Worst. Election. Ever.

Disclaimer: Before I get too far, let me just say that I plan on voting for Mrs. Clinton. I think she is the far more qualified candidate. And I am not missing out on the symbolism of electing our first female president. It is, frankly, long overdue. I remember the overwhelming flood of emotions when Mr. Obama was elected in ’08 (and to a lesser degree in’12) and I don’t begrudge anyone the experience of getting swept away by history. So… there… is that enough preamble? 

This has been (in Comic Book Guy voice) the worst. election. season. ever.

Let’s start with the Republicans. A year ago they had sixteen contenders that we on the left lovingly referred to as the clown car. It was a fairly absurd mix of characters, but from the start, it was clear that the media was fixated on Donald Trump. He got far more coverage because he was willing to say far more outlandish things in far more outlandish ways. Supporters loved him for “not being afraid the speak his mind” and for “telling it like it is”. Despite the circus, it seemed assured that a more seasoned politician, Rubio, Cruz, or Bush, would be the eventual nominee. If not a more seasoned politician, than at least a more respectable adult like Ben Carson.

Nope. No seasoned politician. No fully functioning adult. The Republicans put up Donald Trump for the highest office in the nation.

Let me take a step back here for a second. My ex and I watched the first two seasons of The Apprentice. We loved it! We used to joke that it wasn’t like those “other” reality TV shows. Trump was half of the appeal of the show because the guy is entertaining. The level of self aggrandizement this man can pull off used to be comical. Also, have you ever seen anyone more obsessed with their own last name? He puts “Trump” on everything because he believes in his name as a brand. And it works! It was also interesting because, whether or not he actually knows much about business management, he knows a ton about marketing and that’s what most of the challenges on the show revolved around. He was full of contradiction. One week he would fire someone for not being enough of a team player, the next week he would proclaim someone the winner for taking the reigns away from their teammates. He would tell the female contestants that “sex sells”, then scold them if they got too slutty. It was a wild circus of a show with one clown at the center: Donald J. Trump.

If I thought that America simply needed better marketing, maybe I would be a supporter of Trump. Though, I doubt that because of his appeals to the worst elements of our society. Trump has built his campaign by courting a segment of the population that has felt alienated by the last eight years of an Obama presidency. So, he has played up the fears of racist, the xenophobia of anti-immigration sentiment, the swirling Islamophobia that has hung over us since at least 9/11 and he’s marshaled those forces to help “Make America Great Again”. “Great” here is clearly coded language for white, Christian, and let’s be honest, male. Trump has run a campaign with a near absence of policy proposal, just loud angry rhetoric. And so far, it has worked, though it should be clear that the middle cannot hold here. I expect Trump to lose “huge” in November. Republicans are jumping ship. No former president or presidential nominee has endorsed him. When he is actually on stage with Mrs. Clinton in a debate, he is going to be fully exposed.

It is appalling to me that the Republican party did not put up a worthy candidate for the presidency. As much as I may have disagreed with Mitt Romney or John McCain, I believed them to be good, competent men who would lead by the courage of the convictions with the nation’s best interest at heart. I do not believe that about Mr. Trump. I think he is a raging narcissist who has used this election to further promote his brand. It feels like the country has ben held hostage by an egomaniac for the last sixteen months. The right wing of the republican party has played Dr. Frankenstein by giving voice to the lowest common denominator of civil discourse and now the monster they have created will rip their party apart. Assuming I’m right. If he’s wrong, he’ll rip the whole country apart. Thanks for that, guys! Mr. Trump’s candidacy seems so absurd to me that the conspiracy theorist inside of me actually entertains the idea that Mrs. Clinton put him up to this.

