I can’t be a racist.
Some of my best friends are African American. I work with African Americans every day. As a social worker, I fight for social justice, and that includes racial justice, so I’m not a racist.
I certainly don’t want you to think I’m a racist. My family never owned slaves—they were coal miners, which was practically slavery. I believe in diversity, inclusivity, cultural humility, and cultural proficiency and whatever PC term-of-the-week we use for this stuff.
I want to prove to you I’m not a racist. I attend rallies and carry signs. I was there when they voted to remove the Confederate flag from the statehouse grounds. I don’t vote for racist candidates and express my horror at racist comments, especially from our leaders.
I thought I wasn’t a racist. The truth is, I view the world through blue eyes. The world interacts with me as a person with very pale skin. I may not want to be privileged (maybe I do) but damned if I’m not. I’m often treated differently than people of color. If police pull me over, I don’t fear for my life, I fear for points on my license. If I walk down the street in a sweatshirt with the hood pulled up, people say good morning and comment on the cold weather. They don’t look at me like I’m about to rob them.
When I see rage on the faces of African Americans, I sometimes think—quietly, of course—they may be overreacting. After all, we need to love each other and put the past behind us. We are a rich tapestry of different people and that’s what makes our nation great. This is 2017—time to move forward!
And then Charlottesville happened.
And then I heard the President defend the Nazis and racist, alt-right rally participants.
And then I saw this video and watched white supremacists spew hatred against blacks and Jews while someone was doing CPR on a victim hit by the car.
And I saw this man:
And I saw how his pain, his rage, his desperation reached depths that I have never experienced. He is emotionally bleeding for us all to see, because he has tried EVERYTHING and he is standing in the middle of a frickin’ race war. (I don’t want to say frickin’).
And I heard that right after Charlottesville, a FAMILY MEMBER who teaches about the Holocaust, had received a death threat from someone because they thought he was Jewish.
And then my writing sister who is black, said of her white colleagues, “don’t come to me with your fake tears and your prayers and your hugs. I can’t do it this week. This sh*t is not new. Charlottesville … is all of us. It’s killing us.”
She’s right. She’s right, and we don’t want to see it.
I remember feeling so proud when the Confederate flag came down, and one of my social work mentors (African-American) said, “I don’t care where they flag that ole rag. Taking it down don’t change nothing.”
Yeah, maybe I’m starting to get that now.
After the slaughter of the Emmanuel nine in Charleston, I participated in a workshop about combatting hate. I hoped it would help some of us heal. But when a HBCU professor projected a photograph of a Klan rally, it offended me. “We’re not all like that,” I wanted to scream, but that wasn’t her message. We’re not all like that, but the specter of those white pointed hats is there, is always there, and, like my wise friend said, it’s killing us.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, America has 276 armed militia groups, extremists like the gun-wielding pretend-soldiers in Charlottesville. 276. Let that number sink in.
I don’t want to be a racist, but I can never truly understand the black experience, no matter how hard I try to be an ally. And if I don’t want to be a part of the problem—via action or inaction—then I must confront and accept the ways I have been complicit in this mess. I don’t get to close my eyes to the ugliness that is around me. I can vote for different leaders, march in rallies, carry signs, write blogs, and be a great social worker but none of that puts a dent in the crap storm we keep denying.
I’d love to end this with some hopeful message, something that makes you feel good about our potential (and about me).
But I got naddah.
So I’ll end with this. My eyes are open. I will fight to keep them open, even if what I see disturbs the hell out of me. And if you see me closing them, get in my face a remind me.
This is ALL OF US.
And we have to fix it.
What the Media Left Out About the Last Democratic Debate
Senator Kamala Harris was without peer during the fourth Democratic presidential primary debate. In fact, it’s difficult for me to identify Sen. Harris’ strongest moments because she optimally accomplished so much with each statement. I think the quality of her performance Tuesday night calls for a point-by-point breakdown. So, I’ll try my best.
First, a snapshot of her game: Kamala Harris achieved (and sustainably grounded) position as master of her domain. She scored efficiently. She argued elegantly. She empathized naturally. She outclassed all opponents through a sheer display of self-possession. Her touch and tact, sincerity and sophistication, reflected a clear, robust understanding of the complex situational dynamics at play. Successfully capitalizing on each opportunity, Sen. Harris occupied and punctuated her time cerebrally — and, she protected her time as well. Time and again, the poise and ease of her stage presence exampled presidential command.
What stood out most in Sen. Harris’ opening statement was her facility in seamlessly and vividly connecting the dots of Donald Trump’s devastation. Moving from the great Maya Angelou’s perceptive insight about “listening to somebody when they tell you who they are the first time,” and Trump saying that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and get away with it to the democratic visions of America’s framers, Harris diagnosed the disease (Trump) and offered the right solution (checks and balances) in a context conducive for unity: “Our system of democracy.”
Regardless of an individual’s background or ideological preferences, most Americans value our self-corrective democratic system of government. Also strong and cleanly executed was the way Sen. Harris noted, at the outset, how her experience as a progressive prosecutor uniquely positions her to read Trump like a children’s book: “I know a confession when I see one.”
