Category Archives: Racism and Prejudice

The Great Undefined Before

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*Note: as with any mention of Trump, I acknowledge that Trump supporters are not automatically racists. I loathe the entire agenda of superiority, though.

“By elevating those who fought against equality, you are sending a message to those once with a knee in their back that you would prefer it be that way again, whether you realize it or not. America was not great when we enslaved people, chose to keep women from voting, or did any of the things that would be considered sociopathic if a person did them.” – X

Before Trump dreamed up “Make American Great Again,” I endured family members who constantly whined and moaned that the United States needed to return to what it once was. They were vague on specifics. What exactly were the parameters and years of “the good old days” in America? Because most of them believed that their religion and their color was the only way of life, all others were therefore inferior and the enemy. It’s true they had to live in the real world and interact with their perceived inferiors. Despite their exposure, though, they lived each day with the certainty they were victims to modern society’s demand that all men be treated as equals. They didn’t believe it. Many racists still don’t. They’ve learned to silence those vocalizations unless they are in their own bubbles of town, church, or family. As we live our lives, we run up against these unstated prejudices all the time. They simply aren’t labeled.

In the same way that blacks and women were left out of this country’s founding, the ideals that so many claim to cherish ring hollow to me. The revolutionists didn’t have women and minorities in mind when they phrased such lofty phrases such as “with liberty and justice for all.” People weren’t equal. Millions of people weren’t people at all. Much to our shame, it’s codified in our law. We can do better than the constitution we now have. I realize that such ideas go against the prevailing sense of patriotism. This country is people, though, first and foremost. It is malleable, adaptable, and flexible. It’s why we have the ability to change it.

Before my Mother died, she befriended a black woman who worked at Brinkley Schools. By all accounts, they were close friends. Saying this without understanding that my Mother didn’t believe her black friend to be her equal does a great disservice to the truth. My mom died with much of her racism intact and real. The stereotypes most of us reject were a large component of my Mom’s identity. Her alcoholism was a prism that intensified her anger toward those she felt superior to. I’m not writing this as an accusation toward my name. It’s not. It’s the truth.

I’m not saying that my Mom actively mistreated every minority she came into contact with. That’s not how the world works. Did she believe that she was superior to them? That she had a right to be served first, to be hired first, or that her color was better? Yes. My youth was filled with such diatribes and rants. If Mom would have had the power to enforce her superiority over minorities, would she have done so? Yes. If a black person was a cop, he got the job because they had to hire him. If the supervisor was black, it was affirmative action. In any argument, the n-word came out as if it were a label that negated the other side of the argument. Mom mocked and ridiculed me for speaking Spanish. She ridiculed any accent other than her own, saying it was a sign of a lack of education, breeding, or whatever nonsense might pass as a justification.

Mandatory sidenote: it is possible that someone can do an about-face and change their beliefs and way of living. This includes racists. People can change. Were it not so, we would all be cynical and filled with loathing for most people. There would be no incentive to change. As with all other behavior, if a racist succeeds in learning a better way, he or she should get a chance for redemption. It’s unfair to label someone as racist if they grew out of it. Likewise, it is no crime to point out that people once were racists; it’s just a fact.

For those without obvious intensifiers or addictions, I watched as their ideology sharpened their resolve to put the others in their place. Even as their ability to give voice to their poison lessened, their actual prejudice seethed inside of them.

There is no golden age of America, not an inclusive one. Whether we demeaned blacks, women, Jews, Latinos, or gays, the truth is that we’ve never been a county that truly worships the idea of equality. The South of my early youth was predominantly racist in a literal sense and metaphorically much worse. The surrounding elders lamented the loss of the ideals of their country. It confused me because from where I stood, efforts to force prejudices into silence were slowly improving our ability to live peacefully and equally. I didn’t have the tools or understanding to give voice to what was wrong with so many of my family members.

Whatever infected them, I could see that it was wrong.

It didn’t leave me without my own measure of guilt. Unlike others, I resented it, rejected it, and learned that such things were hurting everyone. For almost all of my adult life, I’ve been free of some of that ignorance.