For her part, Mrs. Clinton seems to have been riding a wave of inevitability that began building momentum the moment she lost the primary in ’08. Mrs. Clinton’s presidency seems predestined. Watching the mechanics of the DNC be revealed over the last week or so, it seems like there was a concerted effort to say “it’s her turn”. The primary gave us a race between Mrs. Clinton, Martin O’Malley (who?), and a plucky, young upstart by the name of Bernie Sanders. I give Bernie props for resilience. That dude just would not go away. But again, let’s be honest, the medium is the message. You can’t package revolution in the body of a white male in his seventies. You can’t have the democratic nominee be someone who wasn’t a Democrat until they decided to run for president. That’s just not how party politics works. Bernie appealed to white liberals. he never made in roads in the black community, despite the efforts of Killer Mike, and the Clintons have a name in the black community. It just wasn’t gonna happen. Despite the enthusiasm surrounding him, Sanders campaign was bound for collapse.

Mrs. Clinton is a seasoned politician. She was smart and effective as first lady, and even more so in the senate. In no way is she unqualified for the position of president. I struggle on a couple of fronts. Big picture, there is the discomfort with having our country go Bush-Clinton-Bush-(brief break for Obama)-Clinton. I fully expected that this election was going to be Jeb vs. Hillary and that we would be doing Bush v. Clinton again. All of this is reminder that the presidency is unattainable except for those who gain access to the elite educational systems that produce world leaders. The system is designed so that Ivy league educated individuals will have greater access to power and of course we want our leaders to be well educated. But unless you are a “self made billionaire” (read “trust fund baby”), you can’t actually break into the system in what is supposed to be a representative democracy.

The second thing that gives me pause feels more like a gut thing and it could be wrong. Obama was a center-left politician. He was a master pragmatist. Where he was able to move us to the left in this country was on optics and rhetoric. Those aren’t bad things, but Mr. Obama largely defended the status quo. I had hoped that we could continue moving in a progressive direction after Mr. Obama and I don’t see that happening. The DNC highlighted what a centrist party this has become. Religion and the military have completely been folded in in ways that I don’t think anyone imagined eight years ago. This year’s convention was about courting republicans who can’t stomach Trump and I think Mrs. Clinton’s presidency will have the same tone. I think we will see eight years of very centrist leadership, and while that is preferable to four years of moving backwards, I’m saddened by the feeling that we may not see sweeping change. Maybe I’m wrong.

Finally, I feel like I’ve been scared into voting for Mrs. Clinton and I hate that. I John 4:18, one of my core verses, states that “there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment and whoever fears has not been perfected in love”. Well… I haven’t been perfected in love. I am terrified by the prospect of Donald Trump becoming president and I hate that feeling. I feel like that would be a punishment to the whole world. When I voted in ’08 and ’12, I was voting my hopes and aspirations. This year I am voting to turn the tide of the apocalypse. Not nearly as inspiring. Again, I blame both parties for this, the republicans for putting up a horrible candidate and the democrats for seizing on the horribleness and playing up the angle of fear.

Part of what has been revealed in this process is a disillusionment with the two party system that I haven’t felt before. No, I don’t think that the parties are that much alike, but much of the difference is rhetorical and symbolic. Words and symbols have real power, but when what is needed in this country is massive change, those differences only amount to glacial shifts. I will vote for Mrs. Clinton on Nov. 8th and on Nov. 9th I will begin seeing what I can do to start working with the Green Party on upcoming down ticket elections. I want to get back to voting my hopes and I feel like that party’s platform matches my aspirations. I also feel like it’s too late to have an impact this cycle, so right now I am educating myself.

Voting for the lesser of two evils is still voting for evil. Maybe it’s just my personal affection for Mr. Obama, but in the last two presidential elections, I didn’t feel like I was voting for evil. To be clear, I don’t think Mrs. Clinton is personally evil, but I don’t have the enthusiasm for her candidacy that I wish I had. I would love to see the next election have strong Green Party and Libertarian options. I would love to see access to our political process expand and not contract. I would love to see the diversity of American thought represented on the balance.

But for now, I will vote against the end of days…

 

Thanks to Josh, Hugh, Doug, Abbie Waters, and Lindsey Wade for supporting my writing. You can help me out as well through Patreon.

A World Worth Fighting For

Today was going to be the day. This was going to be the day that I turned away from the stark realism, bordering on pessimism, of my most recent posts and affirmed the goodness of the world. I was going to talk about beauty and truth and goodness. I was going to talk about hope and faith.

