The personal and systemic become one again…thanks Donny!

I wish that I could say that growing up, I knew that I wanted to fight racial injustice, but that would be a lie. If someone had told me that by my mid-40s I would be gaining a reputation as a “race relations” expert, that would have been downright comical to me. My childhood dreams were pretty standard-issue (actor and/or lawyer) and my early career was spent working with the economically disadvantaged, no doubt a nod to how I had been raised and knowing the difference that one person could make.

Circumstances and rage brought me to this point in my life and, while it is an honor to be recognized for this racial equity work, it is also at times a burden because once you open the door and see just how race factors into every existing system in this country…well, it becomes hard to turn it off. Ever.

Which is one reason why I have tried to avoid talking at length about the 2016 presidential election.

I will start by saying that for the first time in my adult life, I understand why people sometimes just don’t vote. You want to believe in hope and change, but the reality is that one person is not going to magically make it better for all. Instead, you realize that the middle…those places filled with shades of gray…is where most of life is lived. At that point, you look for the brightest spots in that gray. Or at least many of us do.

However, after watching the first presidential debate a few nights ago, it has become abundantly clear to me that while one person may not be able to magically make it great for all, one person can (and has already) started to make it terribly uncomfortable for many, even dangerous. In the past year or so, we have seen the tide of civility and pretense change in the United States. The ugliness that so many once thought was a relic of the past has become chic again and no matter who becomes the nation’s next president, as I have said before, we aren’t closing that door again. Racism is right back out in the open for a great many Americans, and they are happy to express that racism.

Donald Trump, in my humble opinion, is not qualified to be a dog catcher, much less the “leader of the free world.” His thoughts are disorganized, he has no intellectual (or policy) curiosity, he is crude and cruel, he is bombastic and he is bravado on steroids. Ans yet he appeals to almost half of America if the polls are any indicator. Trump’s platform is “making America great again,” which at this point goes beyond dog-whistle politics. Trump is appealing to a demographic who longs for the days when the women, the queers and/or the non-whites “knew their places” and that place was under the thumbs of able-bodied, Christian, heterosexual, cisgendered white men.

Even more disturbing is Trump’s use of stereotypes during this campaign season in his attempt to reach out to minority communities. Trump keeps reiterating that Blacks and Latinos are all living in Hell with no jobs, bad schools and astronomical crime. Trump most certainly isn’t speaking to any Blacks or Latinos that I know. Yes, there are minority communities that are struggling and many in the darker-hued middle class are far less solidly placed than white people, but in almost all instances you can see how systemic inequity created those situations.  Even Trump’s trotting out of my beloved hometown of Chicago is offensive, and given that Trump dodged questions related to race with responses such as “Law and Order” and “Stop and Frisk” (otherwise known as legally sanctioned racial profiling), the idea of a Trump presidency scares me enough to seriously ponder how fast can I save my pennies and start my retirement in Belize ahead of schedule.

It is easy to downplay Trump’s rise by saying he was up against a batch of weak characters during the primaries but that would be a lie. Trump himself is weaker in every way that matters for a president than the least of the GOP candidates he faced off against. We are here because people like what Trump is saying or, better put, they like what Trump is selling. Period. Yeah, the turnout may have been low during the primaries but we are here because people liked what he was selling and many are fed up with the status quo and figure any change is good change. I suppose it is easy to feel that way when it won’t be your children who are already at risk whose risk of state-sponsored violence will almost certainly increase under a Trump presidency.

Xenophobia, racism and outright hatred are on the rise and it’s not just because social media emboldens us to talk about the previously taboo. It’s because somewhere along the line, we as a collective decided to stop even pretending and decided to just let our inner ugly hang out, sort of like how after the second serving of Thanksgiving dinner you just have to unfasten your pants because you can’t hold that gut in any longer.

The so-called melting pot that really all along had been a tossed salad has now morphed into that pot of nasty when it’s left on the stove too long, and burning odor is growing stronger. Just this morning, I heard a piece on NPR that, despite knowing the fact already, still broke my heart. Implicit bias starts as young as preschool. In plain talk, it means preschool teachers walk into classrooms and decide who the troublemakers are and more often than not the troublemaker wears Black skin even when the white kids are the bigger troublemakers. Yet no matter how many times folks like me say this or studies confirm these uncomfortable realities, too many refuse to see that reality. Is it any wonder that Black and Brown people are overrepresented in the criminal justice system? Where Chad gets a break for youthful indiscretions, Jamal gets a record that starts early and marks him for life.

Systemic racism has never gone out of style but now that personal racism is starting to flourish again, and with the likes of Trump running around, I don’t see any end in sight.  But I will say that if racial justice is important to you, the decisions you make or don’t make this November do matter.
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The closet of hate and intolerance has been opened, or Trump in Chicago

“Also known as implicit social cognition, implicit bias refers to the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner.  These biases, which encompass both favorable and unfavorable assessments, are activated involuntarily and without an individual’s awareness or intentional control.  Residing deep in the subconscious, these biases are different from known biases that individuals may choose to conceal for the purposes of social and/or political correctness.  Rather, implicit biases are not accessible through introspection.

The implicit associations we harbor in our subconscious cause us to have feelings and attitudes about other people based on characteristics such as race, ethnicity, age, and appearance.  These associations develop over the course of a lifetime beginning at a very early age through exposure to direct and indirect messages.  In addition to early life experiences, the media and news programming are often-cited origins of implicit association”- Kirwan Institute

For months, the world has seen America’s unresolved racial ugliness laid bare courtesy of GOP presidential candidate Donald J. Trump and his supporters. What started out in the minds of many as a passing media cycle and joke has reached a boiling point and is far from being funny. Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric is having real consequences for people of color, immigrants,  Muslims and anyone who Trump and his followers deem not American or at least not American enough. Others. People who are “the problem.” In other words, anyone who is not white, Christian or cisgendered in Trump land.  

