Category Archives: Politics

May You Never…

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May you never…

I wrote this for a friend, who like so many of us, struggles with those who voluntarily and contrarily reside in a harsher world than we do. My apologies for the tone. I wrote it in one sitting, with my mind wide open.

1) Never tell someone that they weren’t bullied or that they are blowing it out of proportion. Fear sits in an invisible nest and those who inflict it often hide behind a smile and perfect teeth. Failure to protect those who need it is a hallmark of pathology.

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2) Never tell someone that they weren’t sexually harassed or that most of the cases are blown out of proportion. It is incredible how many people have been abused or harassed and have never spoken of it.

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3) Never tell a person sitting in a wheelchair or dealing with a disability that he or she has ignorant ideas about disability or how society can make their lives easier. We can endure a little discomfort if it makes another person’s life more manageable and dignified. In a rich society, we can also certainly afford a few dollars to magnify everyone’s ability to live a fuller life. Most of us sit in confusion as we hear people argue against such a fundamental idea.

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4) Never attempt to tell a black person that slavery had its benefits, about the ‘real’ reasons the Civil War was fought – or that there are no lingering, pervasive effects of discrimination in modern society.

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5) Never forget that many people endure hardship, suffering, and loss through no fault of their own. If you’re sitting in a house with granite countertops and most of the people surrounding you are similar to you in demographics, take a moment to give thanks rather than drag out the clich├ęd argument of merit or hard work. Many people do everything right and still suffer. If you are reading these words and think that just because you have granite countertops, that I’m referring to you, you are missing the point entirely. If you worked hard to get where you are, all good people will be glad for you. Your success is not the issue.

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6) Never insist that a person chooses their sexuality. I didn’t choose mine. Did you? If this kind of issue is important to you, attacking a person for being gay is exactly the same mentality that allowed blacks to be bought and sold, attacked, and vilified. The greater your reluctance to accept this as true is inversely proportional to how likely it is that you didn’t learn this prejudice – you acquired it.

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7) Never make an argument that a woman can’t or shouldn’t hold any position, office or authority that a man can. All qualifications exist independently of the letter on a birth certificate and should be judged accordingly.

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8) Never forget that being right will not make your life easier if you are shouting it with a snarled lip or with a repetitious and malignant tone. Preach through practice and let your life shine as an undeniable example.

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9) Never overlook that all human beings burn with the certainty that they have the right interpretation of religion. Most have become adept at citations, justifications, and all manner of argument to buttress the beliefs they hold. Most good people know that “Be kind” and “Do as little harm as possible” are key components of any religion and yet we violate these basic ideas from fear and pride. Religion which demands that we attack that of another fails to see the seed of its own demise.

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10) Never stop reminding yourself that although we may have perfected some small part of our lives or society as a whole, there will always be major roadblocks and setbacks. We are all going to encounter people who are fearful or looking back to the past as their anchor. We blind ourselves to our own ignorance and perpetuate the cycle by making decisions in society which veer us off course.

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Be who you are and live a good life in the best way you can.

If you feel like you need to shout in the face of disagreement, stop and consider.

If you feel the need to silence words which conflict with your own, pause.

Above religion, race, sex, creed or geography, fight for the side in which the lesser needs a hand.

 

All Hat in Springdale

I voted in the Springdale special election today. This city has impressed me beyond reproach. It’s a place with problems but what a delight to see it step away from the shadow of what it once was – and also attempt to navigate the shifting demographics of who lives here.

The dynamic of “what once was” versus what the city is becoming is a fascinating and uneasy study in politics and economics.

All I could think of was Ray Dotson’s hat as I voted “Approve” for each item on the ballot. No offense to Ray or his hat but symbolism plays a role, often at the expense of the person attempting to mold it to his or her end. In Springdale, we are a cowboy hat, sombrero, and zories. We’re not one or the other because we’re learning that we don’t have to choose one to the detriment of the others.

Listening to some Springdale residents reminded me that many weren’t going to vote based on a shared reality of progress. As much as I would have loved to sit on the couch, it seemed wise to venture out and let Springdale know that even though I don’t endorse everything happening, I can’t criticize what’s been done in the last few years, by those doing the mundane work, day after day.