I’m not sure if we can blame it all on ignorance. Many of my family members were truly intelligent. Had they focused their intelligence on bettering everyone’s lives, society would have been a better place.

When confronted, they’d ascribe the questions to youth or inexperience. If I pointed out that I needed a reason other than, “That’s the way it is,” they’d either resort to harsh anger, their Bibles, or some other circular reasoning.

Mostly Bibles that were rarely opened to the pages asking us to live peace and kindness.

It’s no surprise that my research skills have demonstrated that many of them had some sinister skeletons in their closets. “Pious bastards” rings in my head a lot.

Many still reside in that cauldron of prejudice. They don’t see themselves as racists, of course. They consume media and reinforcements that mirror what they believe. Their opinions do not change with new information.

One of my relatives couldn’t understand why I didn’t want to hear the n-word, sincere prejudices about Jews, or his definition of the differences of each kind of color. His job gave him the excuse to stereotype. Over time, it blinded him. He would get angry at me for telling him to stop using it while talking to me. I understood him, but in the opposite way than that which he’d appreciate it. My wife who died years ago secretly bit her tongue every time she was around him. It infuriated her that he couldn’t see that his heart was dark. Because I was younger and foolish, I didn’t appreciate that all of us would have been better served to let her unleash her fury on him.

If we do not exercise great care, the rising prejudices hidden in plain sight within “Make America Great Again” will ruin us. We can make America great, but not by following the lead of people who feel they are superior to others.

People see these arguments and falsely claim that such logic implies that we don’t want the best for the United States. It’s a vacuous argument for them to make – but one they’ll always make because they think it negates the need for further explanation. We all should be focused on making the best decisions for everyone.

The racists know their own hearts.

Let There Be Light – An Epitaph For Truth-Telling

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When I posted this story, I didn’t expect the invisible mob to approach me. It’s easy to skip over my stories if you don’t want to see them. Anyone not wanting to read what I have to say can easily avoid it. For most people, I’m a forgotten planet on the edge of the universe. If you’ve found me and continue to find me just to gnash your teeth, you should take more effort to stop looking for me.

It was amusing to see people assume they knew who I was talking about. That underscores my insistence that people only see what they want to see. Their own preconceptions mislead them into assumptions. Their defensive responses based on these errors tell me a lot about how they are wired and what goes on in their heads versus the persona they present to us.

This story is not about my siblings. It’s not about my paternal uncle. If it were, I would say so, especially now that I was attacked for people’s wrong assumptions about it. To be clear, I’ve been guilty of the same type of jumping to conclusions. It’s driven me to cause a couple of people needless harm. I tried to make up for it. While they might have forgiven my stupidity, they probably remember that I was a jerk needlessly to them.

I’ve waited a while to share it.

We all have people in our lives who have dark secrets. Many people would choose a miserable life over truth and honesty. They fear that the concealed darkness they protect will somehow consume them. The opposite is true: secrets, especially family secrets, only gain their power by our complicity. Children grow up to recognize the disconnect between what they’ve experienced and the story that follows them in life. Most maintain the charade of silence because it is safer. Silence seldom draws much ire or criticism. If we all consciously chose to avoid making ourselves prisoners to our secrets, we’d be happier. As with anything personal, there will always be people who ‘know,’ ones you interact with who are running their own truthline in their heads as they talk to you.

Although I can’t be sure who led him to my history online, it doesn’t change anything. He’d obviously found my thousand stories about love, life, laughter, loss, and lies. As with my family tree online, my stories are not hidden, private, or anonymous. I share them so that anyone can read them. I can’t force belief. I can’t force consumption.

I don’t claim to be a singular authority but I do lash back at anyone who challenges me with the asinine assertion that I have no right to tell my own story. I’m not forcing anyone to consume it. I get grumpy when people who’ve remained silent for decades suddenly get a voice or a conscience; or worse, when they go down the road of revisionism to challenge what happened or to create their own stories with the goal of mitigating the ones I’ve always shared. Several episodes of my life have been worsened because people have lashed out with their own revisions after mine have been out in the wild for most of my adult life. It doesn’t mean they stories are always wrong, but it does mean that their blooming interest should be cautiously examined.