Trump’s rallies and events have taken on the air of a demented circus where dissenters and those who do not physically meet the standards of acceptable are joyfully thrown out. Hateful words and physical assaults at these events are increasingly the norm with Trump as the head ringmaster loudly proclaiming that people are “bad dudes.” while providing no evidence of that and constantly downplaying or defending the physical aggressions his supporters inflict on people who aren’t part of the Trump camp.  Trump trades in dog-whistles and has been richly rewarded for his bombast by now being on a speeding train headed directly for the GOP nomination, much to the dismay of the establishment GOP who must now grapple with the house they allowed to be built on the foundation of hate after the 2008 elections.

However some of us are tired and as Trump’s campaign stops have started to go into more racially diverse cities and towns,  Trump and his hatemongers are facing the reality that America is a place of diversity and there are people who will organize and show up to send a message to his hate show.

Trump’s recent stop in St. Louis turned out many who were opposed to him and his message and several skirmishes broke out leading to a number of arrests. But it was Trump’s attempted visit to my hometown of Chicago that has gotten the attention of the nation.

As soon as it was announced that Trump was coming to a rally at the University of Illinois-Chicago campus, many including personal friends of mine started organizing on the ground after efforts to get the school to cancel Trump’s appearance failed. The result was that thousands took to the streets to show their displeasure. Streets surrounding the campus were blocked as many Blacks, Latinos and others effectively went to shut it down. Many more filled the inside space where Trump was to speak. Trump canceled his appearance at the last moment after falsely saying that law enforcement suggested that he cancel due to security risks. Chicago interim police superintendent emphatically stated that was not true, in fact the Chicago Police Department was more than capable and able to keep the peace.

Yet in what should have been a moment of victory for those committed to inclusion and racial justice, the narrative that the media chose to project was one of utter chaos. A narrative that took advantage of the fact that many of the protestors in Chicago were people of color and played on underlying racial biases that see fear when too many Black and Brown bodies are gathered in one space. Given the fact that only a handful of arrests were reported, those of us who have been to large-scale protests know this indicates a relatively peaceful event. Given the fact that so many of Trump’s supporters are white and hold views that don’t include a racially inclusive America and that so many of the protestors were people of color, the overall lack of violence speaks to the restraint and desire for peaceful protests. Not to mention that what violence was reported broke out after the event was cancelled, strongly suggesting Trump supporters started most of anything that might have happened.

Yet the narrative that Trump is responding with is that it was “thugs” who shut his rally down and with the national media choosing a framing that essentially plays into Trump’s words, we now have many people asking why couldn’t the protests be peaceful? They were for the most part peaceful, so that’s a loaded question. And by the way, where were the cries for peace when an almost 80-year-old white man sucker-punched a Black protester who was being escorted out of a previous rally that week and later suggested he might need to be killed next time he shows up? Where were the national cries for peace when other people of color peacefully attended Trump rallies and were ejected despite not uttering a single word? We know that many of Trump’s rallies are almost de facto white nationalist gatherings yet too many say nothing other than to shake their heads in dismay.

For those of us who are “other,” we are only one maybe two generations removed from parents and grandparents who lived with overt bigotry and racism every day. We know of the relatives who toiled under Jim Crow or loved ones who survived the Holocaust, and the internment camps and we aren’t going back.  We understand all too well that silence in the face of direct hate is to be complicit and that sometimes we must roll up our sleeves, get loud and make our case lest we find ourselves trapped in a historical repeat of a horror show.

America is a nation that sits on stolen land, built on the blood of displaced and enslaved people that was birthed in ugliness. An ugliness that too many of us want to forget but that some of us can never forget because we are the descendants of an anguished people who for reasons beyond our control carry the psychic weight of those displaced and enslaved people in our souls.

If Trump and his merry hatemongers have the right to gather then those who are committed  to justice and inclusivity have that right too. Anyone who chooses to accept the violent narrative being peddled needs to ask why they can only see the violence when Black and Brown bodies are involved? This election cycle is a ride where for once we as a nation are being asked to open the closet and have a long overdue discussion on race and and what it truly means to be an American. History will capture this moment and hopefully there will be more people on the side of right than wrong.
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No escaping racism…

Just as I sat down to type this post, I listened to a voice-mail message my Dad had just left a few minutes ago…to say he was heated was an understatement. To paraphrase this message from ole dad, racism in America is not dead…I repeat racism is not dead.

The sitting president of the United States, Barack Obama just held a press conference to release the long form of his birth certificate. Why? Because a guy with a bad toupee and a few shekels was making the choir sing louder and louder on the issue of whether or not the president is a real American. Yep the Donald , the embodiment of all that is wrong in this country who now tells us he is thinking of setting his sights on the presidency apparently made the choir of wing nuts sing so loud that Obama really had no choice but to address this issue once and for all.

All jokes aside it’s a sad day for America and serves as a reminder for something most people of color in these divided states have long known, racism is not dead; it simply has taken a new form. We don’t put up signs that say Colored Only, or lynch folks but damn it if this new racism is not equally as tiring and dangerous to the those who deal with it on a daily basis.

In some ways I am reminded of how good white privilege is, it’s the tastiest dish on the menu. After all only with white privilege can folks who at times seem borderline illiterate (I am talking to you Sarah Palin, Trump, and others of their ilk) run around making baseless statements yet a substantial enough amount of the general population will buy into their tripe. Why? Because the white folks said it, so it must be true.

I weep for this nation yet I am convinced that perhaps through our younger generations things will indeed change. Eventually the color of a person’s skin will be no more important than eye color when judging content of character until that time, pass the wine!