshal Plan,” that pretty much had the winners cleaning up the mess and paying for the rebuild. A lot of people didn’t find it fair. But hey, we’re 20 years into the new century and Germany hasn’t started any world wars yet. That’s WAY better than last century.

Anyway …

The case for reparations in America, for those who are descendants of slaves, is a pretty good one. It goes something like this: 250 years of slavery, 90 years of Jim Crowe laws, 60 years of separate but equal, 35 years of state sanctioned red-lining, has created a debt that must be paid to people of color by the United States.

I’m not gonna lie – that’s a strong case. And yes, the United States, by and large, did not hold up its end of the bargain to provide former slaves with 40 acres and a mule, after the Civil War.

This is called “Critical Theory,” and it asserts that there is literally no way for a black person to achieve what a white person can achieve in America, because the deck has been so stacked against them for so long, everything must be uprooted and re-formed. It’s a theory not completely without merit. Although we could argue over the hundreds and thousands of black people who have risen above that type of base line thinking.

All of those arguments aside, when it comes down to reparations, let’s make sure the math is right …

Did the United States even have slavery for 250 years? No. Not even half that time. How do I know? This information can be found in our most famous speech, The Gettysburg Address:

“Four score and seven years ago (87 years ago), our fathers brought forth on this continent a NEW nation …”

When Lincoln gave that speech, The United States was 87 years old. Two years later, slavery was abolished with a constitutional amendment.

That means The United States only dealt in slavery for 89 years.

So, who bought and sold all those slaves in America, prior to that? The British Empire.

People somehow conveniently forget that prior to 1776, America was under British rule. They just leave out the American Revolution completely. Several of the major slave trading companies, that brought millions of black-skinned immigrants to this continent against their will, were set up by British royalty.

The largest and most profitable was The Royal (yes – ROYAL) African Trading Company, set up by the Duke of York, in 1660. We named New York city after him, for Pete’s sake.

If you’re going after reparations, the British Crown is responsible for 157 years of the 250 years cited in the claim. That’s over half. Why is no one petitioning Buckingham Palace for anything?

But wait, there’s more …

The Dutch were the largest slave traders in the world for about a hundred years or so. They brought more slaves to America than any other country. So, in the reparations quest, Holland has to be on the list. How could they not be?

But wait, there’s more …

The African slave trade had 6 different tiers. And by the 16th century, it was so streamlined that doing business with African trading companies became the easiest way to import slaves around the world. I would like to tell you when slavery in Africa ended…but it hasn’t yet.

As far as we can tell, a lot of slave business was being done between the Africans and the Europeans. In fact, the FIRST bone fide slave owner on the continent of America was from Africa (Angola, to be exact). His name was Anthony Johnson. If you’re going for reparations based on slavery, Africa simply has to be on your list.

But wait, there’s more …

If you think Slavery in America was just about Americans hating black people or some micro-aggression informed view of what the world was prior to the industrial revolution, remember one thing: slavery wasn’t just about racism. It was about economics.

Nations kept providing slaves not only to the Americas, but all around thew world, not because they were just a bunch of red necks, who drank beer and watched NASCAR, but because slave labor was how the entire world worked for many thousands of years.

And on the American continent, particularly in the southern part of the United States, things grow that the world needs and wants.

Cotton, tobacco, corn and sugar cane were being consumed by the ENTIRE WORLD. So, if you want to really get into reparations….I mean really get into it, you have to do a deep dive into who all bought and used those goods grown by the hands of slaves.

A Christmas Carol was written in 1847 – 18 years before slavery in America was abolished. Charles Dickens was no doubt wearing clothes made from cotton, grown by American slaves, when he wrote that classic piece of literature.

Maybe his estate could be petitioned for some reparations. Maybe the publishers who have published his works could be petitioned.

I’ve always said, participation perpetuates. And slavery would’ve ended in less than a year, if all those crops had stopped being purchased, all around the globe.

When it comes to slavery, is anybody really clean?

The numbers are heart-breaking. But there are more slaves on planet Earth today, than there were during the hight of American slavery.

If you’re reading this on a computer or a smart phone, keep in mind that the device you hold in your hand was probably made by some kid in China, who is on the verge of suicide because he’s being worked to death pretty much against his will.

If you think the xenophobic neanderthal screaming “Buy American” is the racist, ask yourself how comfortable you are with slave labor. Because your comfort level perpetuates it.

This is why anyone truly concerned with slavery is paying close attention to places like Hong Kong and Taiwan and any Muslim country where it’s still an accepted practice.

Although the United States tolerated slavery for less time than any other developed nation in history, is it some blameless beacon of perfection? Of course not. There are those other claims to think about. Jim Crowe laws existed – but only in the south. Do we divide the reparations for that among only the southern states?

Segregation definitely existed. But how do you quantify that in terms of dollars and cents?

If all of the complication could be unravelled, I would be all for paying reparations to people who have been at a constant disadvantage based on “first sin.”

So what’s the answer? Personally, I think the answers in the now are things like prison reform, the de-criminalization of drug possession and reversing the ghetto-to-gang-to-incarceration cycle so many black men are trapped in, that has a ripple affect throughout the black community. And I think that’s actually doable.

But when it comes to pure reparations, maybe the Royal family should be put on some kind of notice and sent an invoice.

Maybe Holland should be asked to divert funds from its free healthcare system, that benefits mainly the white descendants of their slave trading grandparents, to an international reparations fund.

Maybe France and Italy should sharpen the pencil and do some research on how the cotton bought from the U.S. (farmed by slaves) for all those centuries, paved the way for their lucrative fashion industries. And a reparations tax could be levied on all the clothes they sell. You won’t mind paying an extra $15 dollars for that shirt, will you?

Maybe African countries that participated in the slave trade should shut down their building programs and infrastructure projects and cough up some long overdue payback. Their citizens will be happy to do that, I’m sure.

And yes, maybe The United States should pony up 89 years worth of cash. Although, there’s also a case to be made for the descendants of soldiers who were sent off to die in places like Shiloh and Gettysburg, to free those slaves, being exempt from the process.  How do you reimburse for that? Do you deduct their tax dollars from the total?

Like I said, it gets really complicated if you’re going to do it right.   

Because it basically comes down to this: if we’re going to start charging people for the sins of their fathers…everybody is going to get a bill.     

      

R

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SOFT BIGOTRY…

“Bacon – like you might find in a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich,” is one of my favorite lines, from my favorite movie – Trading Places. 

Randolph Duke (Ralph Bellamy) is explaining the commodities market to Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy). Then, Eddie Murphy does the famous fourth wall break and looks directly at the camera, as if to say, “really?” 

In that one look, Murphy encapsulates the subtle nature of modern racism. His look says, “You’re talking down to me because you think I’m a fool…based on my race.” 