Then the charges were dropped against the last three officers involved in Freddie Gray’s homicide and I felt myself being pulled back into what MLK called the pit of despair. I felt my mood souring and the desire was building to shoot lighting bolts through my fingers, Emperor Palpatine style, into the computer and rail against all of the injustice. I would be justified in doing so. And trust me, I will, but I realize that today more than ever is the day that I personally need to write about the good in the world. So I’m sticking with Plan A.

This weekend, after a transportation snafu involving keyless ignition (seriously, if you engineers are so smart, I shouldn’t be able to drive two hours away from my keys!), I left early Saturday morning to get to Pittsburgh to be with my kids. We had a full day of Tae Kwon Do practice (rehearsal?), Target shopping (at Target not for targets), and playing at the pool. In between we went to see Finding Dory. The short before the film was called Piper, a cute little story about a baby sandpiper learning to get food for herself. While the message of overcoming fears rang through loud and clear for me, I couldn’t help but be most impressed by how absolutely beautiful the film was. It was simply visually stunning. The rendering of the sand, the water, and the birds was just exquisite. We’ve actually begun to take for granted what the artists at Pixar can do. The movie that followed was a delightful experience that my kids and I enjoyed in equal measure; a truly rare occurrence.

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Afterwards we went to the pool. I love watching my kids play! They totally lose themselves in laughter and singing. They are uninhibited. They play well together and they are considerate of those playing around them. Raising them continues to give me hope that I am helping to usher two pretty high functioning members of society into the world. They also help me see something that I can so easily miss; as ugly as the world can be at times, it is still worth fighting for.

Did you see Michelle Obama’s DNC speech? If not, take a minute and check it out. Besides FLOTUS’ overall fabulousness, the thing that stuck out for me from this speech was her emphasis on Sasha and Malia. Now, I’m aware that talking about “making the world better for our kids” is a pretty well worn political strategy, but it deeply resonated with me. There was a hopefulness and an optimism to her approach that I found compelling. I think of what she’s endured over the last eight years, the hatred against her husband, her children, and herself. Her optimism feels like more than just political theater. Mrs. Obama, probably more than anyone else, had a front row seat to the slow, incremental process of making change in this world. She watched her husband try to do what he could against unparalleled opposition and while having to be pragmatic when some of us would have liked him to be more radical. I think she gets the worthiness of the struggle, both historically and now. Listening to her makes me want to struggle on.

The night after hanging out with kids I hung out with a friend I hadn’t seen in years. We’ve remained in contact on Facebook, but it’s maybe been a decade since we saw each other face to face. He let me crash on his couch, took me out for a couple of beers, and then we came back to his place and smoked cigars and drank whiskey next to a fire that he built with a speed that would make any scout envious. It was a great night. Over the fire we talked about areas of spiritual growth in our lives and I realized how much I miss those kinds of conversations. Sure, I have lots of pastor friends, but we often talk about the mechanics of doing ministry and less about the areas of spiritual struggle and growth that we experience. It was good to have someone with whom I could connect on that level. He also offered to help me if I need assistance affording a conference I expressed some interest in attending. This friend and I don’t always see eye-to-eye on politics, but it was a great reminder that good people don’t need to agree on everything to be good to each other. It was also a reminder that while politics have real world consequences, it’s at the level of personal relationships where real life is experienced and where change and growth happen.

I came home the next day to my garden. Ah, I love my garden! The sunflowers have gotten tall and unruly. The tomatoes, cucumbers, and zucchini are producing fruit. Bees are buzzing around the pollinator garden on the side. Life is happening. Here I connect with the cycles of life, death, and rebirth that surround us and I’m reminded of the small part I play in keeping it all going. I’m reminded that if nothing else, at least I can plant flowers and in that way, I can be on the side of life and beauty. IMG_0289

The world is filled with injustice. It is run by systems of domination that dehumanize and enslave us. We can’t afford to be silent about the effect those systems have on us. But we also need to be reminded from time to time what it is we’re fighting for: our kids and their futures, truth and beauty, friendship and community. These are the things that I care about, the things that make life worth living. These things are not the domain of one part of the population but the God-given right of every person. There is goodness in this world and it is worth fighting for.

