Category Archives: Racism and Prejudice

A Christmas Parade With a Shadow

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We lined Emma Street last night, each of us impatiently waiting for the bright succession of floats, lights, and hurled candy to pass us by. It was a beautiful and unseasonably warm late November night. Northwest Arkansas’ largest lit Christmas tree came alive slightly before 6 as those in the parade made their way from the rodeo grounds down the revitalized path to downtown. The people involved in the downtown festivities did an incredible job of organizing the various activities. The Shiloh Square was a diverse mass of commerce, shouting, and smiling. With so many children present, it was no surprise to hear the word “No!” at least one million times.

Earlier yesterday, I heard the rumblings of resentment on social media, as people whispered against the Sons of The Confederacy participating in the parade. I limited my commentary to, “I hope people don’t do anything stupid. Or stupider.” As we all know, it’s become increasingly difficult to be civil at times. Given my background, I know how easy it is to make a situation worse, even if we are ‘right.’ No fire burns as brightly as one fueled by righteousness – and none singes with such wild abandon. In the end, it’s hard for us to believe that much of our complaining is no more than the proverbial ‘fart in a thunderstorm.’ I’m not judging the motivations of those objecting, either, because if we look at the actions of each person instead of as part of a collective, we can better determine the impact of something on our lives. Much of our issues stem from piling people into neat baskets. Even though I also know that screaming, shouting, or typing in all caps not only does not advance my argument but weakens it, like so many others, there are times when my brain short-circuits and leaves me incapable of persuasive disagreement.

If the Sons of the Confederacy is a relic, then so too are our family members who subscribe to supremacy and the arguments of heritage. It is often tone deafness amplified to a shout; out of place, out of time. Many are proud to be Southern and I find myself conflicted at times attempting the impossible task of distinguishing between prejudice and pride in others. In my case, I don’t feel Southern or even Arkansan. So much of our life is tribalism. We identify with the people, places, customs, collegiate sports teams, and religions of our geography. Allegiance to and defense of things which are unchosen lead us to strange destinations. I don’t subscribe to any of their memberships.

As someone who has done a lot of genealogy, I’ve discovered that many of us share a mass of common ancestors. One characteristic of those who preceded us is that they did a lot of vile, ignorant things, just as many of us do. I vainly try to read the hearts of those I know to circumspectly decide whether they glorify heritage or hate. I’m not impartial. Even as I hate to find myself judged, I judge others.

If I find myself unable to distinguish motive, I look to my own past and to my own father. His demons fueled a fury that left a wide path of pain behind him. If I cannot separate his humanity from his actions, I’m left with nothing except the certainty of destruction. It’s impossible to elevate him or honor him in the face of his actions. Other people in my situation find a way to love the person in their lives, my father’s equivalent. Some are able to do the same with our national disgrace of slavery and the institutions which furthered them. I don’t know how some people compartmentalize their adoration for Southern heritage without being derailed by what fueled it. I do know, however, that I am foolish if I paint all such people as having hate in their hearts. Just as they can embrace violent fathers or remain in churches which institutionalize abuse, they also embrace an imagined way of life without associating themselves with the violence of slavery. It perplexes me.

Having said that, I squint at public monuments which seemingly glorify our collective lesser nature and past. I distrust by default those who wave the Confederate flag. I wonder what motivates a group of people to build a float that will probably upset the very people who want to be entertained. Even as I do this, I know that I’m making the mistake of generalization when I judge everyone who disagrees. My privilege as a white male does not benefit me when I attempt to add my opinion to the pile. As such, I leave the heavy lifting to those who feel emboldened enough to protest or resist their presence. In short, I’m lazy. Especially of late, it is inevitable that most things will morph into shouting. A world in which the Confederacy is important is not my world. But neither is a world which mobilizes to shout back at those who find value in it. For those who truly feel the need to protest, my heart is with you. I hope you resist the visceral need to shout down those whose arguments are shaded with subtlety. People will say dumb things such as, “No one was offended,” as if they know your heart.

As we leaned against one of the restored buildings along Emma, I told my wife that a controversy was brewing and that I dreaded the inevitable brouhaha on social media. I knew that the next day would bring teeth gnashing and recrimination. I told her I was surprised that such a float would be included in the parade, but that it wasn’t a last-minute decision and that someone had hopefully taken a moment to consider the implications of its inclusion.