Trading Places is my favorite movie because it touches, through comedy, the rawest nerve of the American experiment and asks the question the entire world has been asking for thousands of years – are all races really the same?  

By now, we know that all races actually are the same, and what separates us isn’t really color or race but culture. 

Most reasonably intelligent people believe this. Or do they? 

If America is Mike Tyson’s face, racism is the tattoos: a constant reminder of a bad decision, but something that can be moved past with some work. 

In the spirit of that work, so many want to be on the side of the correction. We all do. But sometimes, deeply held racism shows itself in the process.

In a lot of ways, Lyndon Johnson deciding black people needed the great white saviors to provide them housing and food, was an example of this. 

“Bless their hearts. Surely they won’t be able to do it themselves. Thank God the white people are here to help them,” is what it basically said.  

But all those programs didn’t help in the long run. Not really. They created ghettos for people who had no agency or ownership in the process, to languish in.

“We’ll take care of it for you, black people. You just stand over there and look pitiful,” was how it came off. And it crippled entire generations. 

Mayors who actually consider dismantling police departments, in order to placate some weird sense of social justice, are, in fact, practicing a form of racism. They are creating unsafe neighborhoods and cities that directly affect the black people who live there. We’ve been watching the results of this play out in places like Atlanta and Chicago. And it ends with dead children.

Are there things we can do to reconcile how the police interact with minorities? You bet there are. But when you’re just assuaging your own guilt and making innocent people – many of them black – pay the price for it in blood, you might as well apply for a job at Duke and Duke. You’re their kind of people. 

When you issue a city-wide edict that every human being must wear a mask, except people of color, because…you know, they are just in their cause, you are putting people at risk while simultaneously treating them like children. And you’re creating a warped sense of reality for people who have to grapple with a skewed sense of their own reality in their own country, already.

When you refuse to be honest about why there’s a huge spike in Covid cases…THREE. WEEKS. AFTER. YOU. ENCOURAGED. MASS. PROTESTS. because you don’t want black people to feel bad about their decision to take to the streets AND SPREAD A VIRUS,  you’re not treating them like equals. You’re treating them fragile little lambs who cannot handle scientific facts. 

When you literally skew actual science just to appear like you’re on “the right side of history” you’re like a bad, absent parent, trying to buy love with a pony. It isn’t authentic and it’s actually damaging. 
 
We’re about to have a “black national anthem” played before the actual national anthem at football games.

National anthems, in general, aren’t all that important to me personally (although I think ours is a good one for many reasons), and if we want to talk about changing it to something else, I’m actually listening. But having two anthems, to make a certain group of Americans feel better, is the worst kind of pandering. 

Nobody’s offering an Asian anthem or a Mexican anthem or a Native American anthem or a Special Needs anthem. This is being done so that weak people can say they did their part to end racism. But they’re not ending it. They’re only fomenting it further. 

You might as well say, “like you would find in a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich.”  

Change the anthem? Maybe we should. But it should be ONE anthem for everybody. Hence the term national. That’s what America is supposed to be about. E Plurus Unum – out of many, one.     

When I see statues being toppled, I’m watching mainly white kids doing it. They are basically saying, “Here, black people. Let us wipe away this uncomfortable part of your history. We’re certain you can’t compartmentalize it.”

None of the black people I know are that emotionally fragile. And they’d rather talk about practical things we can do, than be handed big, woke gestures that don’t feed anybody or educate anybody or keep anybody any safer or help anybody achieve their dreams.    

Conservatives and Libertarians have been historically skeptical about government programs specifically designed for black people, through the years, NOT because they don’t like black people and don’t want to see them succeed. They’ve simply recognized that it’s fundamentally racist to assume black people can’t help themselves, given the opportunity. 

In so many of our national responses, we are answering the question, “are all races the same?” with a wince and a wink and an ultimate “no,” not by burning crosses in yards, but by assuming white people are the sole arbiters of the destiny of black people.

This also simultaneously assumes all white people will naturally act in a way that will keep black people down. Those two thoughts not only assume the worst about both races, but assign more natural power to whites than to blacks. 

It’s racism in all its glory, disguised as help.     

Instead of seeing black people collecting a check from the government, I like seeing them writing a check to the government…because they made so much money that year (although, I don’t like any of those checks to be too big. #Libertarian).  

Instead of seeing them get the job sweeping the floor, I’d prefer to see them running the business that owns the floor. 

Instead of public officials treating my black brothers and sisters like inferior intellects, who cannot make it through life without them, I’d prefer we all level with each other as equals. 

Until we do that, we might as well be explaining what bacon is. And black people, who have fully gotten off the plantation into a free mind, will still be looking at that camera, rolling their eyes.  

George W. Bush coined a great phrase: “the soft bigotry of low expectations.”    

The Duke brothers, in Trading Places, were guilty of this. They had no expectation that Billy Ray Valentine could even comprehend their business, much less excel at it.

They were the ultimate “subtle” racists because they were pulling strings in all different directions, to create unfair advantages and disadvantages they thought only they could create. And they did it all to prove a point…and win a bet. 

They toyed with people’s lives, just to see what would happen, because they truly didn’t see some of those people as people. 

But what ultimately happens when those being toyed with finally see each other, discover each other’s common humanity, actually talk to each other, instead of making assumptions, and focus on a common goal? 

Well, what happens is a complete and utter reversal of fortune…literally. 

And it’s beautiful. 

 
R   

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THE WORDS OF THE FOURTH …

Right about now, I imagine Thomas Jefferson was sweating a little.

I’m writing this blog four days before July 4th. 244 years ago today, The Declaration of Independence was having the finishing touches put on it, in Philadelphia.

I often wonder if T.J knew he was changing the world with every stroke of his pen. Did he think he was signing a death warrant? Did he think he was writing just another manifesto, in the long history of manifestos, that would simply get crumpled up and thrown away? As a writer, I wonder.

The actual date of the document being finished and signed was July 2nd. But it was read…to the whole world…on July 4th. And everything that followed the reading of it was nothing short of earth shattering for mankind.

We’re in a season of de-construction, here in America. We are dismantling the past to force it to line up with the present. I call it “telescoping.”

It’s the equivalent of comparing your full grown self to your newborn self; destroying all evidence of your infancy to make it reconcile with your adulthood. Any reasonable person knows that nothing works that way.

But yes, when Thomas Jefferson wrote the words, “all men are created equal,” he – at that very moment – owned people who were not considered equal. So, was he lying in word or lying in deed?

Maybe a little bit of both. Or maybe he wasn’t lying at all. Maybe he was writing something aspirational that even he himself had yet to live up to.

All I know is we still, 244 years later, take those words as scripture. People may question the author. But nobody questions the premise. He was right, even though he was wrong.