I relish the opportunity to criticize, but voting “Yes” was a “thank you,” from someone who seldom sees the direct impact of my vote.

I’m hoping I wake up tomorrow to a city whose vote reflects the shift in the last decade.

The Friendly Racist On Social Media

Because I’ve wearied of both trying to shorten this post and get it right, I’m going to do what I often do: put it out there and let anyone who finds anything of value read it. Others will snipe it, and perhaps rightly so.

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I have a smiling friend from high school on social media who posts only clever anecdotes and innocent life commentaries on his own social media… Behind the curtain, though, I see his handiwork of prejudice and harm. Most of the time, he’s subtle, cleverly ensuring his remarks don’t go wide. The time I spent learning to follow the breadcrumbs with FOIA requests and ancestry leads me to the clues he’s left behind. Although he’s clever, he’s not patient. His impatience and intolerance draw him into diatribes he might otherwise avoid. I don’t actively follow his lashings. The news tends to draw him out, especially as tempers flare. It’s a sceanario I’ve seen play out a dozen times this past year.

Especially over the last year, I’ve had friends get caught in the crosshairs by “Robert,” as I’ll call him. They’ll struggle to understand why he’s turned on them or chosen them to blast, all the while keeping his own page clean of controversy. If they attempt commentary on his social media, he immediately lashes out at them for being childish or failing to understand the etiquette of social media. Robert is not the only one – there have been many. Once I explain to my friends that Robert’s goal is simple intimidation and to delete his comments, ignore him, or adopt his tactics back at him, most trollish behavior fades and they move along to new victims to intimidate. Weirdly enough, almost all of these people are white males and members of what I term the “Black Sock Mafia.”

Robert keeps his own space free of controversy and lashes out at anyone who brings up anything controversial, even if he first introduces an implied bit of hate. He visits other people’s spaces, though, and lectures all of them about how wrong they are, their ignorance, and how as a rich white man things have become really tough for him in this modern climate of minority over-sensitivity. Because his ego and identity are secret and invested in something he can’t easily admit in public, he faithfully learns the code and lingo of those who possess intellect and free time afforded by a privileged life. His words become his dagger and he jabs frequently, assuming no one is following his trail. He’s wrong. He’ll drop the veneer if he’s talking to people one-on-one and assumes they share his closeted prejudices. He will take a moment sometimes to bash those who use social media to discuss controversial topics; yet, paradoxically, he will visit other pages and relentlessly hammer the person on their personal space. He’s also one of those who visit news sites and groups to spew his fervent brand of prejudice.

Most such people who comment angrily on their friend’s social media invariably do the same on fringe new sites or groups. They need an outlet, especially one in which like-minded people can slap one another on the back and egg on their imaginary quest to make the world look like the faces they see in the mirror. If you are methodical, you can find the crumbs of their visits and tally them up for an accounting.

Robert and I share a friend I’ve known most of my life. Our mutual friend is oblivious to the racism in the heart of my high school social media friend. It seemed like the prejudice would be obvious to anyone observant but I’ve found this to be untrue for many social media users. One of these days, Robert will be in one of those instances like the tiki marchers in Charlottesville; it’s inevitable as he seethes in discomfort at being told “you’re wrong” by those around him, even if many don’t know or pretend to not know how deep his hatred goes.

So I wait, knowing that the backlash against racists and ignorance has him fuming. As many of us know, most racists have convinced themselves of their own practical prejudice; their prejudice is rooted in reality, or so they believe. Their fervor will eventually boil over.

I take note of instance after instance of those times when he simply cannot resist the temptation to insist that racism isn’t real and that minorities are their own worst enemy. He circumspectly runs across the line implying that other religions are somehow the center of a monetary conspiracy. Innuendo is his most frequent ammunition. It’s rare to find a case wherein a racist holds no beliefs regarding the other usual suspects in the minds of prejudice.