As the floats passed, the only misbehavior I noticed was that of several young misfits who were diligently and insistently attempting to make their mothers lose their minds. That a mother might actually smack a child was the most likely genesis of violence. The best float was the one celebrating the movie “Christmas Vacation.” Eddie drove by in a decrepit RV, tailpipe dragging on the pavement and ahead of him, a tree-laden (roots and all) station wagon adorned with a thousand lights.

As the parade ended, my wife and I cut through Spring Street, then on Johnson. The floats had looped around on Johnson after traversing Emma. I was carefully making my way along the edge of the road, watching the uneven ground carefully. “Merry Christmas” enthusiastically yelled a young blond-haired girl. I looked up as I bellowed, “You too!” The float behind her held two of the men dressed as Civil War soldiers. I waved and said, “Have a good night!” They both waved and said, “You too!” Both floats were part of the Sons of the Confederacy. I didn’t wave to endorse any hateful ideology. I waved because those were people and any meanness on my part would serve no purpose other than to solidify the presence of more discord. Time will hopefully do its job and convince people that such affiliation equally creates discord. I waved and greeted the other float participants, too, as each passed me. Especially Cousin Eddie in his RV.

The picture in this post is of one last night. I chose it because while it captures the beautiful lights carefully placed along Emma, it also captures an interloper passing through the frame. A shadow, one not participating, yet present. Whoever that shadowy person might have been, he or she represents the stain of controversy in an otherwise beautiful Christmas parade. Even as we enjoyed the goofy pleasures of a community parade, I knew the shadow would linger in the hearts of many. Many people worked hard for the night we all shared. It’s important that we take the shadow in its proper perspective yet also be grateful that the Springdale we now share is infinitely better than it once was. I truly believe that.

When I write, I lay out my deficiencies in concrete, leaving people to bring their own misconceptions and lives to the words I write. Unlike many, I have ideas which do not reside on permanent foundations; they shift as my understanding changes. In short, I am often wrong. Interacting with people changes me, especially those who temper their knowledge through a filter which demands that we often give one another a huge benefit of the doubt – and to be cautious when we attempt to read the hearts and minds of those around us.

I left with much to think about.

I left hoping that thinking itself would prevail over shouting in the next few days.

Behind me, the enormous lit Christmas tree filled our Springdale downtown with colorful lights. If the Spirit of Christmas is something worth aspiring to, I hope those lights somehow made their way into the hearts of those who share our community, no matter what their hearts might already contain.
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Of Protests, Kneeling, and Democracy

A large group of several hundred protesters gathered near the intersection of Edinger and Bristol, at approximately 9:00 p.m. Wednesday night. Protesters gathered to voice their dissent over the election of Donald Trump in Santa Ana early tonight. The protest took a violent turn when protesters began lobbing mortars at officers later in the night. Police used non lethal weapons to control the crowd, who were throwing bottles, mortars, and other objects at officers. Santa Ana PD was assisted by multiple agencies from around Orange County.

You’re one of two people: the man shouting or the man covering his ears.

Everything we’ve achieved in this country resulted from those shouting and seldom from those who seek silence or conformity.

The status quo favors those in the majority, those holding the reins of power, and those with the gold.

Shouts and powerful whispers threaten all three. The shouts aren’t simply demanding more. They demand equality in every respect – and not simply in the material realm, but in the spiritual, and in the minds of men as all of us conduct our daily affairs.

That such an action would threaten democratic ideals instead of reinforcing them is one of the most quixotic and incomprehensible lines of reasoning I’ve ever encountered.

That the majority grumbles in response is one of the most viable signals that words or actions of protest committed peacefully are striking at the heart of their discomfort.

It is only through discomfort that we might collectively agree that we have stepped off the path that should guide us. Democracy is always an uneasy alliance of interests. We should beware of anyone who falsely claims that those who seek change are lesser citizens. These allegations tarnish those making them.

This country belongs to all of us, not just those displaying a glib grasp of patriotism. Those who are shouting are doing us and democracy a great service, even if we find ourselves in a position of discomfort.

We are a nation of better ideas. Let’s hear them and those who aren’t satisfied with where we are.

Despite my fair skin and privileged life, I tend to find myself leaning to hear the words of those who are kneeling, shouting, or trying to tell us something. It’s the least I can do, literally. Learning and growth only occur through challenging all our supposed truths.