As a writer, I can tell you that is often the case and sometimes the best you can hope for.

Revolutions are as common as each new generation that spawns them. And revolutionaries often get compared to those famous, white-wigged gentlemen farmers who spoke like aristocrats and dressed like extras in Hamilton.

How many times have I heard in my life, “This is like the Boston Tea Party,” or “This revolt is like the American Revolution”?

But there’s a difference between the American Revolution and any other garden-variety revolution that shows up with a hot-headed leader, shouting grievances through a bull horn. That difference is the words and the declaration.

The Declaration of Independence is what separated the American Revolution from the French Revolution and Haitian Revolution and Serbian Revolution and every revolution since 1776. The words, the promises, the guarantees and the stakes, made the Declaration, and the American Revolution that followed it, the greatest single gift to humanity since the birth of Christ. 

Imagine, if you will, those people in CHOP (who are being dismantled as we speak) delivering a document to the White House, that not only separated them once and for all from the United States, but refused anymore help or aid from the United States, in any way. No more power grid. No more cell tower access. No more water and sewer. No more food brought in. No more medical access. No more moving beyond the roadblocks.

Imagine them giving all of that up in exchange for their ideals.

Then, imagine the leaders of that movement pledging their lives and families to its success or failure. If it dies, they die.

Then, imagine them picking up guns and attacking United States military installations in order to solidify their point and win freedom for their cause.

See, until you are willing to do all of that, you’re not anywhere close to what the American Revolution was. If you haven’t yet addressed what, to you, are inalienable rights or what truths you hold self evident, then you’re not staging a revolution. You’re just changing the names at the top of the stationary.

Until your words elevate and inspire and clarify your intentions, you are just standing up to power for the sake of doing it. But that isn’t sustainable.

The Declaration of Independence took a bunch of angry guerrilla fighters and asked them the tough question: are we really doing this or are we not? And if we do it, what are we basing all of this on?

That document is the difference between a passionate movement being joined, and a nation being born. The guarantees it makes, even for people not yet able to participate in it, is what makes it endure all these generations later.

When Martin Luther King Jr. Stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and gave his famous “I Have A Dream” speech, he said that he come there to “cash an un-cashed check.”

That was the perfect way to describe it. And America has tried to bend and shape and re-form to allow everyone to cash that check.

But the check had to be written first. And it was a check that had never even been attempted to be written in human history, to that point.

When a 35-year-old slave owner from Virginia signed his name at the bottom of it, along with 55 others, it divided the world into two pieces of history: everything that had happened before it and everything that has happened since.

And to this day, we all cash that check every time we stand up for our life or our liberty or simply pursue our own happiness.

We cash that check when we question authority or challenge the statues quo.

We cash that check when chase a dream or dare to attempt something great.

We cash that check when we fight for forgotten or stand up for the least among us.

We cash that check when we assert that we are all created equal and should all be treated as such.

Sooner than later, we may find ourselves in a world purged of marble and stone that celebrates men who lived hundreds of years ago, in complicated times. And we may tear it all down and try to start all over again.

But eventually we will likely find ourselves right back in another revolution for being innocent until proven guilty, for freedom of speech and assembly, for the right to bear arms and self-defense, for the right to remain silent and the right to privacy and the right to a legal defense and the right to vote and the right to question the very government that protects those rights.

The Declaration led to all of that. It still does.

And even if the messenger was flawed, 244 years later, that’s a revolution I can still get behind.       

    

R

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AMERICAN DREAMS …

No face on Mt. Rushmore ever presided over a country where women could vote.

Three of them presided over a country where humans could be legally owned, bought and sold.

You have to get to Dick Cheney before you reach a President (or even Vice President) who openly supports gay marriage. Eventually, Barack Obama came around in his second term. A few years after Cheney. But still…2012.

For those who want to tear down the American construct, I actually kind of get it. I’ve often wondered how a black or brown person might feel living in a system no one of their ancestors had anything to do with actually setting up. Where do they find the pride? Why would their hearts swell and what would make tears flow when they saw the flag or heard the Anthem?

I guess you’d say black people in America have always been between Plymouth Rock and a hard place.

But if you want to tear it all down, you’ve got your work cut out for you.   

I might start with Columbus, Ohio myself. I mean a whole city named after…well…you know.

But then, there’s New York, named after the Duke of York, who formed the Royal African Trading Company, in 1660; a company built for…you guessed it…trafficking slaves from Africa. Yes. That is who New York City is named after; one of the architects of slavery itself.

The Coca Cola company was started by an ex Confederate solider and Jack Daniel’s father died fighting for that same Confederacy. The first wrist watch ever made was given to Napoleon Bonaparte’s sister, Caroline. Napoleon re-established slavery in Haiti, in 1802. Her silence in the matter was deafening.

So, if you fly from Columbus to New York City, have a Jack and Coke and check your watch, I don’t even know what to say to you right now.

You are participating in Western Civilization. And when you participate, you perpetuate.

England and France both abolished slavery before America. But they all kept buying the cotton, corn and tobacco.

They didn’t bear the direct guilt, but they participated in the system.

If you’re reading this on a computer or a smart phone, enjoying the beverage of your choice, in an air conditioned room somewhere, deciding for yourself what you’re going to do later today, you are participating in the American construct. There’s just no way around it.

And at some point, as an American, you have to come to terms with how all of this got here. At that point you either accept the flaws and scars, knowing it’s a forward moving continuum that bends toward justice and freedom; basically a good thing. Or you reject the entire system outright and decide to form CHAZ or CHOP or whatever that experiment is in Seattle, that won’t exist three weeks from now.

It won’t exist because starting your own country is harder than it looks. And you’d better have a stronger foundation than just saying “everything is going to be free and no cops allowed.”

If you’re asking for food and medicine to be brought in and you still need the water, sewer and electrical grid of the country you just seceded from, you’re still participating. Anyway …

The thing that made Martin Luther King Jr. a transcendent figure for all time and a bone fide American hero, was the clarity he had of his own dream and how it related to the complication of the American dream.

He didn’t dream that the nation would be torn out by the root and reformed into something other than itself. His dream was that everyone, regardless of race, color, nationality, etc, fully participate in the American Dream, as it should be.

In order to have that dream, he had to first acknowledge that the American Dream was a good one to have and one worth participating in.

Yes, a little black boy from Georgia – a state named after King George – a slave trader – grew up to have that dream.

Even if the 4 faces on its greatest landmark presided over racism and sexism, and NONE of its national monuments were created in a time of equality for gays, and even if its largest city was named after a slave trader and its most popular soft drink was concocted by a Confederate soldier, and yes, even if a lot of the Jesus statues look like a brown-haired surfer dude from San Diego (and don’t even get me started on how California became California), Dr. King was still able to pine for a time when he could sing full-throated, “my country tis of thee, sweet land of liberty …”

Martin Luther King Jr. was an American. And he wanted to be. And he worked toward being able to stand for the Anthem and the flag with a full heart.