 

A special thank you to Joshua Dunham, Hugh Hollowell, and Doug Hagler for supporting me. If you liked what you read here, you can contribute a $1 to my writing here.

 

That could have been me.

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I don’t have a lot to say about Charles Kinsey’s shooting, but more than feels suitable for a Facebook status. Pardon my language.

Guys, that could have been me.

Do you get it now? This wasn’t some “thug” selling loosies or cd’s, though those things shouldn’t be considered justified. This wasn’t someone resisting arrest, although not resisting doesn’t help either. This wasn’t a protester, though we supposedly have the right to peaceably assemble. This was a behavioral therapist. Doing his job. Caring for an autistic man.

Do you get it now? That could have been me.

That could have been me on a pastoral care visit. That could have been me meeting a spiritual direction client. That could have been me, chasing after any number of loved ones with autism trying to calm them and get them to a safe place. This was someone in a helping profession doing his job. Don’t you see?

That could have been me.

“Why did you shoot me,” Kinsey asked.

“I don’t know,” responds the officer.

Are you kidding me? Are you fucking kidding me?!!!

THAT COULD HAVE BEEN ME!!!

Shot for no reason, trying to do my job, committing the crime of being a black male. Are you serious, America? Is this who we are now? Are we going to continue to be this?

That could have been me, and if you care about me at all, you have to care about this! You have to talk to your police, ask them about their protocols and procedures. Ask to do ride alongs. Let them know that you are on their side, but that you also want them to be accountable.

This is ridiculous.

That could have been me. Will you care then?

Bad Theology! Bad, bad theology!

Watch this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HruL3hLaAaU

Now watch this: http://www.ifyouonlynews.com/politics/ben-carson-goes-way-off-script-during-insane-rnc-speech-starts-rants-about-lucifer-video/

Folks, we have a problem. And it’s a theological problem.

The good news is that theological problems can be solved. The bad news is that it takes time to solve a theological problem and I’m not sure that we have time we need.

The irony of the RNC’s clearly articulated theology is that it is in such great contradiction to the words of one of their party’s greatest thinkers. Abraham Lincoln biographer Francis B. Carpenter recorded an exchange between the president and a pastor :

“No nobler reply ever fell from the lips of a ruler, than that uttered by President Lincoln in response to the clergyman who ventured to say, in his presence, that he hoped ‘the Lord was on our side.’

“‘I am not at all concerned about that,’ replied Mr. Lincoln, ‘for I know that the Lord is always on the side of the right. But it is my constant anxiety and prayer that I and this nation should be on the Lord’s side.'”

Lincoln’s humility when speaking for God would find no place in today’s GOP. The assurance that God is on their side and the declaration as those who disagree with them as enemies is the height of hubris, especially in a country where the “enemy” is your literal neighbor with whom you may have political and religious differences.

I grew up in a church that preached prosperity gospel. For those of you who don’t know, it is prosperity gospel is an interpretation of the Bible that equates personal piety with financial and material success. It often manifests itself in church leaders who are very well off, or at least relative to the flock they serve and an emphasis on God’s favor in the form of stuff. It’s more or less the opposite of what I see from Jesus in the Gospels and contradicts James assertion that God has chosen the poor to be rich in faith. (James 2:5). In fact, prosperity gospel seems to have no place for the poor, the oppressed, and the marginalized who are the focus of the cries for justice that comes out of the prophetic texts and the gospels.

I’ll own a bit of my own hypocrisy. It is hypocritical to call out for saying their theology is wrong and then going on to say that my theology is right. Yes, it is somewhat arrogant of me to assert the rightness of my beliefs. Forgive me that. Still, I think we have to have to begin to create a counter-narrative when it comes to how we think of and speak about the Divine.

