“You’re SO Sensitive!!!”

AnSZnc3a_400x400

As I get closer to my second wedding, I have begin to think a great deal about the first. I’ll be honest, I don’t remember much of the ceremony. It felt like a blur… and my feet were killing me. I do, however, remember part of the homily that was given that afternoon. There were two, actually. We got married at my former in-laws church who had a policy that required couples to use one of their pastors in our service. We also wanted someone who knew us to say something, so we invited our supervisor to give the second one. This was a man we had been working, whom we both respected tremendously, and who knew us both very well. During his homily, he did said some things about the both of us. He did some unpacking of the etymology of my first wife’s name. I remember a round of “Amens” when he made a comment about her being a precious gift to me. Funny what the mind holds on to. Then he turned to me. And then he turned to me and said “Derrick, you are sensitive. A lot of people will tell you that that sensitivity is a weakness, but I want to tell you that it is a strength”. To give a little more context, this man was my supervisor when I was doing outreach to middle school kids on the North Side of Pittsburgh. I had worked in a team, including my former wife, that would plan activities, outings, and events for kids all while helping them with homework and attempting to teach them a little bit about God. I was often the one who in the middle of planning would stop the process and ask the question that I had been sitting on for ten minutes about how what we were doing would affect the kids. Some times that would lead to “objection noted… moving on” but often times it would lead us to totally change our plan of action. I guess it was in the numerous conversations and planning meetings where that part of me came to the surface where the sensitivity he spoke of shone through.

I think I’ve always felt things deeply. There was a time though where that “feeling” was disguised as “thinking” and I’m pretty sure that was the way I wanted it to be. I wanted people to think of me as analytical and intellectual. I was fine with being perceived as a little cold as long as people thought I was smart. The truth is that intellect was just a mask to cover deep sadness and insecurity. I never wanted people to see my sadness. I remember escaping away from my family after my grandfather’s funeral to go off and cry by myself. They, of course, found me and I felt weak. Sadness was weakness and I would much rather bury those feelings than have anyone perceive me as weak. Even when the pain of existing got too much for me in high school, it felt much more logical to end my own life than to express the sadness I was feeling to another person.

A shift happened in my life at some point and there is only one person to blame: Thomas Weston. When my son was born, there was no intellectual construct to hold what was inside of me. Rational thought had no place in this new paradigm. There was nothing logic about him, his existence, our relationship, or the utter joy I felt at being his father. I began to allow myself to feel more depths of my feelings. I felt deep wells of love that I didn’t know existed inside of me. Love, pride, joy, happiness… it was all unleashed. Unfortunately, it also gave me the ability to feel the depths of pain that I had kept buried as well. Inadequacy, failure, anxiety about my ability to be what this tiny person needed me to be. Pandora’s box was open. It may seem like I am being overly dramatic, but I can give concrete indicator here. From 2003-2010 I consistently tested on the Myers Briggs as an INTP. Since 2011 I have consistently tested as an INFP. I’m telling you, that kid wrecked me in the best possible way!

Over the last few years, my sensitivity has felt like a huge weakness. It often leads me down the road to depression. It has caused me to interpret things as insults that weren’t meant to be so. It has made me emotionally needy, far needier than I want to be and that neediness has made me toxic at times. My insecurities hang out closer to the surface than they once did. I, at times, will joke about being dead inside simply hoping that it could be so. I find myself pulled between strong emotions. I get easily discouraged. I haven’t always felt safe to feel what I do, so I retreat into places where it may be safer to feel or I retreat into numbness. My sensitivity makes me feel world events on an uncomfortable level. I sometimes find myself feeling totally overwhelmed by the news in a way that feels juvenile.

Of course, feeling things deeply is not all curse. I am sympathetic and compassionate. I am present for my kids, my friends, and my partner. I anticipate when things might be hard for others and try to mitigate that pain. I have a great capacity for love. I think my sensitivity has helped me to raise sensitive children and I love to watch them feel their big feelings and know that it is safe to do so. Feeling comfortable with my feelings has freed others to feel their feelings at times when they’ve needed to express them and I am grateful to provide that for people.

Sensitivity, the way that I experience it, can be a strength and it has taken some time for me to reframe that. In a world run by toxic masculinity, I think it is important that men talk about the depths of our feelings. I think we have to find healthy spaces to feel and healthy spaces to express the depth of our feeling. I think we need to be more comfortable with tears. That it is still a place where I struggle. I don’t cry nearly as much as I think would be healthy for me. We need to teach our sons that it is okay to feel. Our daughters tend to be more emotionally intelligent than we are, so we need to learn from them, but we also need to teach them that they should not let themselves be on the receiving end of men’s unprocessed emotions.