That’s what all Americans want, even when we know America has been a mess in the making.

When I pledge allegiance to the flag (and the Republic for which it stands) I don’t just think about a bunch of wig wearing white guys who owned slaves, 200 years ago. I think just as much about MLK and Harriet Tubman and Booker T. Washington and the Tuskegee Airmen and Bass Reeves and Vivien Thomas and Madame C.J Walker, as I do Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin.

If you’re unfamiliar with some of those names, you should look them up. They were all world changers. They were all black. And they were all Americans…participating in the dream.       

You have to decide in your heart if, on balance, America is essentially good or essentially bad, and if the dream America offers is something you want to fully participate in.

And if you decide the answer for you is no, then you have to understand that even if you remove all the statues and evidence, you’re still going to be left with the same choices: do I buy a Starbucks coffee today and support a self-avowed capitalist?

Participation perpetuates.

Steve Harvey once said, regarding America, “The dream is the thing.”

The dream helps us re-write the future without having to re-name New York or Columbus or blow up a mountain in the Black Hills of South Dakota. It allows us to enjoy a Jack and Coke and check our watch and know that we’re not bound by how all those things got here.

They’re in our time now. And we can attach our dreams to them in new and more equitable ways.

That is the dream. And it’s the most American thing of all.     

  

R

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THE FUTURE OF THE PAST …

Andrew Jackson’s face has fed my family.

He has gassed up my car and covered a couple of beers and paid my electric bill.

If I find him in the pocket of some jeans I haven’t worn in a while, I don’t burn the jeans and go on a social media rant. No, I usually get this wonderful little hit of elation after finding him.

Now, granted, it usually takes more than one of him to buy anything of consequence, but hey…the more of him the better.

I look down at that face and smile. Because the more of him you have, the more comfortable your life is.

This wasn’t always so …

My great, great, great grandmother didn’t like him at all. And she had good reason not to.

He uprooted her from her home and forced her to walk west on something called the Trail Of Tears. He was horrible to her and her family. He was responsible for the brutalization of her tribe and the systematic dismantling of her entire way of life.

Andrew Jackson’s racist policies were the undoing of my family…170 years ago.

But something happened to my great, great, great grandmother along that trail. An Irishman, who had worked his way out of indentured servitude, and down into Tennessee, where he set up a roadside trading post along the trail, found himself at the perfect crossroads of sexism, racism and legal pedophelia. He saw my great, great, great grandmother, took a liking to the young 14-year-old, and purchased her from the tribe (for a couple of horses) and out of the march westward.

Then, he started making half-breed babies with her. One of them was my great, great grandmother. I knew her daughter as Mama Hamm.

Mama Hamm had dark skin and high cheekbones and in order to become a “Hamm,” she married another dark-skinned, high cheekboned suiter, who had been an orphan, left on the doorstep of a couple of German immigrants named Hammershmidt (or something like that). In order to assimilate into the culture easier, they shortened the name to Hamm.

By the time my grandfather was born into their house in 1920, they had all but forgotten about how Andrew Jackson had brutalized their grandparents.

In fact, I went on a walking tour through the Hermitage (Andrew Jackson’s historical home, just outside of Nashville) with my grandfather, once. He was mildly interested in the way people used to live back then. He was respectful and quiet and he nodded and said, “interesting,” at all the appropriate times.

But finally, he’d had enough, looked at his watch and said, “we need to get home. I’m hungry.”

At no point did he ever break down and cry, weeping for his people. At no point did he ever seethe with rage and have to fight back his urge to burn the place to the ground. At no point did he feel the need to spray-paint anything on any of the buildings or monuments there.

My grandfather had enlisted in the Navy, during WWII, to serve a country that had massacred and mutilated his own great grandparents. And yet, here he was, walking through the home of his oppressor, not even mentioning it.

Why was he more preoccupied with present matters than he was with something that had happened to his own great grandmother?

Maybe it’s because he had kids and grandkids around him and new technology and a better world. Maybe it’s because my grandfather understood that life in America can evolve and grow and re-shape, and in less than a couple of generations, it can look completely different than it did when your grandparents were young…if you let it.

My roots are from people who were not participating in any part of the American dream because they weren’t allowed to. I have known women in my family who remembered life before they were legally allowed to vote.

But you know what? They didn’t harp on those days and constantly dredge them up. They didn’t go on endless tirades about the injustices of systemic sexism and how it held them in some sort of life limbo that they would simply never be allowed to rise above as long as the white, male patriarchy ran the world.

No. They just voted. They took the win and never looked back.

On balance, I’m not a big fan of Andrew Jackson. I think he did some horrible things. But when I read about the past, I don’t feel the need to punish anyone now, for it.

The people who inflicted that suffering on those distant relatives of mine, are long dead, as are the ways of thinking and systems that enslaved them in their time.

I see the past for what it is – the past.

And I can look at all those horrible things and still believe in a nation (and a system) that allows itself to grow and become better. Because it does and it has. But it can’t if I continue to re-litigate it and re-live things that actually don’t have to be re-lived or re-litigated.

I have a daughter, adopted from China, who isn’t much older than that young Cherokee girl, sold to an Irishman at that trading post, all those years ago. Could my daughter be trafficked today, in 2020? Sure. Could she get sold to some Irish pub owner, somewhere? It’s definitely possible.

But it isn’t legal, it isn’t probable, and it isn’t anything anyone in the mainstream of life would even consider the least bit tolerable.

In less than three generations, a child getting sold to a former indentured servant, along a road designed for genocide, can turn into their great grandson getting bored at the museum of that very thing, wondering what’s for dinner.

And in less than five generations, it can turn into a Chinese girl being raised like an American princess, living less than a hundred miles from where her great, great, great great grandmother was sold.

The future of the past is in question. How much of it are we ready to destroy and erase? And how do we do that anyway? Maybe the best way to erase the past is by fully embracing the present and allowing it to allow us to build a better future, knowing where we came from but not being tethered to it.

If we can’t accept the complication of America, we can never really see the beauty in its ability to evolve. As long as we live in that moment where my great, great great grandmother is getting sold, we never get to the part where my grandfather doesn’t really think too much about it.

If we constantly obsess over what Andrew Jackson’s face meant then, we lose perspective on what his face means now

Twenty bucks.    

  

R

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THE GAS LIGHTING OF AMERICA …

I’m dizzy.

I’ll bet you are too.

I had this whole, really cool blog written about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and how, in America, some people in our population can be at level 5 without feeling like they’d ever achieved level 4, but much of the rest of the world was still languishing in level 1, and how we’re the only country on earth where you could be at level 1 on a Thursday, then get a call from your agent on Friday and move all the way up to level 5, but then still kinda worry about level 2, blah, blah, blah.