I could tell the conversation had an intended point, even if we weren’t getting there directly.

He couldn’t see that attempting to challenge me would only cement my authority and right to tell my story. His anger and frustration not only told me that my words had pierced his heart, but that he recognized some truth in them. (People don’t generally argue with clowns or people with no credibility. They should stop and think about that before they start challenging or shouting at me.)

People tend to only stand rigid in anger when something has blurred their internal belief system.

It’s pointless to argue with someone wearing clown shoes – so any defensive reaction is in recognition of an arrow cast with keen accuracy.

So, I told him. “You are supposed to let the fools talk. Arguing with them only makes you foolish. If what I say is obviously false, why are you angrily wanting to silence me? It’s all out there, on the internet. Well, not all, but a great deal of it. And those parts which aren’t out there can be inferred. I think I captured the savagery of some of my youth truthfully. And some of the beauty. My story hasn’t changed in 30 years. I think that fact alone gives me a voice of authority and finality.” I wanted him to know that my story wasn’t accusatory; rather, it was history personalized and irrefutable. I wasn’t telling it to draw blood. It was my story – and mine to tell. He had his story to tell if he wants to. He won’t though, because words won’t conceal his complicity. People don’t want to take the time to examine their lives or write about it. I understand it, whether it is laziness or fear of the consequences. We cannot tell our own stories without stepping onto the fringes of other lives. It cannot be done.

“What good does it do? You’re not helping anyone. It’s over,” he said.

“It’s not entirely over. I’m not dead yet – and neither is all of your family. DNA has a lot to say, to reveal many of the lies we’ve been told. I can find things as an adult that our ancestors screamed to silence. Children will grow up and do their own research and find the things we’ve concealed. It took 25 years to find out that my family robbed me of being with a sister I would have undoubtedly appreciated more than my other sister.” I waited.

“DNA isn’t the full story, X. And people kept secrets for a reason.” It seemed like that comment wasn’t full of holes to him.

“Well, why did your parents fight you tooth and nail for no one to do a DNA test? Precisely because they knew you’d find skeletons, bastard children, and stories that would lead to huge lies. I often wonder if people knew if my own Dad had illegitimate children and that I had a black half-sister. It seems likely. They robbed me of all those years with her – and gave my Dad a chance to hide from the consequences of what he’d done. Even now, no one wants to talk about the fact that my Grandfather Terry was ridiculously old to be marrying Grandmother Terry as young as she was. My Grandpa Cook had his own skeletons, but he loved me when he was older. I didn’t know all those stories. The love he had for me was real. Knowing the truth does not change who they were. It might change who we are, though.”

He started to object and I cut him off and continued.

“It helps me. Most of the guilty are dead. I’m not claiming moral superiority. I am better than my ancestors, though. Literally, every moment of your life is over in the sense you use the word, right? Yet, when you think about yourself, you think about the sum of your words and experiences. All history. You can choose another path and never look back. That’s not what we do, though. Telling only the beautiful moments is easy. We are the sum total of what we’ve said or done. We have to earn a reset when we’ve realized we were wrong and offered to make amends.” I knew he hadn’t thought of that.

“What about your motive? It’s obvious that you are writing about it just to hurt people.” He seemed to think that was a rebuttal.

I noted he didn’t challenge the truth of my writing – just its existence.

“My motive? What was the motive when ancestors covered up that my dad killed someone or went to prison? Or beat me with a rake? Or when another family member told me it was my fault that my dad hit me so hard I was coughing blood? History doesn’t hold a motive. And I noticed you failed to mention that there were good times amid all the blood-stained teeth. I don’t just write about the terror. It’s odd that you focus only on the things that you’d rather that people not talk about, that you’re heavy-handedly trying to censor me. I had some great moments when I was young. I’ve never said otherwise and grow tired of people saying I do.”