When I first started with my current therapist, she told me that I didn’t have the infrastructure for feelings. It was one of the funnier things I had ever heard, made funnier by how true it was. As I have been building that infrastructure over the last few years, I find new pains, fears, and anxieties. I also find new joys, new peace, and new wells of compassion. It is a a strength to feel so deeply, a strength and a privilege. In Ephesians 4, the author speaks against the hardness of heart of those who do evil (vs.17-19) and commands that we be tenderhearted (v.32). There’s a risk there. We risk being hurt, being taken advantage of, and looking weak and foolish. It is the risk of vulnerability. It is the risk of love. In God’s economy, we are at our strongest when we are weak.

So I carry that lesson from my first wedding into the life that lies ahead of me. My sensitivity is my strength. May it be so.

#NoKaepNoNFL, Week 3: No Such Thing as Unity

baltimore-ravens-kneel-for-anthem

 

Well… that was interesting.

While at a rally in Huntsville, Alabama, a city without an NFL franchise, Supreme Leader Trump turned his attention to the league… instead of Puerto Rico, or Mexico, or Florida, or Texas… and said the following: “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners when somebody disrespects our flag to say get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out, he’s fired, he’s fired,”.

Let’s ignore for just a second that the President of the United States called protestors “sons of bitches”, a term which should be totally beneath the office in a public address. This is the second time in as many weeks that the administration has tried to use their influence to get private sector employees fired. I get that firing people is a part of Donald’s TV persona and that he’s not concerned about much more than ratings, but this is well beyond the scope of the presidency. Trump then took to Twitter to suggest that low ratings would put an end to the protests. Think about that for a second; the American president essentially calling for a boycott of a multibillion dollar, purely American industry. A boycott of several of his supporters’ companies. This should have been unthinkable but very little is with this president!  It shouldn’t have shocked anyone that NFL owners, probably the only group in the country with as much ego as the president, would not take kindly to being told what to do. So the league owners, including some of the group that openly contributed to Trump’s campaign, came out in favor of the players’ rights to express themselves. Mind you, this had nothing to do with the players’ rights to express themselves. This was a pissing contest between billionaires.

So Saturday night and Sunday morning, there was talk that there would be league-wide protests. Of course, this meant the question on everyone’s mind was “would I end my boycott?”. (“Everyone” here meaning one or two of my friends). While I was very interested in what was going to happen Sunday morning, I had no intention of ending my boycott. None of this changed the blacklisting of Colin Kaepernick. If anything, it diluted Kaep’s protest. Instead of being strictly about police brutality and the injustices experienced in communities of color, it became about Trump, the national anthem, and the flag. Essentially, Trump hijacked and reframed the protest. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate what many NFL players did yesterday. Many took a knee during the anthem. Even several singers of the national anthem took a knee during the singing. I thought that was especially moving. That said, the “why” of the protest got muddled by Trump’s interference and I’m not so sure that wasn’t exactly what he wanted.

I have to take a moment to address what my team did. The Steelers announced before the game that they would not be taking the field for the national anthem at all. My initial thought was “Wow! That is a powerful gesture!”. Then I read the comments of Mike Tomlin who essentially said that they were doing this to stay out of it. “We’re not going to play politics,” Coach Tomlin declared. That was disappointing. Then there was this piece by Damon Young, suggesting that Tomlin keeping the team off the field was a “black ass Judo” maneuver:

But, regardless of his words, the act itself still seemed like an unambiguous fuck you to Trump. The optic message was one of defiance, and that’ll be the prevailing takeaway from it. Tomlin is no fool, and I’m sure he knew how not participating in the anthem would look, which makes me wonder if his words were intentionally misleading; the same type of professional shape-shifting and racial judo black people perform each day to defy the system while keeping our jobs and our sanity intact. 

The Steelers’ actions had even more the look of protest when it was revealed that Allejandro Villanueva, offensive lineman and the only active military personnel in the league (army ranger) went without his team on to the sidelines, placed his hand on his heart and sang along with the anthem. With this gesture, the team that was apparently “100 unified” was both by the media and the fans divided into the patriotic (Villanueva) and the “ungrateful” (Tomlin and the rest).