Not gonna lie. It was good.

Then, I tied that in to the conversations I’ve been having with my black friends and how they’ve been feeling about level 4 and how we’ve talked about truly being seen and heard and how they’ve told me that someone saying “they don’t see color” feels like they’re saying they don’t actually see them.

And then I wrote this cute little blurb about how I was a middle-aged, pasty white guy, with splotchy skin, grey hair and a dad bod and if you didn’t want to see that when you looked at me, that would be just fine.

I crack myself up.

I did this whole thing about how I support (and have always supported) putting away the Confederate flag.

I did a thing about how I support saying black lives matter. Period. Because it makes black people feel not seen when you come back with, “no, ALL lives matter.”

And maybe the breakdown in the conversation was that a lot of people have wondered, “who in the name of God ever said black lives didn’t matter in the first place? The whole concept of someone not mattering because of their skin color is so perverse, I don’t even want to consider that thought,” and that’s what the whole “black lives matter – wait, JUST black lives matter? of course not – all lives matter – so you’re saying ALL lives matter? NO! Black lives matter …” eye-rolling political “who’s on first” routine is all about.

Again…I’m a funny guy.

In that blog, I went through an average day of mine, which basically consists of being a care-giver for someone with a severe disability, maybe going to the grocery store, trying to get a workout in, trying to write something that will earn some money, and watching TV with my wife at night. Then, doing it all again the next morning.

And I asked the question: what part of that day was systemically racist?

I had to conclude that on the surface, at least, none of it was. But what about beneath the surface?

Did I have my house because I was white? Did I live in the part of town I live in because I was white?

If I had been born in a predominantly black culture, would anyone had even liked my music enough to provide me enough money to get out of poverty? (which is how I got out, by the way – it’s also how I got back in – but I digress …)

These are questions worth pondering. But they’re really difficult to answer, because there’s so much nuance and complication involved. It’s not all black and white…literally.

And that’s the way it is for most people who participate in the American system…no matter what they look like.

When I see most Americans, I see people – of ALL races and nationalities – trying to work to provide for a family, trying to do better, trying to get something right, trying to obey the laws, trying to chase an opportunity or a dream, trying to get through life without rolling down the hill backwards.

Are there racists involved in all of that? Sure.

But as I watch what’s happening right now: as city blocks, in major American cities, are being seized and re-organized (to what? I don’t know), as I watch entire police precincts surrender and go home, as I watch city councils all over America actually convene about dismantling their police departments (it’s actually happening in my town), and as I watch young, militant white kids killing people and burning things to the ground, I start to wonder if maybe none of this was about racial reconciliation in the first place.

All the big flash points in our society: racial protests, #metoo marches, climate change warriors, and even Covid 19 mavens, seem to end up being hijacked by the same people who always come to the same conclusion: tear down the whole system.

It’s like these causes are just the horses the real revolution rides in on. And it’s staring to feel like it’s not a coincidence.

While we’re having our “real talk” and “examining our hearts” and preparing our “reconciliation sermons” and bowing and apologizing and posting mic drop memes and making sure we check all the right outrage boxes, and while Lady Antebellum is changing their name (I never understood why two dudes were in a band called “Lady Before the War” anyway – but whatever), those who are driving the real agenda are using all of this stuff to distract us while they work to eliminate the actual system itself.

They’ve been gas lighting us…ALL of us…black and white, alike.  And we’ve been twisting and turning, throwing our backs out trying to figure out what we did wrong or how we’ve been wronged and how we can fix it. Meanwhile, something else was happening we haven’t been paying attention to.

Look, I get it. If you think the system doesn’t work for you, you want to kill it and start all over again. I guess that’s what America did in 1776.

But remember this: if you destroy a system, you’d best be ready to replace it with a better one. That’s also what America did.

The dismantling of police departments might feel good in the moment. But the domino effect is this:

You leave the population questioning basic safety (number 2 on their hierarchy of needs). And that makes them not want to send their kids to school in those areas or start businesses in those areas, and finally they move from those areas.

And that drives property values down.

And that creates a strain on banks and lending institutions.

And if enough strain is placed on them, they go under and cease to exist.

And one by one, every enterprise, on every city block, has to shut the door for the last time.

Entire areas of town just board up and stop operating.

Pretty soon you can buy a house for $500 bucks, but you won’t want to because there’s nothing there.

And when the people who want to “revitalize” that part of the country or city show back up, they’re going to have to start with an operational police force, because…basic safety (number 2 on the hierarchy of needs).

Unless you’ve got a real plan to replace that intricate system you just destroyed, with a better one, you’re just a rebel without a Declaration.

I’m all in on racial reconciliation. I always have been. I’m ready for ALL people to achieve level 4 on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (being seen and heard). I always have been.

But the American system is a good one. It’s the best one ever put together in the history of the world. It’s a system that can be tweaked and re-shaped and amended and revised. And it has been.

I don’t know where all this ends, but at the moment I’m not sure what to do or what to say.

Like a lot of people, I’m paralyzed by not wanting to offend and not wanting to get cancelled and, quite honestly, sometimes not even wanting to exist. Because just existing in today’s world – especially in this splotchy skin – carries with it all these weird undertones I can’t seem to keep up with.

I’m just a dude trying to get to Friday. That’s what most of us are. I don’t know how to do that at the moment without triggering somebody, somewhere.

But I am a willing and unapologetic participant in the American experiment and fully committed to a system that I actually believe can work for anybody and everybody.

The tricky part is that it is managed and operated by human beings. And that makes anything imperfect.

For those who want to tear it all down, just remember that when you build your new society.

R

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PROMISE KEEPERS …

I don’t march.

I hate crowds. I hate heat. I hate chanting things. I hate carrying signs. I’m not all that fond of people, in general. And it all feels so pointless to me. I’m not sure, in my lifetime anyway, what in the world has ever been changed by a march.

The only way marches have any sort of impact is if they are led by charismatic leaders who give important speeches, with memorable words and powerful ideas at those marches. Or if there is some specific legislation that is being asked for, that gets voted on, passed and signed.

Otherwise, it’s just a bunch of people showing a bunch of other people how they feel about something.

Isn’t that what we do on Facebook every single day, anyway?

The only time I was asked point-blank to attend a march was about 22 years ago. My father organized a Nashville based contingent to go to Washington D.C and participate in the Promise Keepers march.

I love my father and I was very close to saying yes to him…ONLY because it was him asking me. But then, once he explained to me that they were driving up in a van and sleeping in sleeping bags in a church, I was pretty much out.

I did enough of that when I was a kid to spread the experiences around to several other people. So it was going to be a hard pass from me.