Harris’ second statement, once again, showed her to be not just the adult in the room, but a candidate fundamentally committed to fighting for the most vulnerable amongst us. Directly and poignantly, she issued perhaps the most imperative observation in the entire debate: “This is the sixth debate we have had in this presidential cycle and not nearly one word, with all of these discussions about health care, on women’s access to reproductive health care, which is under full-on attack in America today.”
— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) October 16, 2019
After the applause, Harris made no bones about getting to the heart of the matter. Her passionate, thoughtful expression embodied the frustration of women across America as well as her steadfast determination to resolve this crisis once elected.
I can’t say that I’m surprised by this example of moral leadership, but I am very grateful.
I also want to acknowledge Senator Cory Booker for accentuating and building on Senator Harris’ remarks by reminding us that “women should not be the only ones taking up this cause and this fight.”
Back with more firepower, Harris, in all of her brilliance, took an abstract (relatively dry) question about a wealth tax and turned it into an incredibly powerful account that gripped me in a very personal way. She described how her mother would sit at the kitchen table, late at night, trying to figure out a way to provide for her daughters, and she spoke about fathers doing everything they could to support their families and meet the bills at the end of the month. It just so happens that the challenges Sen. Harris gave voice to encapsulate my own father’s experience through much of my life. What moved me most in that moment was the depth and calm of her concern. Her solicitude felt durable and unadulterated — like it could withstand the messiness of political conflict and the harshest reality of any setback that might come with being president.
Her resolve gave me confidence as I marveled at the power of her light to uplift.
It was at this point that I thought to myself, the moderators, just on the basis of her performance thus far, will have to find a way to prioritize her inclusion.
Despite their failure, her performance only elevated. At her next opportunity, Sen. Harris exemplified peak preparedness, using feminine pronouns to capsulize a commander-in-chief’s responsibility to “concern herself with the security of our nation and homeland” before following through with a lucid, compact, and highly detailed answer that named names, delineated the most relevant ramifications, and specified her intention to “stop this madness,” under a Harris administration.
Following that, Harris attained perfection, offering an impeccable response to Anderson Cooper’s gun control question about “enforcing a mandatory buyback.” She exhibited complete control in her ability to deliver a thorough, colorful, and well-paced answer without error. This response from Senator Harris belongs on any shortlist of captivating, exemplary presidential debate moments.
With patient equipoise, Harris held her powder as a number of candidates bent over backwards to throw their hardest blows at Senator Elizabeth Warren. Once their energy was spent, Harris rose to the occasion with characteristic confidence and self-direction. “No, I don’t agree with that at all.” Harris proceeded to skillfully press Sen. Warren to agree that Trump’s twitter account should be suspended. Upon being interrupted, Senator Harris firmly (and appropriately) impressed her dominance: “I’m not finished.”
With little recourse, Warren fumbled, scurried to evade the question, and barely escaped entrapment by way of moderator interference.
In Harris’ penultimate declaration, she held forth assertively and decisively on reproductive rights, beginning, “My plan is – as follows…,” and ending, “It is her body. It is her right. It is her decision.” Put simply, Harris seized this opportunity to definitively declare her commitment to ensuring that all women have the right to determine what they do with their bodies, and explain precisely how she would enact such justice.
To round out the night, Sen. Harris separated herself from the pack emphatically once more by answering the final question about friendships with political adversaries swiftly and without mishap. While every other candidate meandered and several appeared to be searching for an answer as they spoke, Harris replied immediately: Probably Rand Paul. What is more, she gracefully culminated her closing remarks with personal power and inspiration by telling her own story, and explaining that if Donald Trump had his way, her story would not be possible.
Unfazed by bias and seemingly unbothered by every obstacle, Kamala Harris accoladed a feat of prowess for the history books. While I am not the least bit surprised, I am both proud and supremely delighted.
Kamala Harris is the Fighter Our Country Needs
Senator Kamala Harris has been at the top of her game over the last week. Leading the wave, Sen. Harris has been first, clear, compelling and unrelenting in condemning Donald Trump, Brett Kavanaugh, William Barr, Mike Pompeo, and Rudy Giuliani. She has communicated her message versatilely, eloquently, and effectively. Speaking and tweeting with conviction, concision, discipline, and allure. One strong example:
“Trump’s tweets about the whistleblower represent clear intent to harass, intimidate, or silence their voice. His blatant threats put people at risk—and our democracy in danger. His account must be suspended.”
Trump's tweets about the whistleblower represent a clear intent to harass, intimidate, or silence their voice. His blatant threats put people at risk — and our democracy in danger. His account must be suspended.
— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) October 2, 2019
Another hard gem: “It’s been one year since the horrific, premeditated murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi Arabia. And Trump has yet to hold Saudi officials accountable. Unacceptable – America must make it clear that violence toward critics and the press won’t be tolerated.”
Sen. Harris has praised distinguished Congresspersons Maxine Waters and Al Green for long opposing the grievous mistake of giving Donald Trump a millimeter. Sen. Harris has publicly given Republican Senator Chuck Grassley credit for supporting and defending the whistleblower. She did not hesitate to sincerely wish Senator Bernie Sanders a speedy recovery, commending also Sanders’ political toughness. She has sagaciously intensified the force of her presence in Iowa. She has expanded colorfully in Nevada and New Hampshire. She sustains a hard look at South Carolina.