While I tend to side with Young’s assessment… I think the Rooneys (strongly democratic) and Tomlin (open Hilary supporter) are media savvy enough to know how their actions would be interpreted… I would have loved to have seen a more clear, unambiguous message from my favorite franchise. “Injustice is real, protest is patriotic, you can’t celebrate the achievements of black lives on the field while ignoring the circumstances of black lives in their neighborhoods”. That’s probably asking for too much, but it would have been nice and it is what the moment called for. Instead, the team and much of the league went for the more ambiguous sign of “unity”. Unity to what end? Are they united in their dislike of being belittled by the president? Are they united in their desire to win a football game (which the Steelers did not… winning would have saved Tomlin and crew a lot of criticism, methinks), were they united in their willingness to stand behind each other’s right to free speech, despite differences of opinion? “Unity” isn’t necessarily “solidarity”. The big issue I have with what happened yesterday is that it muddled the message. Kaepernick took a knee to protest the killing of black bodies in American streets. Trump’s interference and the myriad of responses to those comments made it about everything from patriotism to the role of politics in sports. What happened yesterday is important to the extent that it brings us back to the original movement that Kaep started. Gestures of “team unity” do a disservice to that movement.

Part of the sermon my colleague Nancy preached in worship yesterday was about a conference she attended on Christian unity. I take it from her sermon that she and many others felt like some of the conversations were a waste of time. I tend to agree. I don’t think Christian unity is a worthwhile goal at this particular moment. The fact that someone else claims to be pro-Jesus, does not make us allies if they are unwilling to do the work of justice. I would much rather spend time with like-minded Jews, Muslims, Atheists, and Humanists than Christians who proclaim Christ while turning their backs on the poor and excluding those they deem to be sinners. I feel the same way about the idea of being “united” as a country. If our unity means my silence, than no thank you! Unity is a lovely sounding goal, but my first allegiance is to the marginalized and oppressed because that is whose side I believe God to be on. If our unity serves empire than I have betrayed those who are hurting and our unity is simply another tool to victimize.

The NFL is a media giant which is why what happened yesterday garnered so much attention. In thinking of who to highlight this week, I thought about the impact of the media and I came across this fantastic article about a group of black women who are making big moves in the industry. Some names I recognized, Angela Rye is amazing!, but some I never heard and didn’t realize how much influence they wielded. It’s easy to imagine that these women are a driving force in why conversations of representation are happening much more frequently than they once were. And reading through the comments on the article, I would be remiss if I didn’t also highlight Jamie Broadnax, the founder of Black Girl Nerds. BGN is a fantastic podcast highlighting the work of people of color in film, television, and comics. Jamie is also the co-founder of Universal Fan Con, a diversity focused convention that will have its debut in Baltimore in April of 2018. I think it is a fair bet that I will be there!

 

https://www.patreon.com/derricklweston

This Week in White Mediocrity: Sean Spicer

18-sean-spicer.w710.h473

What happened with Sean Spicer Sunday evening was almost comical. Not comical in the way that the producers of the Emmy’s intended, more comical in that “oh, you’ve got to be fucking kidding me!” kinda way. It’s almost hilarious to believe that the man who was the mouthpiece of this current administration coming out of the gate would 7 and a half months later be given a platform to “poke fun at himself”. It’s almost hilarious to me that Sean Spicer’s “humiliation” was receiving applause and laughs from a willing audience that was totally in on the joke at what is supposed to be one of Hollywood’s most prestigious events. Please, could I get some of that humiliation? It is bordering on sidesplitting to think the man who was allowed in to our homes to tell us how historic the inauguration crowd was and how intelligent the president is, and how dangerous Muslims and healthcare are was only months later allowed into our homes to show us “look, I’m a good guy! I can laugh at myself! All is forgiven, right?”

Yeah, no.

Look, I’ll admit, when I initially saw the gag, I chuckled a bit. The surprise factor more than anything was admirable. But it didn’t take a whole lot of sitting with it for me to get really uncomfortable. I wish I could have read Melissa McCarthy’s mind at the moment. I mean, I don’t know what this face means, but I have an idea:

anigif_sub-buzz-25945-1505694512-2.gif

I’m pretty sure this is the face you make when a mediocre white man has just capitalized off of your hilarious bit and you’re trying real hard not to lose your shit. Maybe I’m wrong…

What upsets me about this situation is how easily it seems that the establishment is willing to welcome an unremarkable white man back into the fold. A friend of mine yesterday compared Spicer to Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s minister of propaganda. Is that a bit extreme? Maybe. Time will tell. I don’t think Spicer is nearly as competent as Goebbels was.

That, of course, brings me to another piece of this that was upsetting; Spicer, to many, seems to get a pass because he was a bumbling idiot, doing the administration’s bidding. It reminds me of the justice system’s propensity to refer to white men in their thirties as “kids” while black children are treated and tried as adults. Where is the accountability? In his short time, Spicer not only promoted the administration’s agenda, but contributed to the discrediting of the mainstream news media and marginalization of the legitimate press. He was a part of the apparatus that cast the primary means of holding the government accountable in questionable light. You’ll forgive me if I’m not willing to let this guy off the hook right now.