He would never pick up a tiki torch and march with those who proudly identify themselves as known racists. His brand is more insidious. He won’t hire minorities unless he must and he subtly steers claims of such prejudice back toward those questioning his increasingly visible motives. Any opportunity he can seize to belittle anyone of color is his for the taking.

The next-to-last paragraph was added after Charlottesville. The rest was a post I’ve rewritten a few times. I was right. Once the events of the weekned subsided, I saw that Robert couldn’t help himself. His anger became a fire that he insisted on unleashing. His racist brethren, albeit of a lesser intellectual stripe, had been revealed as debased human beings and his wrath became unleashed. But his own social media? Only rainbows, talks of wife and family, and details of his life, all presented in a new row of deceit.

Over the last year as Trump’s ascendency became pronounced, I’ve outed many racists to mutual social media users. They display the symptoms of being gaslighted – but once I let them in on the secret of the person accosting them, they are thankful and can sometimes even laught about it.

Knowing a person is racist is different than suspecting such a thing to be true. The label, once proven, grants us power over the racist. I almost always tell people of my discoveries privately because it’s no use starting a word war that will only escalate. People learn at their own pace if they ever learn at all. A very intelligent racist tends to have a long memory for grudges, too. I usually start by asking my friends if they generally trust their instincts about people. (Each of us sometimes speaks lazily or crosses a line – these instances don’t count as evidence of prejudice if they are singular or negligent in tenor.)

After observing people like Robert punch at a social media friend, I reach out and subtly point out that they are being gaslighted or treated like a lesser person. I use the list of logic defects to specify how they are being mistreated. Finally, I point out issues of common courtesy and respect. Most people get the message after a few such encounters and up their deamnds for the closet racist to go away if he can’t behave. There’s a ball of fire and smoke before people like Robert walk away. They need people to know that they have been wronged. Despite their constant nagging about victim behavior, they’ll play all the cards before finally shutting up.

If you have social media friends who do this to you, don’t ignore your instincts. You’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg. We let these things pass out of courtesy, usually avoiding the reality that our collective pass at calling them out is only worsening the soundtrack of prejudice in their head.

 

Yet Another Take On “Leave If You Don’t Like It…”

It’s disappointing to see those who believe their claim to action bears more merit than those who arrived a year ago, either from New York or Somalia. The time your feet have graced a particular plot of land does not constitute a greater constitutional right to one’s opinion or the exercise thereof.

You have seen the rants, the ones telling us who disagree with their heritage arguments to get out of their country as if their claim to these lands is greater than that of other people with whom they disagree. It’s such an over-the-top denial of how democracy works in this country. It’s also an unwise way to live one’s life.

All such irrational demands are directed at minorities or at least the minority opinion. This is doubly dangerous because only resistance to the status quo has ever resulted in progress or improvement in our overall human condition. We don’t advance through universal agreement. Only rigorous and constant challenge has ever yielded gains to all of us as a group. It’s the reverse of angrily storming out of a room in a rage because in this case, you are insisting that the person questioning a perceived wrong be ejected from the room.

You, of course, can blithely pretend that we all don’t play for the same team and that things we do or allow to continue have lasting effects on members of our team. Whether this team is a family, a town, a state a country, or a planet does not negate the fact that harm to any is harm to all.

Beware the danger of assuming your current status has anything to do with the superiority of your moral position or the rightness of insisting that things continue as they always have.

If you are part of the majority, a warning bell should sound in your conscience in those circumstances wherein a minority accused you as a group of insensitivity. Each of us, regardless of how we came here or when, have the right to the same seat at the table, without qualification. In a democracy, you must accept the pinch you might feel as newcomers come to expand your culture and heritage. It’s easy to accept the validity of another person’s viewpoint if they share your color, religion, and language.

It’s illogical and harmful to resort to a demand that other people either leave or leave the argument solely because it strikes you directly in your comfort zone. if nothing else, these United States are dedicated to the principle that all who come and participate have a voice. It is up to us collectively to change our minds as circumstances change. It’s important that one does not poke a finger in the eye of a group of people as they insist that their viewpoint is incorporated.