He was clearly dumbstruck. “Listen, I can’t defend why anyone did or said things. I wasn’t there. But our dads were both more or less good people. They had problems, to be sure.”

I cut him off.

“Most people don’t beat their wife and kids. Or fail to protect kids when they are being beaten. They also don’t use the n-word or hold a buffet of prejudices. Or kill people because they chose to drink and drive. Those aren’t problems. They are psychosis. Family preached that they were superior to black people and that anyone sharing their religion wasn’t welcome in Heaven. My Dad tried to kill me and never faced the consequences of the law or even of family stepping in and demanding he act like a human being. Their silence encouraged him to continue for decades.”

I paused, as he stammered.

“Well, my dad loves God. He’ll be in Heaven.” I could tell he was certain of the fact.

“I know you love your dad. You were almost always good a good person and had a way of sharing laughter everywhere you went. It is possible to be a good person and have a parent or parents who were not good people. It’s okay to say you loved bad people because that is how love works. It’s no sin. It is a sin, though, to insist they were good people because you won’t see the truth of their badness. We have to eclipe the shadow of the people who should have known better.” I waited.

I continued.

“Some of my family looked away while my dad beat me dozens of times. They told me to go back to my dad after he literally tried to kill me. They let my dad lock me in a shed in the middle of summer, and make me eat rotted meat to teach me a lesson. They let dad beat mom and told her it was her fault and god’s will. They told people they were better than dark people. They used their jobs to hurt people who weren’t white. They said gay people were the Devil’s children. And as always, I have to reiterate that I had family members who did stand up sometimes and they were shouted down, too. Some tried. People forget that I acknowledge those people, too.”

“Your dad is a better person than me, I’ll give you that much. He’ll die one day and people will piously say he was a good man. And when he’s gone, I’m still be here, writing, if writing the truth can be twisted to be an accusation instead of a recitation. I stood in silence when people called my grandpa a degenerate drunk, all those years ago. Your dad could be generous and lovely as a person. I’ve said so. I know that the negative drowns out the positive. But that is the point. You can’t escape the totality of what you’ve said and done. People might not have snapped my bones with their own hands but their beliefs pushed them to allow others to do so. Had they ever realized they were wrong and told me as much, it would have been redemptive. People like them rarely do, though.”

I continued. “Your dad insisted that if a thing were true he could say it with a clear conscience. Those words alone give me a license to share my story where it overlaps with my family. And I will. Because I can. Because it’s my story. One day, this conversation will be out there, too. My goal isn’t to find the mud. It’s to tell a story. I can’t change what happened. I can either silence it or share it.”

“You’re an asshole!” he said.

“It’s hereditary. That’s my point. I haven’t beaten anyone to death yet, raped a young girl, or allowed anyone to do it and get by with it, so I guess I’m ahead of our ancestors, aren’t I? As an adult, I have not once allowed another adult to beat a child in my presence. I don’t recall ever saying that I wish the white race were back in charge, that gay people should be put down, or that my religion was the only one.” I laughed.

The phone went silent.

I won’t though.

D.B.A.J.

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If y’all aren’t familiar with Boyd Crowder from “Justified,” go watch all 6 seasons and come back. He had a peculiar knack for expressing ideas in such a way that obscenity or erudition could collide and light up a bulb inside one’s head.

Today, while reading another poll/study regarding opinion regarding interracial marriage, Boyd’s voice filled my head explosively: “Nothing brings you peace but the triumph of principles.”

In the last decade, several polls have asked the question about interracial marriage – and some have phrased the issue in ways that allow the person answering to feel more comfortable sharing his or her opinion.

Up to 1 in 6 people still think that interracial marriage is objectionable on a varying number of levels. Obviously, GOP voters are much more likely to say it’s a problem. The bigger problem is that about 1 in 8 Democrats think it’s a problem, too. And about 1 in 10 people would object to a close family member marrying someone of another race.

Scientifically, these people are classified as ‘dumb bastards.’

I’m not color-blind. I also acknowledge I’m a bit of an ass and have some strange ideas. But weird, archaic ideas about this aren’t among them.