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

Charlottesville Is Us

I take exception to the idea that the racists in Virginia were an anomaly. They are not unusual examples of ignorance – they are typical. These are our fellow citizens. They listen and watch, waiting for the moment which allows them to vent their anger on others. They often are garbage workers, but they are equally likely to be police, teachers, nurses, lawyers, or writers. People don’t answer the call to racism through logic. Likewise, condemnation of their beliefs often serves to galvanize their legitimacy.

We can look to Virginia and shake our heads, wondering what stupidity brought them to that place. While we are doing that, though, there are people around us secretly wishing they could be there in solidarity, shouting out their agreement. Even if it seems odd to some, there are people who think that being white somehow is a matter of pride, as if skin color is a determinate of anything substantive as a human being.

You don’t want to believe that people you know harbor such hatred in their hearts. They do, though, even as they continue to beguile you into complacency after you see a symptom of their ignorance and raise a red flag. Those who subversively conceal their true feelings of superiority toward minorities, other religions and races surround you, waiting. They’re disgusted that they can’t be true to their anger. The internal monologue in their heads has played so long that they can’t distinguish their prejudice from reality. If they live in a place where there is a cluster of like-minded small-minded people, they learn to push the boundaries of acceptability more often. If you are playing the banjo in a room full of banjos, you don’t look so unusual, but if you are playing the only banjo in a room full of cellos, you are the only person getting attention.

Sometimes racists gather in groups and act out. Mostly, they lash out in a million small ways, often indirectly observed. They gaslight you, innocently insisting, “I’m not a racist.” After repeated protests, they get angrier, turning the accusations against you. What they really want is to say, “So what? I am better than those people.” They know they can’t, though. Many use their intelligence to change the nature of truth, often at risk of your sanity. They have lengthy and complicated arguments they repeat endlessly. The signs are there; they grumble about foreigners, language, or convolute the nature of the Civil War, drop small comments about the real story of the Jews, or simply defend their ignorance as tradition or heritage. They point to Chicago as proof of inferiority or refuse to see the difference between Black Lives Matter and hate groups. They say they don’t have a problem with interracial marriage, but… Many have blacks or minorities in their social and business circles which camouflage them. If you are tuned in, your instincts invariably give you pause with most of them.

I grew up around a lot of racists. The dangerous ones aren’t the ones who distract you by gathering in noisy groups in other states. This isn’t a “there” problem. The dangerous ones are the ones you see at the supermarket, at your kid’s Friday night football game, or posting vaguely disconcerting insinuations on social media. They excuse away their particular racism by implying that everyone is a racist or that their version is indeed rooted in truth. They smile, year after year, falsely believing that much of the world reflects how they think. They know that hissing the “N” word will immediately identify their ignorance, so they artfully step around it, learning the nuances of language and presentation which will continue to allow them to live among us without being outed.

So, as time passes, you drop your guard, never imagining that the racism you’ve incrementally witnessed belies a deep vein of actual hatred in your friend or family member’s heart. Most of the time, you give them the benefit of the doubt simply because they haven’t overtly acted out.

People proudly look in the mirror, admiring the skin color they didn’t choose. They go to religious services their parents chose and tend to live in the same places. Their success or failure in life is based on privilege that’s invisible to them. Most get truly angry even at the mention of the word “privilege.” Many focus on what they feel is being “taken” from them as if their claim to anything is greater than anyone else in this country.

Only racists will read my words and get angry.

Only people who know that my words apply to them will recoil in protest. I’m simply inexpertly pointing out that racists aren’t solely a problem outside of our orbit. It’s possible for someone to trigger your instincts toward identifying them as prejudiced and yet be in complete disagreement with racist attitudes. It’s possible to be a Trump voter and not condone racism or violence. You can have issues with Black Lives Matter and not be a racist, too. Or want immigration control and seek to have English be a required language in public commerce. I’m not saying otherwise, though racists will focus on small perceived discrepancies and exaggerate what I’ve said. It’s what they do, instead of honestly admitting their prejudices.

Racists despise the people among them who recognize the signs of what truly echoes in their minds and hearts.

Those people in Virginia aren’t an isolated example: they are us.

It gives you comfort to believe in the best in people – and it should. But never doubt that for every racist holding a sign and grimacing in anger at a protest, there are several sitting at home, nodding their head in agreement. The ones shouting are doing us a favor by identifying their prejudice. The quiet ones, though, they are an almost insurmountable battle. They are the breeding ground for racism’s ongoing prominence.