Simply put, I believe that God is love and that God is always on the side of those who are truly hurting in this world. Therefore, to be on God’s side, we must be on the side of those who are experiencing genuine oppression. Not on the side of those who are experiencing hurt feelings, those for whom the ability to live, work, and love in freedom is being impeded. In short, I believe that God is for life lived fully, abundantly, and freely. Those things can’t happen in the face of injustice or prejudice or fear. They can’t happen in the presence of hate. They can’t happen when people hoard goods and services. They can’t happen in places of distrust. God is in the business of building bridges, not building walls.

That’s my theology in broad strokes. That is the litmus test I use to make judgments. This understanding of who God is informs the way that I try to live my life. I fail. A lot. Embarrassingly. Still, this is what I believe I know of God via scripture, reason, tradition, and experience. Despite the fact that I see the world through a Christian lens, it isn’t an explicitly “Christian” theology, though I think the life of Jesus exemplified the way we should be in the world. I read the gospels and see a man constantly standing in between the powers that be and the hurting of his time and giving the latter group access to God that the former denied. I think that’s what the church is supposed to be.

If you’re reading this, I am no doubt preaching to the choir, so here’s where I want to challenge us all: don’t shy away from doing theology and doing your theology in public. The hate-mongers have no problem declaring God to be on their side and, because they are the ones who get the spotlight, many think that what they say about God is what is believed universally. That’s not okay. I refuse to let my faith be co-opted by fear, hate, and intolerance. I will not sit by quietly and let my faith be hijacked by people who would use it to keep people in bondage. We have to call out where we see harmful theology. We have to speak up about the fact that there is a richness to our faith, that many of us our loving, welcoming, and affirming because of our faith not in spite of it.

Some of us are weary in fighting this fight. Some of us have grown tired of saying we’re not “that” type of Christian. It’s exhausting to watch. But the ways that faith has been represented at the Republican National Convention has reminded me that there is still a deep need to redefine what it means to be a person of faith in our culture. There are many who have decided that the entire enterprise of faith is not worth it because of the ways the media tends to capture the vocal, evangelical crowd. You can’t blame people for running away screaming when we say that we are religious. Yet there is a beauty to our faith that I believe is worth sharing. There is a way of being in the world that I think is deep and rich and fulfilling. There is a path that faith takes us on that is rarely easy, but always overflowing with meaning. There is purpose to be found. There is community to join. There is justice to pursue. A deeper understanding of Divine leads us into a deeper understanding of our humanity. The answer to bad theology is not no theology. It is good theology.

Your Manhood is Showing

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(Disclaimer: I am amateur when it comes to gender studies, so please forgive any over-generalizations I make about masculinity or femininity. Constructive feedback to that end is welcome)

Back in my film school days, I took a course on Stanley Kubrick. It was easily my favorite class, as it is rare that you can watch the entirety of a director’s filmography in one semester. Kubrick was a complicated man who made films on a wide range of topics. From Spartacus and the Paths of War to Full Metal Jacket and A Clockwork Orange, Kubrick seemed to revel in an exploration of the effects of violence on the human spirit. But there is something more there, possibly best revealed by the director’s ultimate work, Eyes Wide Shut. A bizarre film about a man obsessing over his wife’s sexuality, the film brings into focus that it is not violence Kubrick is interested in as much as what does it mean to be a man. Not what does it mean to be human, what does it mean to a man. It makes sense then that question is often being asked over the backdrop of war or crime. For Kubrick, manhood was a mix of the ability to assert dominance while also being able to balance the pressures of domesticity. What is The Shining if not the fallout of a man who has cracked under the pressure of not being able to produce on a level that will allow him to care for his family properly?

Film scholars talk a great deal about the male gaze. It is, in short, the view that objectifies. Men look at the world as something to be conquered and owned. Easily 90% of the film and television produced is done through the male lens, both literally and figuratively. Men make up the bulk of the directors and producers in the industry and even when women are behind the camera, they are often still challenged to capture the male gaze. Many film scholars argue as to whether or not it is even possible to capture the female gaze through the inherently voyeuristic and violating instrument that is the film camera.