But beyond that surface stuff, I just kept asking myself why people were doing this. Why do you need to march on Washington D.C to keep your promises to your wife? It really bothered me.

So, I asked my dad, “Dad, does it matter to you if I march as long as I keep my promises?”

He shook his head and laughed, “No, son. It doesn’t matter to me.”

So, I stayed home and kept my promises, while the other 22 guys sweated it out in a van and slept on the floor of a church…then marched around in circles declaring their intentions to keep some promises or whatever.

I spoke to my father last night and asked him how many of those guys are still married.

As it turns out, about half of them are divorced, now.

The march couldn’t make it last. Because marches don’t do that. They make you feel like you’re changing the world, in that moment. But what’s actually happening is you’re getting some sort of adrenaline rush or endorphin high from being around the crowd of people chanting and singing and doing whatever.

It’s the same thing that happens at a stadium concert or what happened at Woodstock or what happens in a mega-church worship session.

Crowds moving toward a common goal release all these hormones in people and make them feel a certain kind of euphoria. And if the context is hoping you change something, then you’ll feel like you’re changing something. But you aren’t. You’re just feeling really good.

Real change is hard and it’s a process that must be worked in private moments, when no one else is looking. Not in public moments when nothing is really on the line.

I’m old enough now to have seen this cycle of whatever you want to call it, happen several times in America: something bad happens to a black person – someone gets it on camera or tape – it illicits outrage – people take to the streets – then someone takes it too far – more people die and more property is damaged – a bunch of politicians jump on the bandwagon and come up with a catch phrase or hashtag or red ribbon or whatever – then come the benefit concerts and telethons where everyone gets to virtue signal so much you can light Vegas with it – then someone writes a song (yuk) – then it gets a moment of silence on the Oscars – then the next crisis that must be attended to right now shows up on the 24-hour news cycle. By the time Chris Rock is making jokes about it on an HBO special, we’re done for a few years.

Does anything really ever change? Not really. And if it does, it’s probably not because of anything that happens in any part of the cycle above.

Real change happens when one person decides to break out of their comfort zone and go on an uncomfortable journey. When they face things they never wanted to face and ask questions they never wanted to ask and make decisions that are hard to make…only then does the earth move beneath our feet.

I never went to a Promise Keepers meeting or march or rally or whatever. But I’ve been married almost 29 years. And some days it sucks. And a lot of days it’s just a day. And some days it’s awesome. But everyday it’s a choice. Do I pack up the Mustang and check out? Or do I pull myself together, hug my kids, take the dog for a walk, punch the heavy bag a little, and walk back in that house and face whatever we’re going through together – together?

The answer to that question is where change happens. It’s where promises are kept. It’s where hours turn into days and days turn into months and months turn into years and years turn into a life and life turns into a legacy.

Our problems with race in this country have never been (and never will be) solved with marches and protests and riots. They will only be solved by people doing the hard work of the day-in-and-day-out. They will be solved by tiny, difficult choices that are almost too small to see in the moment but huge in the scheme of things.

Sting wrote, “men go crazy in congregations but they only get better one by one …”

I think that’s just about right.

Yesterday, I was supposed to not post on Facebook to stand in solidarity against racism. So I didn’t. But then I kept seeing these profile pictures of just black and I realized I didn’t do something right. By the time my wife and I talked about it and figured out we hadn’t changed our profile to black, it was over. Then I saw where some people were posting that Black Lives Matter. Then others say ALL lives matter. Then blue lives matter.

It’s literally the worst game of political “who’s on first?” we’ve ever played in this country. And honestly, I can’t keep up with all the virtue signaling I’m supposed to be doing, how I’m supposed to do it, and who I’m supposed to aim it toward.

We’ve had about enough symbolism in this country. It’s time to do the hard work. Or 20 years from now, we’ll be back in this same cycle, doing all of this nonsense again.

And a lot of people who had every intention of keeping their promises will be divorced.

R

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DONE …

Okay, so I’m officially done with being told where I can go and how many people I can go with.

I’m officially done being told I can go to Wal Mart but not to church.

No more “I’m a nurse, so …” posts or “You’re not wearing the mask to protect YOU, you’re wearing it to protect ME,” or “The church needs to show the world TRUE compassion by protecting its most vulnerable,” or “our grandparents went to war. All you have to do is stay home and watch Netflix…” memes allowed.

I’m officially done with HCQ study links and “If you think this is like the Flu, you’re an idiot,” links, and “There’s just no way we will ever be back to normal until we all get vaccinated,” links.

I’m done with comments threads that drag on and on about mask wearing and how it works in Japan because they’re just a more civilized society than we are and if wearing a mask bothers you, you’re part of the problem, blah blah blah.

I’m done with people parsing out every single word uttered in the air that might question something scientific or raise a medical concern about an unintended consequence of an extended lockdown.

I’m officially done with simply bringing up the fact that suicide rates are skyrocketing and every hack/wannabe comedian in cyber world making that same dumbass joke about hoping they don’t “catch the suicide.” Yes – we get it. It’s not an infectious disease. ROFLMAO

I’m officially done with social distancing. I’ll stand as close to you as I have to, to get to the string cheese. And I’ll walk any direction I damn well need to, to get down the aisle to the maple syrup. Sorry, grocery store. I don’t read your little traffic rules anymore – not now.

I’m officially done listening to commercials that start with the phrase, “In this difficult time …” If you want to sell me something, you’d better cut together a better ad LITERALLY as I’m typing this. Because I will turn your ass off immediately if you try to drag me back into that bullshit mindset.

All you late night talk show guys – go back to work. Get the audience in there. I’m tired of watching you act “just like us,” in your professionally decorated living rooms, with your shiny faces, tousled mane and unkept beard. Get in the hair and makeup chair, put on a damn suit, walk to your mark and do your job with all the dedication of an Amazon delivery driver.

I’m officially done washing my hands 20 times a day until they’re red and chafed.

I’m officially done sitting around my house, binge watching shit I didn’t want to watch the first time.

I’m done. Just. Done.

My quarantine ended the minute my Mayor (and several around the country) not only allowed, but INVITED AND ENCOURAGED people to attend a mass rally.

As of Saturday, May 30th, I’m done with Covid…whether I am or not.

Let me say that I agree with having the national conversation about police brutality. I MORE than agree with bringing George Floyd’s killer to justice.

I’m all in on racial reconciliation.

I do not blame people for wanting to take to the streets and show their anger. I do not blame the protestors or even the rioters for what happened on the last weekend in May, 2020. I totally get it. And I support most of it (I never support the destruction of personal property).

But if you pen people up for months on end, constantly talking about how close to death they all are and how their family may die and posting death numbers hourly, THEN, after an emotionally charged, unjust event takes place and the whole world has been watching the video over and over again, because they’re holed up and have nothing else to do, you I.N.V.I.T.E them to a protest march, what in God’s name do you think is going to happen?!?!