I like reading studies about these kinds of beliefs.

Regardless of what else is going on in society, they are an infallible benchmark for the prevalence of prejudice or racism in our midst.

Likewise, when people have a perverted sense of what prejudice looks like (and don’t see their ideas as prejudiced), it’s fascinating to hear what comes out of their mouths or keyboards as they attempt to talk their way out of a painted corner.

As Boyd Crowder said, “That’s what assholes do…
…They get old and die from being assholes.”

A Faded Sky

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After a dehumanizing day at work today, I made my escape. I’d delve into the niceties of what made this day of work particularly dehumanizing but not only would it fail to help me even as a catharsis, but would probably rekindle the rebuke that formed in my mind earlier. Covid-19 has amplified some of the worst tendencies of some employers – and enabled cracks along fault lines of equality to grow larger.

It was slightly before 11 when I decided to stop and pick up a couple of things.

I stopped at a little store, one common to most communities. Outside, a gentleman was using twine to re-affix a mattress to the roof of his beaten-up car. I was going to offer to help him but noted that he had double-tucked the twine like he was a master of the Mattress Haul. It was quite the work of art. I would be terrified to attempt it but I could tell the mattress was not going to fly off into the sunset after being tied down so efficiently, even if twine was all that was available.

As I entered, I saw a phalanx of men about twenty feet inside the door. With one of the men was a boy about 10 years old. One of the men was an employee of the store; the other was a vendor with a couple of shallow inventory bins.

This story is entirely true, even if I get the words a bit wrong. The quotes are from the men who stood there.

“I’m not a violent person, but when I saw that (offensive word for Latino) waving that flag, I would have ripped it out of his hands and killed him with it. I was going to literally hit him but my wife was with me. Anyone with a flag that isn’t American should be shot. We literally should be able to kill them.” The other gentlemen agreed. “I don’t want to hear no Mexican talk when I’m in public. A fist in the mouth will cut their ability to talk that nonsense around me and my family. We might need them to do our dirty work but they should know their place.”

“I’m proud we have a president who can speak the truth. We don’t need any blacks, fa%S, or sp@cs here. I don’t care what the Supreme Court ruled. We don’t want them and we don’t need them. Trump needs to have the Supreme Court shot, as well as every BLM member. Those cops? The only thing they did wrong was not kill a bunch more of them.” A hearty round of approval. “He (Trump) needs to shut down all media except Fox. People who aren’t guilty of crimes don’t get hurt by the police.”

“Yeah, I’m going to see Trump in Tulsa next week. The tickets? They are free. I want to shake his hand and tell him that we’ll help him kick anyone that isn’t one of us out of this country. Those p@ssy liberals are going to get lynched like the rest of them. We are not going to put up with it anymore.” The man took out his phone and read a couple of lines of propaganda from the event notification. Whatever he was saying, I can state with certainty that none of his words were going to make America great again. His words certainly weren’t helping improve the store any.

I stood less than 10 feet away, albeit with a tall shelf of cookies and snacks towering between us. I simply stood where I was, listening, wondering how far they’d go.

The store employee bragged that he had his Glock on him as he tapped his hip. He bragged about having a 50-round clip if the gun clip was out. He added that he didn’t believe in a reload. If he was going to kill someone, he wasn’t going to stop with a bullet. The vendor jumped in and gave a list of his guns, clips, and ammo, legal and otherwise.

“We’re going to need them. If they steal the election in November, I’m going to shoot some people. Trump is the best president this country’s ever had. If that monkey before him hadn’t stolen an election, we wouldn’t be in this mess with this hoax virus.” I bit my tongue to avoid reminding him that Obama had somehow stolen 2 elections, not just 1.

Note: none of the gentlemen talking had masks on, including the store employee. The 10-year-old with them didn’t either.

I walked around the next shelf the long way and walked within a foot of the men. None seemed perturbed by me being there. I winked at the 10-year-old and made eye contact.  “How are you,” I asked, ignoring the people engaged in the ignorant and hateful talk. “Good,” he said. The men stopped talking long enough to make eye contact with me. I kept walking and went another shelf over. A female employee was stocking. She could hear them talking but didn’t intervene. I pretended to look at the salsas while I listened a bit longer to the talk going on.