I don’t mean to bore you with film theory. I bring this up because I am thinking about my own maleness and fragility of masculinity as a concept. When I see the laughable crusades of men’s rights activist and the claims to victimhood that men make when they can’t get away with something that a woman does, I wonder at times if the world can much longer survive the male ego.

I was compelled by an LA Times opinion piece that I read recently. The author, Melissa B. Warnke argues that the common denominator in the recent violence that seems to be plaguing us with greater regularity is not race, religion, or culture. It is gender. Whether it is police killing suspects, people targeting police, or violence between neighbors, the perpetrator is always male. Warnke offers up several theories as to why this might be:

There are myriad theories as to why men are nearly 50 times more likely to commit murder than women. Some neuroscientists say testosterone is directly connected to aggression and competition, attitudes that are correlated with violence. Some evolutionary psychologists say that more aggressive men have historically been able to procure more women, food and land. Some psychotherapists have argued that men are raised to suppress vulnerable emotions, which leads them to become overwhelmed and express pain physically rather than verbally. Some sociologists, meanwhile, have found a correlation between violent videogame play and increased aggression in the real world, while other studies find no strong link between these games and violent acts.

Regardless of whether there is a causal relationship, popular entertainment, such as video games and action movies, teaches men from an early age that violence is an expression of strength.

She concludes that whatever the reason, even if it is simply men’s access to power, that the time for serious discussion on this has arrived. I couldn’t agree more and I think it is incredibly important that people of faith do some self examination on the parts our theology has played in this epidemic.

I was proud to see my denomination, the Presbyterian Church (USA), elect two women to the position of co-moderators. It’s reflective of what is happening in many of our congregations. Men are leaving the mainline church and I think it is no coincidence that as the numbers of men decrease, the levels of progressive thought increase. Look at the large, mega-churches in this country, the ones who criticize us as being too liberal. They are largely male lead, hierarchical systems that cling to conservative world views. They tend to imagine a more masculine God, who kicks ass and takes names. Many won’t even allow women in places of real leadership. The same is true in Islam. The progressive voices that I hear coming out of that faith are often the voices of women who have found their own niche, usually in the academy, within their patriarchal structure.

We have to do some serious soul searching about the role of masculinity in our culture. in my own life I can recognize that the fragility of my manhood has caused more more problems than it’s worth. The end of my marriage was directly connected to a time when I imagined myself being emasculated by my wife. Men are taught from a young age to control the bodies of their families, particularly wives and daughters, and so much violence comes from times and spaces when that control is challenged.

I don’t mean to suggest an innate superiority in women. I think the issue with masculinity is that it is so overwhelming tied to power that it has run amuck. What I think our world is in need of is a balance of masculine and feminine energies in all spheres of life, including lawmaking, law enforcement, and spirituality. The male predilection for control can be refocused into service and protection, true service and protection. And as cliche as it sounds, it’s not a bad idea for us men to tap into our feminine sides, the sides that nurture life and process emotions in healthy(ier) ways. There’s no one right way to be a man in this world. We’re allowed to present as masculinely or femininely as we choose. There is, however, a wrong way to be a man and we’re seeing far too much of it in our world. It is time to examine our toxic masculinity and put a stop to it before it poisons the whole world.

And so I pray…

Where do I start? Another day, another shooting. This one, in Baton Rouge, is against police again, so the rhetoric will be predictable. “Blue Lives Matter”. “Black Lives Matter” incites violence. The motives were assigned before the smoke cleared. I pray for the families of those who lost loved ones, both those in uniform and civilians. I pray that police can do their jobs, an admittedly very difficult job, without being victimized by violence and without victimizing those they have sworn to serve. We’ve created a an ugly pattern for ourselves and it won’t stop without some serious soul searching about our culture and its systems.

A great place for that to happen could potentially be at the Republican National Convention this week in Cleveland. I have little hope for that. This week, unless there is some major curveball thrown, the party of Lincoln will nominate someone for this nation’s highest office who is so unpopular that former presidents of his same party refuse to be seen with him or to endorse him. A man so unpopular within his party that the only speakers he could find are those on the fringes and C-list actors. A man who has a 0% percent approval rating in many major cities amongst African Americans. A man who has stoked the fears of this nation and given voiced to the most hate-filled among us. No… I’m expecting a circus this week and not much in the way of serious reflection.