History is not as straight or logical as you would insist it to be. It is an error to presume that you understand history sufficiently enough to believe that human nature has shifted accordingly. When you find yourself in the majority preaching or insisting that a minority is imagining that racism, prejudice, or harm has befallen them, there’s a great danger that you fail to see what it evident to observers.

Lest we forget, Native Americans walked these lands for millennia before we came here. For whatever myriad reasons we eradicated them from these places. As modern Americans, we should not succumb to paralyzing guilt for what happened but we should feel accountable to honor and cherish the idea that we should never slide into a situation that in any way reflects what we did to our own indigenous people here in the United States. It is only because we are indeed capable of equal brutality that we must be vigilant to protect everyone in our society.

Those cherished things you feel so protective of, the ones erected to ‘honor’ those who fought on the wrong side of history, they are merely things. As a swastika evokes violent emotions in the hearts of Jews, so too can granite reminders inspire anger, shame, or degradation in some members of our society. It is quite unbecoming for the majority to deny that the minority experiences negative emotions in response to relics of our brutal past.

If enough people insist that we need to move forward, we owe to ourselves and them to be better human beings, even if we feel a pinch for doing so.

Confederate Stones, Withering Trees, and Change

Observing the long view of history and social forces:

“A city or town isn’t the past, who founded it, or who once lived here. It’s who is here now and the children they’ll have. Those who were here first have no greater say in its disposition than those who moved here to be one of us. It’s one of the most overlooked lessons of history. A family changes as it accepts new members and towns can be no different. Roots grow into trees and those trees must adapt to the changing environment or wither to become the firewood for those who need it.

You can fight change with all your vigor or you can understand that all things perish, even ones carved in immortal stone. The things that we hold dear are not things at all. They are flesh and blood, love and hope, compassion and intellect. Those things which do not advance us and bind us together must be willingly set aside in favor of the great invisible.

Nostalgia for the way things were is the most human of traits. But we must always remember that we share these fields and places with those who look upon us with new eyes. Even our children will one day peer back with wonder at the things we valued over one another as people. As we are renewed, so too must our attitudes flourish, blossom and envelop those who do not share our history and culture.”

Peace

Dinosaurians and Trump

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Many of us share moments, some sublime, some perplexing.

Recently, a respected member of the community invited me to his house for lunch and a bit of jawing. (I know what you’re thinking – he couldn’t be illustrious if he were having me over at his house unless a lost bet was involved.)

One of the great stories he told me was about one of his neighbors. My friend told me that this neighbor knew how to build a car from scratch, plumb a house, wire an entire building, and seemed to know a little about every subject on the planet. My friend had always thought of him as a very smart, capable person.

…Until one fateful day when his neighbor extemporaneously deviated off the normal course of conversation and insisted that the world was only a few thousand years old. My friend is an elder statesman with a wide education, has traveled all over the world, served in the military and worked in a career helping people his entire life – so he’s been around the widest assortment of humans you can imagine. To say that he was flummoxed insufficiently describes the shock of the revelation that his neighbor is a “Dinosaurian,” one of the people who ascribe to the variety of nonsense that humans roamed the earth with Dinosaurs or that the planet is actually very young. Most of the people who believe such things are religious fundamentalists, but some are simply like the Flat-Earthers, cherry-picking whatever conspiracy theory fits their ideas.

Afterward, it seemed as if everything were about his neighbor’s insistence that the planet wasn’t ancient. No matter what the subject might be, my friend either couldn’t get the nonsense of his neighbor’s belief out of his head or his neighbor, previously silent on the issue, seemed to harp on and on about nothing else, as if mentioning it just once opened an invisible floodgate to his nonsensical ideas.

My friend told me that story to underscore the continuing amazement he has toward those who chose Trump as their president- or who continue to defend his actions now that he’s assaulted facts, news organizations, religions, and rational public discourse. Keep in mind, my friend is decades older than me. He also voted Republican all his life, even though he was more progressive than the party itself. He, of course, didn’t vote for Trump in the last election. He couldn’t have imagined voting for Clinton, but he knew a vote for anyone but the major candidates was a vote for Trump, having lived through several election cycles which were disrupted by left-field contenders.