As hard as it is to believe, the talk continued on from one hateful topic to another. I won’t recount more of it here.

The tone and content reminded me of many conversations I overheard when I was growing up in a family with racists in every rafter.

When I neared the register, the employee who’d actively participated in the hate speech walked around to ring up my purchases.

As he finished and I pulled my debit card from the kiosk, I told him, “You know I’m white right?”

He looked at me confusedly. “Yes, I’d say you’re white.”

“There’s no such thing as white. It’s all in your head. Our day is over. You should be careful who you voice your opinion around. Liberals are everywhere.” I shrugged. I left him, confused. He couldn’t tell whether I was a liberal or someone who agreed with his hate.

I smiled and went outside. I looked at the mattress on the old car by the door, then up to the blue sky.

I don’t know what my point is.

I can’t wrap this one up neatly in a bow.

This is America.

That 10-year-old boy in the store is going to grow up with a choice: echo his ancestors or recognize hate and ignorance as live animals, ones which must be starved into extinction.

X

 

P.S. This post isn’t anti-Trump, even though I can’t think of anything redeeming to say about him as a person or President. It’s telling that those who tend toward the most violent viewpoints tend to be his most ardent supporters. Those stuck in the middle get painted with the same brush, though, fair or otherwise.

 

Once Upon a Time & Habia Una Vez

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A video of a Syrian dad recently went viral. He’d taught his daughter to laugh when she saw bombs dropping. To some, it sounded ridiculous.

I didn’t doubt it. I have a story I wrote down four weeks ago, one involving Latinos with a different approach to negativity. It didn’t seem as interesting until I saw the Syrian dad with his daughter yesterday in the video.

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I was careening around Walmart to distract myself from the malaise of modern living. You know the feeling: one moment you’re happy with life and smiling at babies – and the next, you desperately need to walk around in a cavernous retail warehouse to get incredibly (and incrementally) irritated at other visitors. You know how it is: you enter the market to buy a bathtub plug and 75 ounces of Argentinian fava beans, then realize that something is amiss with the world; namely, that being in a market is both necessary and ridiculous.

As I rounded the aisle near the spices, an older woman jumped backward as two adorable little Latina girls whirled by, both chatting feverishly to one another. “Chicas!” a concerned dad shouted from just out of sight. I could hear the practiced exasperation in his voice.

The older woman hissed toward me, “They’re everywhere. And can’t control their little brats.” The girls suddenly stopped their mutual little dance and looked from me to the older woman. It was apparent they spoke English, as well as understanding the tone of the woman’s voice. I hoped they didn’t think I was with the hateful older woman.

The dad rounded the corner. “I’m so sorry,” he said.

“You shouldn’t be here,” the older woman said. Normally, I don’t get surprised by people. It was obvious she wasn’t referring to being at Walmart.

This story isn’t about anger or prejudice, though.

It’s about me witnessing the response of this amazing dad.

The two girls looked at their dad as he said, “I’m sorry. Please forgive us.” The older lady didn’t acknowledge him at all as he apologized the second time.

“Había una vez, niñas…” Both girls smiled and told their dad they were sorry.

The old woman evidently couldn’t stand the sound of another language in her delicate ears. She whirled her cart around and stomped off, her face frozen in an ugly state.

For those who don’t know, the phrase “Había una vez” translates to “Once upon a time,” and often starts fairy tales and stories in Spanish.

Because of this, I asked the dad what he meant by the fairy tale phrase.

In Spanish, he told me, “It’s game me and the girls play. Don’t let someone having a bad day or life get us down.”

“You’re a genius, sir,” I said, as he laughed at the idea.

“Tell them that,” pointing at his two girls, who once again curtsied and made dance-like steps between the aisles, their encounter already forgotten.

 

Fried Chicken Amen

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*I was hesitant to post this. People tend to jump over subtlety and substance by unforgivingly bringing their own observations to things unsaid.