I do pray though. Ohio is an open carry state. Police are attempting as we speak to get the open carry laws overturned for the week. Can you see the irony? The party that fights for open carry wants it suspended when their own party convention is in town? Guns are fine for us and ours, is what they are basically saying. This is what is rolling into Cleveland this week, a party so white that they don’t even have the wherewithal to hire a few token interns. A party that wants to “take America back”… for white people. I pray. I pray that I am surprised. I pray that something of substance comes out of this gathering because I take the Teacher’s instruction to “pray for your enemies” to heart and many of the people who will be at that convention have declared war on me. I pray for the newly installed police officers brought in to protect the event. I pray that any protests that happen will be peaceful. I pray that somehow bridges might be built, if not within the arena, then out on the streets.

In the midst of the present grief and the grief that seems to be building, is the grief of the not very recent past. I was struck by these two pictures:

 

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The funerals of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile respectively gave us these images. A University of Virginia study that has made the rounds recently suggests that white doctors often prescribe less pain medication to black patients under the false assumption that black people feel less pain. I wonder if there is an inherent belief in our culture that black people feel less emotional pain as well. I can’t look at the picture of Alton Sterling’s son and not have my heart break wide open. And even the strength and defiance demonstrated by Castile’s pallbearers is a response to the deep pain of being entrenched in a system that does not value our lives.

I pray. I pray for Cameron Sterling and for all of Alton Sterling’s family and friends. I pray for the friends and family of Philando Castile. And Eric Garner. And Rekia Boyd. And Sandra Bland. And Freddie Gray. And on, and on, and on… I pray that their deaths can be catalysts for change. I pray that healing can take place, healing that works towards justice and not for vengeance. I pray that we don’t continue to add names to this list with such regularity.

The idea of sending thoughts and prayers has been trivialized greatly as of late. I totally get that and I have done some of the trivializing myself. Still, feeling so hopeless and so far from any kind of real solutions, I have to pray. I pray for strength to continue through uncertain times. I pray for peace within myself to not be shaken by what I see around me. I pray for those with whom I disagree on what the solutions to these big issues might be. Again, I do that because the Teacher said I must. But maybe most importantly, I pray for the strength to do more than pray. I pray for the strength to act, to speak out, to create peace in my little corner of the world and to share hope in my circles of influence. I pray because it is the beginning of the work, not an end unto itself. I pray because the fight is hard and long and I can’t do it on my own.

Won’t you pray with me?

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Confession of a Token Negro

Hi, My name is Derrick…

…and I am a token.

(Hi, Derrick!)

I don’t remember exactly when I became a token, but I guess I would point to when my family moved us out into the suburbs. Pretty much from that point on, I have almost always been in situations where I am either the only black person in a room or one of a few. I’ve gone to white schools, white churches, white social gatherings… there were surprisingly few African Americans in my film studies program in college. Where were all the Spike Lee wannabes?

You can usually tell a token in a crowd. There’s the obvious complexion difference. We’re usually smiling (we’ve learned it’s easier). We’re the ones making broad generalizations about our race, usually because we’re asked to do so. We’re the one smiling awkwardly at your mildly racist jokes (FYI, nothing is ever “mildly” racist). We tend to be the first asked about our thoughts on the NBA draft, Beyonce’s new album, or that show you saw thirty seconds of on BET while you were flipping through the channels. We’re the ones trying not to show how much we’re enjoying the fried chicken you brought, not because we don’t enjoy fried chicken, but come on! We oftentimes are found in the back row of your pictures. On TV we tend to have catchphrases, but I have yet to develop one.