Until this election, he could imagine that the choice wasn’t so grotesque as to be an apocalyptic choice either way. When he thinks of intelligent people voting for Trump, he imagines an army comprised of people like his neighbor, snidely ignoring the mountain of evidence at their disposal. He knows that reason didn’t bring most of them to their decision, even though they’ll insist otherwise. He watches as those who should know better fan the flame of prejudice toward other religions, something he’s observed go terribly wrong in other places all over the world. He’s seen how effective such fear mongering can be in a population. Watching people lose their insurance in the midst of so much concentrated wealth also should be sending a red flag to those in power, in his opinion.

For my friend, he holds out hope that the younger generation will continue to advance the progress we’ve made as a society, one dedicated to helping one another; being smarter, more compassionate and better human beings. He knows that people who voted Trump are either a bump in the road and soon to be passed over by time – or the warning bell for civilized, rational society. He’s not at all confident that we won’t descend into authoritarianism or some hybrid religious state.

 

 

 

A Word About Polite Discussion

I intend to throw absolutely no shade with this post. My intent is to convey my thoughts, imperfectly and in a biased subjective manner….

When I see or hear “I remember when it was impolite to talk politics,” I almost always know deep in my bones that a well-off person is the one saying it, if only because people who are happy with their lot don’t want to hear a contrary opinion. As for the “I remember when” argument, many people remember when women didn’t have the right to vote or when some people were openly treated as lesser human beings. Pointing to the past isn’t a strong way to make one’s point.

Also, one of my favorite axes to grind is this: people rush to label topics as politics, sometimes casting the net so wide so as to include everything: birth control, religion, sexuality, education, healthcare, and just about anything else. In so doing, they attempt to skew or control the conversation. This is especially true when their own arguments aren’t defensible. Limiting the playing field to weaker points of view helps them to maintain their comfort level at the expense of someone else.

If a topic is important to you, discuss it, even when the comfort level of those listening isn’t immediately receptive. If you speak from an honest place, no one who loves you or appreciates your opinion is going to silence you -and if silence is demanded without reciprocal silence from the person objecting, you’ve been shown that your place is not one of mutual respect. Conversations don’t occur in a vacuum; people must choose to engage and to continue to respond for them to survive even a few moments.

I, of course, wouldn’t visit family or friends and insist on a specific topic of conversation, and probably wouldn’t even start it myself. But once broached, I would be less inclined to favorably respond to someone intervening with “Let’s avoid politics.”

Small talk is the glue which binds us socially, but it is the discussion of weightier issues which allows us to know one another. In the context of a group, the dynamic alters the content of what’s being said. Societal expectations change and with those changes comes a looser grasp on the fabric of what we talk about.

It is rarely the topic per se which ignites an argument or dispute. Rather, it is a person’s poor communication skills and their lack of tools with which to confront reasonable ways to interact with opposing or even repugnant ideas. So often, people make the mistake of equating disagreement with something to avoid at all costs. We are a world of billions of people. Disagreement is mandatory, even with those people who are closest to you.

No one should expect you to participate in a discussion if you aren’t comfortable. Most of us also won’t force a continued conversation if everyone isn’t participating. In those cases where it happens, though, please leave your privilege aside and instead of silencing the topic, step away and let those who are interested engage in a spirited discussion. Not all windmills call out your name.

Taking the argument to social media makes the issue even less troubling. Since each of us only has to scroll past to avoid discussions we don’t like, it is the ideal method to toss around political ideas. No one can be forced to engage, and each person can participate at the level they feel comfortable doing so. You have time to consider your responses and even double-check the content before you participate.

To be clear, though, much of the objection to politics (whatever that might be defined to be), is really just a disguised attempt to make some people feel comfortable. Many people despise the democracy of social media, as it puts others in a position to ‘see’ information and content they object to. People tend to walk and talk inside their own comfort zones. When exposed to other politics, religions, and culture, their defense mechanisms kick into gear and push them to look away.

Our conversations reflect what we are exposed to. Politics is simply a huge part of that. Politics isn’t the problem. It’s us, as we struggle to come to terms with both talking and listening.