On a recent Wednesday, in a town which can be found in several states across the South, I entered a local eatery to pass a bit of the time away from the blistering reach of the summer sun. I gladly surrendered in the fight against it. I could tell that the little place was a hub for all manner of necessary human activity: gas, small groceries, food, and tobacco. The place was packed with smiling faces, each focused on satisfying their hunger.

I went inside, ordered a bit of deliciousness, and sat down at one of the dozen rectangular white tables scattered on one side of the convenience store. It wasn’t my intention to get another bite to eat. I’d already had lunch across the street. Overcoming the scent of the food filling in the air, however, was impossible for a man of my age and girth. Bacon and butter are my beloved enemies.

I casually watched through the glass as a young mom ignored her little daughter as she strained to reach over into the ice cream case. Her short arm stretched, and her fingers moved like scurrying spiders in their attempt to reach the unattainable buckets of ice cream. Her brother watched from the opposite end of the case, undoubtedly anticipating that she’d either reach the ice cream or fall into it. They were all behind the ice cream case on the employee’s side. The mom looked up and noticed my gaze. Without hesitation, she turned and struck the little girl forcefully on the back. It seemed like an instinctive reaction to her guilt at being observed. The girl shrieked in a small voice, and the mom grabbed her by the nape of the neck. The scream died. I could tell it was a long-rehearsed dance between them. The young mom then looked to her right, toward a stern older woman with a scream of a ponytail at the other register. It turns out that the young mom was an off-duty employee of the store, there to feed her four children. The old lady with the austere ponytail was undoubtedly the young mom’s boss. I later observed the family huddled around one of the tables, each devouring their pieces of chicken as their fingers became increasingly greasy. Watching little kids lick their fingers in deep appreciation is one of the minor joys in life. The little girl didn’t seem to recall being hit like an approaching tennis ball. I silently hoped that the hits weren’t frequent. I could easily see how much the daughter loved her mom. I hoped she could maintain that love as she grew.

Atop the ice cream case was a placard, one of those telling the world that the owners love their god and country, stand for the flag, and for anyone who felt otherwise, they should use the door as quickly as possible. I had a feeling that many visitors of different customs or appearance had seen the placard through the years and winced, many of them understanding that they weren’t welcomed there and were simply tolerated for the purpose of commerce. There’s no nuance in such signs, even if the owners believe there is. It’s the equivalent of a harsh, angry shout; this world needs more whispers and gentle examples of encouragement.

It wasn’t until I noticed the placard that I questioned much of the content of my experience there. My eyes wandered around the store, finding confederate flags in more than one place. Such flags are not a guarantee of other sinister inclinations; their presence, though, tends to accompany such attitudes. People can fly confederate flags and be good people. I’ve learned that the combination seldom proves the exception, leaving those without prejudice to be lumped in and suffer with those who use the symbols as shortcuts for unforgiving opinions. It’s unfortunate and unfair for all of us. Each of us in our own private lives tends to embrace ambiguity and understand that people are a spectrum of conflicting ideas.

Inside the store, the air was thick with the scent of biscuits, gravy, and fried chicken. While I was inside, there was a constant, impatient line, slowly shuffling forward, and the tables were filled with people, each bubbling with a conversation. Unlike my adopted hometown, there were no faces of other color or snippets of foreign languages. There was no rainbow there and no spectrum of humanity. Once noticed, such absences are hard to unsee. There should have been other faces, though, because despite the small-town population, there were industries and occupations which were comprised of a majority of minorities. I was curious to know where those people enjoyed their lunch. I would describe the mood of everyone as happy and concentrated on their own bit of life.

Because of the recent tragedies, many of the conversations were about guns and violence. I could hear two distinct conversations ridiculing those who wanted things to change. The conversations merged into one, with the participant’s voices rising in volume. We all became involuntary listeners.