If you allow a march to happen, in the midst of a global pandemic, you are either putting the protestors at extreme risk or you don’t really believe they were all that much at risk in the first place.

In either case, you’re not fit to lead.

As my city (Nashville) burns, I am genuinely concerned for the people who attended the march/protest/riot. There were more than a hundred thousand people down there, sweating on each other and breathing on each other and yelling and sneezing and coughing and doing all the stuff nobody is supposed to be doing right now.

I’m sure the masks caught everything. (insert eye roll here)

And yes, I know people have been protesting the lockdown in other parts of the country. And I’m not taking their side over the side of people protesting racial grievance. Racial grievance trumps protesting the wearing of a stupid mask any day of the week. It’s not about that.

It’s about this: one group of protestors gathered organically and against the advice and allowance of the government. Fine. They’re pissed. Whatever. But they were not sanctioned to do what they did. It was frowned upon. And they sure as hell weren’t invited to do it.

The official positions – BY THE GOVERNMENT – were that these people were engaging in dangerous behavior and should go home and “stay in place.”

Fine. It’s a virus. Okay.

But the rally in Nashville (and many other places), on May 30th, was not only sanctioned by our Mayor but encouraged by our Mayor. He was even in attendance. That happened several places in the country. And hey, that is totally fine with me. I’m all for civil disobedience. These folks have a legitimate grievance. I might’ve been down there myself if I hadn’t been told to stay away from crowds of over 25 people.

If this rally was actually going to put people in danger, then the Mayor should’ve, at the very least, said that people could only attend at their own risk but that it was not recommended by his administration or the city. At the most, he should’ve issued an order to disburse and released a public statement that supported the spirit of the protest but in the interest of public safety strongly advised that all citizens stay home and safe.

But that’s not what he did. That’s not what anybody did.

The hierarchy of political expediency got the best of everyone in power and they just couldn’t resist the opportunity to grandstand and prove they aren’t a racist – all in one weekend. And they just abandoned the whole Covid narrative and protocol altogether.

I guess black lives only matter up until the point where you’re willing to sacrifice their safety to assuage their grief and fuel their anger.

If you are in a government leadership position and you encouraged a public march on the 30th of May, and in 10-14 days people start coming down with this virus again and dying, then you have just opened your city up to the mother of all lawsuits. And you might even be responsible for some deaths.

OR, if in 10-14 days, a bunch of people don’t get this virus or they get the sniffles or they feel a little achy and run down…then forget about it and go back to work, then you have drug us through what-ever-the-hell-this-was, as well as participating in the systematic dismantling of the greatest economy in human history…for nothing.

If the virus was going to be a deadly threat throughout the summer, before George Floyd was murdered, that means it was a deadly threat on May 30th – AT the marches, all over the country.

The good (OR bad) news is, we’ll know in a couple of weeks just how infectious it is. Either way, if you are a Mayor or Governor who encouraged this, resign. Because you suck as a leader. You either put people in extreme danger or you forced them out of work and into near insanity with an unnecessary, draconian lockdown.

Go do something else. Public service isn’t for you.

Who knows? I may die of Covid, now. But if I do, it will officially be on my own terms.

I’m done being told to be scared and how to live. If I can riot, I can worship. If I can march shoulder-to-shoulder with people in the streets, I can eat and shop and go to a movie shoulder-to-shoulder with them. If I can lock arms with fellow protestors in solidarity, then I can watch my daughter and her friends graduate from high school.

If the government won’t step in to protect people who are legitimately angry, but may need to stay home for the safety of all, then it’s just wielding power over those who will consent.

I no longer consent.

R

 

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THE FIGHT OR THE WIN …

I don’t want to write about this.

Even as I type, there’s this weird feeling in the pit of my stomach. It’s the feeling of imminent dread; like I know I’m about to be sent to the principal’s office, no matter what I say or how I word it.

I know  – even before I finish writing this – that I won’t put something the right way or I won’t actually think about something the way I should think about it or I will have a blind spot somewhere. I am told this all the time – literally every hour of every day. So I know it will be true. And I’m giving you fair warning for the rest of whatever this is.

Honestly, I’d rather just let it go and move on. But I’ve been told in no uncertain terms that silence is “noticeable and deafening.” So I feel compelled to say something. And we have to start being honest with each other.

So, I take a breath, and here goes …

I don’t post videos on my Facebook page, of any sort of “breaking news” story. It is my personal opinion that that is how incomplete information spreads too easily on social media.

So, you’re welcome to scroll through my wall and try to find any Coronoa Virus conspiracy videos or Nick Sandeman videos, or Jusse Smollette videos or anything that looks like it was shot on an iPhone, that isn’t me or directly related to me, or isn’t something funny and/or silly.

I just don’t participate in immediate outrage about anything.

It’s always my policy to wait and watch and listen and consider before I post. It is my personal experience that when I violate that policy, I often end up regretting it. And nobody wants to be wrong. Maybe that is one of the biggest problems we have.

Anyway …

I saw just enough of the George Floyd video to know I was watching a murder. And I just had no words. And yet I still didn’t post the video. And I don’t know if that was a right or wrong decision. I have a lot of kids who follow me. I like to keep it light and funny. I save the heavy stuff for my blog.

So here we are …

But all my black friends posted it immediately. They were (and are) in a state of almost inconsolability. And as a white man, I honestly don’t know what to say to them. What can you say?

You can post the obligatory, “THIS HAS TO STOP!” thing…in all caps…you know, to make sure everybody knows exactly where you stand on racism.

You can post the long, meandering, run-on paragraph indictment of America that will hopefully inoculate you as a white person from any culpability associated with the death of an innocent person.

You can go the other way and dig your heels into the “this doesn’t represent all cops” narrative or even the “what about that video of the white guy in Kansas that got the same treatment by the cops – why isn’t THAT getting any press coverage” route.

You can post some extremely crass meme of football players taking a knee right next to the cop with his knee on George Floyd’s neck, with a caption that reads, “THIS is why they took a knee” or some other horribly opportunist quip. Dear lord …

You can blame this on Trump by trying to place that cop at one of his rallies. Or you can try to blame this on liberals and their policies. After all this IS Minnesota: bastion of liberalism and the only state Ronald Reagan didn’t carry – not the deep south.

I’ve seen all of that come up on my feed, and none of it solves anything. None of it moves anyone toward anything. None of it changes how we write the story going forward. None of it changes me. None of it changes you.

I’m not much of a spiritual or intellectual leader in my house. I stopped being able to teach my son anything when he turned 9. He teaches me, now. I usually just trying to get through the day without anybody dying or breaking anything. But occasionally I do come up with something usable.