In her latest interviews, Sen. Harris has handled delicate matters with open, acute sensitivity as she has overpowered shade with the clarity and detail of her answers. It is as if Sen. Harris has chosen to step forward, and, standing straight and tall, say: I want you to hit me with your best shot. Please. She even wrote a letter to Jack Dorsey requesting that he consider suspending Donald Trump’s Twitter account. I clapped before chuckling. Then clapped some more. Perhaps Sen. Harris’ finest achievement of the last week, however, has been her comforting and entertaining demonstration of first-rate prosecutorial prowess.
I mean, that video of her filleting William Barr warrants a parental advisory label – not for explicit content, but for the startling and just ferocity with which she slices Barr open like a cardboard box. Her interrogation of him is both ruthless and revealing. Yet what I admire most about her prosecutorial prowess is the brilliance it magnifies. With each question posed, we see that Sen. Harris understands precisely how to press, entrap, expose, and defeat.
This week Senator Harris graces the cover of Time magazine, propounding her powerful case against four more years of Donald Trump. It is little wonder that critics are crawling out of the woodwork. Some should be stiff-armed. Others of these critics, such as Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan prod vaguely with slights and cavils and quibbles about Sen. Harris’ leadership that amount in the best case to indiscernible conclusions. I, for one, believe the Trump administration needs urgently to be subjected to the harsh punishment of a prosecutorial atmosphere. I also think that calling Donald Trump a screwball makes light of his cerebral defects and his vile bigotry.
Other critics, like Dr. Jason Johnson at The Root, appear somewhat less substantive and consistent and tend to carp and grumble in the form of snarky, backhanded compliments about the efficacy with which Senator Harris has campaigned. More thoughtful critics – David Axelrod, for example – have put forth sensible observations that might be more useful if they were offered in the context of comparison. Put differently, what specific alternatives should Harris’ consider and why? I would further challenge Mr. Axelrod to specify who, if anyone, in the Democratic field is delivering well in those areas.
Finally, we encounter seemingly naive detractors hardly worth validating. Those who ask Senator Harris tougher questions than they ask Senator Warren, on purpose, before dodging public calls for an apology from the press. Lyz Lens deserves the feedback she has received. Former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley should be less embarrassing.
The rest I spare, for now.
As we approach the fourth Democratic debate, look for Senator Harris to continue shining. We – me and all of my family – love to see it.
The Power of Language and Labels
A while ago I posted a meme which said, “Better to have lost in love than to live with a psycho for the rest of your life.”
I liked it, of course, otherwise, I wouldn’t have posted it. Eleven others did too, some commenting on Facebook, “Amen to that,” and “Definitely!!”
Then this: “Hate it. It’s beat up on people with mental illness time again. Ever had the amazing person you love tell you that they just can’t deal with your mental illness anymore? Our society is totally phobic about people with mental illness having intimate relationships.”
Woah, that came a bit out of the blue. I hadn’t made the link between “person with a mental illness” and “psycho”, otherwise I wouldn’t have posted it. It didn’t say, “Better to have lost in love than to live with a person with a mental illness for the rest of your life.” I had linked “psycho” with the often weird, unspoken assumptions people make when in relationships, which have kept me out of long-term relationships all my life.
It made me think, though. Suppose it had read, “Better to have lost in love than to live with an idiot for the rest of your life.” Would that have been a slight against people experiencing unique learning function?
Probably a more accurate meme would have been, “Better to have lost in love than to live with an arsehole for the rest of your life.” But that’s not what the image said.
For the record, I have had someone I loved tell me he couldn’t cope with my unique physical function anymore. It was hard to hear, but ultimately he was the one who lost out. And I know intuitively many would-be lovers haven’t even gone there — again, their loss and my gain, because why would I want to be with anyone so closed-minded?
The power we let labels have over us can be overwhelming. If I had a dollar for every time a person called someone a “spaz” in my presence, I’d be wealthy. If I got offended because “spaz” is a shortened version of “spastic”, which is one of my diagnoses, and I got another dollar for that, well — I’d be angrily living in the Bahamas.
I think the evolution of language — and the generalization of words like, “gay,” “spaz,” “idiot” and “psycho” — creates the opportunity for them to lose their charge and liberate us from their stigma. By allowing them to continue having power over us, though, we re-traumatize ourselves every time we hear them. Words are symbols and they change meaning over time and in different contexts.
I celebrate that “gay” means “not for me” rather than “fag”; that “spaz” means “over-reacting”, not “crippled”; that “idiot” means “unthinking”, not “retarded”; and that “psycho” means “someone with weird, unspoken assumptions”, not “a crazy person”.
By letting words change meaning for us, we are redefining diversity and creating social change. It’s not a case of, “Sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me.” It’s recognizing that, unless someone is looking directly at us menacingly, calling us gay, spaz, idiot or psycho, we’re not in their minds — they’ve moved on.
Maybe it’s useful for us to move on with them?
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