At the furthest table, a man in overalls and a plaid shirt leaned back and cocked his head toward the bulk of the tables and said, “Ain’t no one here going to disagree. Not in this town. We love our guns and those who don’t can leave.” Even though I was in a distant place, I laughed, the kind of raucous, loud laugh that makes my wife cringe sometimes. The speaker looked toward me with surprise, probably in an attempt to gauge my allegiance. Externally, I looked like them. Maybe my bright purple laptop case signaled a departure. Nothing else about me raised suspicion that I might differ strikingly from most of them.

The loud-voiced man’s false bravado revealed his temperament, one not accustomed to nuance or differing opinion. It’s a common affliction in places where the realm is small, and the courage to speak up is often swallowed to keep the peace. I doubt he was actually as harsh as the situation implied.

“You think they should take our guns away?” He challenged me. Several people turned their heads to look in my direction. I could see the owner standing next to the food counter, waiting to hear what foolishness would jump from my mouth.

All I could think to say was, “If you drink and can’t stop yourself from driving, you should lose the privilege of driving. But I don’t know who ‘they’ are.”

An older woman wearing a bright red shirt seated with two very young kids said, “That’s right!” as if she were in church and reciting a well-worn and enthusiastic “Amen.”

The original speaker abruptly leaned forward again in his chair as the conversations in the room went momentarily quiet. He wasn’t expecting a response to his oration, especially to encounter disagreement among his own tribe. Each table resumed speaking in subdued voices. I’m confident that several people were wondering how a traitor like me had entered their eating-place without being noticed. Truthfully, it gladdened me a little bit. I couldn’t get the smile of satisfaction off my face. The old lady who had invoked the informal amen smiled back at me and nodded.

Regardless of our individual opinions, each of us continued to eat our delicious food. Differences over guns seldom distract those with fried chicken on their plates.

A little later, I listened as the owner pulled up a chair and sat at a table nearby with one of his customers. He smiled and exuded friendliness. After a few seconds of listening to his conversation, I realized that the smile was a little forced. He had a lot to say about guns and the attitudes recently expressed in his eatery. I tuned him out. It’s unwise to strive to overhear words that you know will only serve to bait you toward a base response. We all vent, sometimes to the point of letting our mouths outrun our honest hearts. I’m afflicted with the tendency too. It would be unwise for me to paint him in a situation where one’s self-defense mechanism might override his ability to express himself honestly.

Not all the signs and symbols for these places are visible. That ideas and differences weren’t welcome somehow pervaded the room, though. The divisive placard on the ice cream case didn’t help much. Each of us loves our lives, our friends, and our families. Most of us appreciate our community. We don’t need code words or exclusion to feel like our lives are full. When I departed the store, I noted vehicles with confederate flags and harsh bumper stickers with rigid, us-vs.-them messages. Strangely, people don’t stop to think that at a certain level, we are all ‘them’ to other people.

The smell of fried chicken and gravy should be a sign of welcome for all those who appreciate a full stomach. Such a thing is a unifier, drawing us to places where each of us brings our differences and yet somehow joins in the spectacle of community.

If I could, I would ask the owners to remove their placard and relics of the confederacy. I’d ask them to instead let their smiles and kind words serve as both example and proof of their living creator flowing through them. The placard and things like it can only serve as whistles of perceived prejudices. Armed with love and fried chicken, it’s difficult to imagine a divided world. We preach our best sermons by example. I think that so many people feel cornered into a defensive position when the world stops seeing that everything is intertwined and complex. Except for love, few ideas worth fighting for can be encapsulated on a bumper sticker, placard, or t-shirt.

It is possible to love your religion and customs while also openly loving other people’s opportunity to do the same. Acknowledging their choices in no way denigrates your ability to live a good life in the way that you see fit. Only when we demand allegiance to our choices does our society suffer.

Let the chicken and gravy be sufficient to unite us.

We live in the United States of America, a place where all of us have an equal voice to be as proud or as ignorant as our own hearts require. There’s room for ignorance and intellect on all sides in this crowded room of togetherness. Let the best argument always prevail, though. Losing respect for the best ideas leads us all away from the truth and fried chicken.

All those in agreement say either “Amen,” or “Fried chicken and gravy.” They both come from the purest of hearts.
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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.