In professional settings, we’re either cracking wise or stoically sitting by, waiting to drop some ancient wisdom on you. The truly expert among us can shift seamlessly from one to the other. We test the waters before we say anything overly definitive about politics or religion. The last thing we need is for Ted from payroll to be concerned that we have extreme views. We’ve worked really hard on the professional identity and though there may be a piece of flair here or there, a pimped out tie or (God forbid) dreadlocks, we basically would like you to see us as equally engaged in the rat race, trying to climb the corporate ladder.

But here’s my confession. What you’re not seeing at either in the office or at the barbecue on the weekend is that we’re angry. Let me put that in more personal terms, because I really shouldn’t speak for all of us. I’m angry. I’m angry and weeks like last week are really hard for me to safely process while still maintaining my token status. You see, to be a token, one must be fully immersed in the waters of whiteness. I breathe white air. I eat white food, much of which is artisanal, I’m told. I know white music… you know I’m a token because my favorite groups are the Roots and the Red Hot Chili Peppers… it’s called balance. I speak white fluently.

And because I have learned to navigate the white world world so well, I am often seen as some sort of exceptional negro. “You’re so articulate!” “What a nice clean young man!” “What a charming young man you are!” I’ve heard these all my life and I also hear what is not being said. “You’re so articulate… unlike all of the other black people who can barely speak the language!” “What a nice clean young man you are… unlike the dirty, unkempt thugs I see on television with their pants sagging!” “What a charming young man you are… unlike the rude, loud, uncivilized people I have to deal with in the movie theater!” Don’t get me wrong, I’m awesome! But I’m not exceptional. Black excellence is everywhere, including in those ebonics speaking, pants sagging, loud talking, “thugs” that you’d rather not be seen with me. The fact that they haven’t learned to “be white” like I have doesn’t diminish their beauty or worth.

And yet when weeks like last week happen, and they seem to be happening more frequently, I am snapped back into the reality that as much assimilation as I have done, I am not white. To be clear, I don’t want to be white, though sometimes you guys make it look awesome, but the reminders that I am not white always come in harsh ways that remind me that to you, whether spoken or not, I am slightly “less than”.

Swim in these waters long enough, and you will have to deal with individualized racism on occasion. The awkward stereotype, the thoughtless drop of a slur, the repetition of an ill conceived joke. All part of the territory, usually requiring only a stern look to elicit an apology, even if only a half hearted one. But to discuss that whiteness is a system and that people like me are invariably on the underside of that system, that’s not something we can talk about during coffee hour or casually over a few beers. It gets uncomfortable and I really don’t like being uncomfortable. That said, I also don’t like having to pretend that the system doesn’t exist. I don’t like having to explain to people how the system works, especially not to the people who don’t want to admit that they benefit from it. I’m angry yet toeing the line so that I don’t come off as just another angry black guy. And let me tell you, suppressing anger is hard work. Exhausting, actually.

So not only am I angry, I’m tired. I’m tired of seeing people that look like me gunned down yet having to adjust my outrage to something more socially appropriate. I’m tired of having anything I said that my be “pro-black” interpreted as being “anti-white”. I’m tired of not being “really black” because I’ve learned how to play the rules of your game. I’m tired of feeling like all of my relationships are just a pulled thread away from unraveling because my anger isn’t as fun to be around as prodigious recall of 90’s rap lyrics.

And here’s the hardest part of this confession, the part that fully shows my token hand: I still want to be in relationship with you. I cherish my white friends. I’ve learned so much from them. Some of them have learned stuff from me too. Most of the people I spend time with are awesome people with good hearts trying as hard as I am to figure out this whole “life” thing. My life would be all the emptier with out them. And that’s what makes this all the more challenging. I sometimes worry that if I express my anger or my exhaustion that I will lose you. That’s a piece of the privilege pie that rarely gets discussed. You have the power to cut me off for being too angry. That sucks for me. I guess that’s my cross to bear.

I confess because I want you to know where my heart is. I want you to know that as much as I might try to fit in, we’re not all the same. And I really don’t want you to be “colorblind”… unless you actually are colorblind, then I want to hear all about that. That fascinates me… anyway. I just want to heard and seen for who I am and who I am has the complexity of blackness as a part of it. I know sometimes that makes things awkward for you, but imagine how it feels to be me…