And I have developed a question I ask all of us, as a family, whenever we are faced with any issue: do we want to fight or do we want to win?

What that means is, we can argue about something and explain our positions to each other and make our cases and retreat to our corners and insist that we’re right about whatever we’re discussing, OR we can find a solution to the problem at hand.

An example might be if the cable goes out. We can all fight about why it’s out. We can blame each other for someone not paying the bill or allowing something to lapse. We can do this all day and all night. Or we can win; we can work the problem and get to the bottom of it and get the cable back on.

If we do that, one of us might have to realize we were wrong about something in the process. But the others have to show mercy. One of us may have been right – but the cable company may not have been on the same page as us. And we then have to show mercy to them. Everyone may be right and the weather might have knocked the cable out. Then, we ALL have to accept the thing we cannot change.

Obviously the cable going out in our house is an insignificant thing. It means nothing in comparison to someone losing their life.

But I believe the concept can be applied to how we all deal with each other in the wake of something horrific. We can decide to either fight or win. And deciding to win might look different than fighting. After all, we’ve been fighting for hundreds of years.

I know I’ve already screwed this up, and will be destroyed in comments threads all over the country, but I’m going to keep going …

I didn’t know anything about people with special needs until I was raising one. I used to use the word “retard” with regularity. I thought nothing of it. I certainly didn’t want to harm anyone with a disability…but I didn’t necessarily want to hang out with them either.

You see, I didn’t think of myself as a prejudiced person toward the disabled. But I was. I just didn’t know it. But that didn’t mean I was evil toward them. I wasn’t. And when I had to walk through all the dark corridors you walk through as the caregiver to someone with a disability, I did it…and I learned…and I took on the burdens. And I changed a lot of my thinking and a hell of a lot of how I interact with the world.

I’m pushing my word count at this very moment because instead of writing “a disabled person” I wrote “a person with a disability.” Do you know why I did that? Because in the special needs community, we practice something called “people first” language.

It’s a subtle thing and it seems trivial to to some, but it means we don’t refer to that person as “disabled” first. We refer to them as a person first – followed by their particular challenge. No one is “Autistic.” They are a person first…who has Autism.

Johnny isn’t Autistic. Johnny is Johnny…who happens to have Autism.

I’ll bet most of you reading this didn’t know that. But I forgive you for not knowing. How could you know? I had to learn the hard way, by being berated by a few caregiver moms. I still get the occasional verbal beating for continuing to call my daughter “The Angel.” But I still think she is an angel. I’m working on myself and still need grace. But I digress …

Instead of fighting you over it and catching you saying it, then dropping the mic on you in an internet fight, let’s win this little battle of language a different way: let me just help you understand.

I’m not better than you. I’m not more educated than you. I’m just walking a different path than you and maybe I can show you some things I deal with on my journey.

There’s a 65% molestation rate among people with disabilities. My wife and I fear this all the time for our non-verbal daughter. But whenever we see some video of a child with Autism (not an “Autistic child”) getting locked in a closet or beaten by a babysitter when the parents leave, or forced to do something at school that triggers their sensory issues, we don’t lash out at everyone in the caregiving community.

We decide to win instead of fighting.

We make closer connections to our daughter’s teachers and caregivers. We say things more directly and less passive/aggressively to those who deal with her. We make it our business to vet (as much as possible) everyone who touches her throughout the day. And we befriend them. We don’t take adversarial stances when it isn’t warranted. We are on their side. In other words, we’re not looking for a fight. We’re looking for a win.

How do we apply a thing like this to our racial issues in the country? Again, I’m a white man and don’t pretend to have answers for any of us. But maybe if George Floyd had been seen as “person” first and “black” second, he’d still be alive. Maybe not. Maybe that cop was going to kill someone that day, regardless.

Maybe it could’ve just as easily been a white man with Autism, or an Asian kid with Down Syndrome. This is where the “fight” gets confusing …

But I would say that we as white people could start by befriending people of color. If you don’t have any black friends it’s hard to see things from their perspective. I often see posts from white friends of mine, straining everything within them to convey how “non-racist” they are, but I know for a fact that they wouldn’t feel comfortable in a room full of dark skin.

It doesn’t make them racists. It just makes them blind to certain things. And if you wouldn’t be comfortable in a room full of dark skin, imagine how people with dark skin feel most of the time in America. They are forced – just by numbers – to constantly be in rooms full of people who don’t look like them.

When they see videos of George Floyd, it’s very hard for them to put all of it in some dispassionate perspective and move on. They see their sons and daughters. They see what appears to be the cover coming off all the true covered up racism…whether that’s what it is or not.

The “whatabouts” and “yeah, buts” and “ALL lives matter” rebuttals don’t help. That’s a fight. Not a win. Maybe listening and hearing and seeing should come first, before the reactions.    

For the people of color, maybe they could understand that disrespecting the flag and the anthem and all that sacred, ingrained stuff a lot of Americans hold dear, doesn’t help to get anyone to see things from your perspective.

I just watched another History Channel special on the Civil War and was again stunned by the sheer numbers of men who died in it. At least half of those deaths were laid on the alter of freedom; freedom for people of color. And that’s what all those silly American traditions represent to so many of us.

They represent a country willing to turn itself inside out to help the least of us. They represent people willing to give up their lives for the lives of those they will never meet.

I would personally like to think the country is on the side of your freedom and security and health and well-being. And when it’s not, that is the exception – not the rule.

I would like to think we could get a win with that approach and not just a fight.

For most of us, we don’t really know what to do about a situation like George Floyd. Not really. Words are cheap in the face of a murder.

I can say that I want to scream at people who look like me, who are heading toward that dark place of wanting to harm someone based on their race, “STOP IT! JUST STOP IT! WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU!?!?”

And I do that when I see it. But it doesn’t bring George Floyd back, and sadly, it doesn’t seem to stop the next video from surfacing that I cannot explain and feel instantly guilty for. And I’m just so weary of it.

And I know my black friends are more weary than I could ever imagine.

I’ve watched both conservative and progressive friends, alike, show the same moral outrage over this incident. And maybe that’s moving in the right direction.

But I fear it won’t be long before we descent into the, “If you voted for this or that candidate, YOU are just as guilty as the cop,” posts.

“Blood on your hands” shaming is a great political tool and it never seems to go out of style.

And that will be followed by the “what about YOUR candidate who supported this or that?!?! Now YOU’VE got blood on YOUR hands!”

And there will be more kneeling. And more defiant standing. And more outrage over the kneeling and more outrage over the not kneeling. And more outrage over the outrage. And more outrage over the outrage over the outrage.

We’ve gotten very good at picking the fight.

But I’m not sure any of it ever gets us a win.

George Floyd deserved a win.

               

R

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