I’m going to speak of “white people” using some generalities now. You may want to skip this part if that makes you angry.

Part of white privilege is the ability to move back to “normal” rather quickly. Sean Spicer’s appearance on the Emmy’s was an attempt at normalization, bringing him back into the fold of the American mainstream. The result is that people who are offended by seeing him on their screens are told that they are “overreacting”, even though the sight of him should be, I would argue, somewhat traumatic. There is a sense that society will always “circle the wagons” (an indelicate phrase, pardon me any Native readers I may have) around a white man, no matter how mediocre or despicable his actions. At the present moment, this is highlighted by the fact that one of the better athletes at his position is being blacklisted for both being a person of color and standing up for the rights of people of color. Was a cheap laugh, even if it was at Spicer’s expense, worth more than the moment of inspiration that could have come from having Colin Kaepernick on that same stage?

Some of this goes to the nature of comedy in this political moment that I’m starting to think white comedians simply don’t understand. Right now, marginalized communities need comedy to shine a light on the injustices of the world, not make light of them. This, like Tina Fey’s sheetcaking moment feel like attempts to hide from the horrors that this nation is experiencing while ignoring the fact that many people do not have the luxury of burying their heads in the sand. It feels insensitive and makes people of color and other marginalized groups distrustful of those that would be considered allies.

I’m sure this seems like I’m investing a lot of energy in something that was relatively small. Why focus on the white mediocrity of a Sean Spicer when I could be focusing on the black excellence of a Donald Glover which was on display at the same show? Why write about this instead of the re-emerging threat against the ACA? Why care at all about a show I didn’t even watch? All of these are legitimate questions. I focus here because I see a danger. It’s not just a danger of celebrating white mediocrity… that, I fear, will always be with us… but a danger of normalizing the carriers of messages that should be marginalized. For the record, I don’t blame Spicer for this. I, for one, completely understand the desire to have one’s image repaired as quickly as possible. But as someone who is still living under the accountability necessitated by my actions, I am also sensitive to people being immune from consequences, particularly when their actions have had such a corrosive effect. No, I don’t think that Spicer should be brought up on war crimes or anything like that, but I do think his first public appearances since his resignation should have been with the journalist he himself maligned, and not late night talk shows and award ceremonies hobnobbing with the beautiful people. He should have to sit down with April Reigns or Dan Rather and give account for that he did for the administration. That’s what accountability looks like to me. Of course, if there is one thing that white mediocrity hates, it’s accountability…

#NoKaepNoNFL Week 2: I am not your priest

After two weeks of abstaining from watching the NFL, I have noticed something surprising: the NFL is EVERYWHERE! Commercials, billboards, radio… it is ubiquitous. I guess as a fan, it never really bothered me in the past. I don’t notice other sports having this much media saturation during their seasons. Football really is a part of the fabric of American life.

Several people this week have reached out specifically to me to ask about boycott rules. “Does it count if I’m in a bar and a game is on in the background?” “What if friends tell me the scores over social media?” “What do I do if I’m in an airport and there is NFL on the screens?” Ladies and gentlemen, I’m not your priest! I can’t absolve you of your boycott sins. Also, if I were, I would tell you not to be so legalistic. For me, it’s really about not giving time or money to the league. You can’t control what other public establishments or your social network decides to do. Shannon and I were at a bar on Friday and ESPN was on. I glanced up occasionally at the screen, but for the most part, I  was focused on good conversation, my watered down drink, and shrimp wrapped in bacon, drenched in barbecue sauce. (SO GOOD!) Because the NFL is everywhere, it is hard to avoid the product out right and still engage in public life. Still, the fact that I’m not intentionally going to bars where games are playing is a big shift. A bar with ESPN on in the background showing highlights is hardly on my radar.

Jemele-Hill

Speaking of ESPN, all the shouts out to Jemele Hill. I have watched Ms. Hill for a long time, since she was showing up the male sportscasters on ESPN’s Around the Horn. She is smart, funny, incredibly charismatic, and knows her stuff when it comes to every sport. It has been so excited to watch her and Michael Smith rise through the ESPN ranks. When they were given the 6pm SportsCenter spot I was thrilled even though I am rarely around a TV at 6pm. I don’t know if white people understand this, but there is a sense in the black community that when one of us rise, we all rise. Jemele and Michael might as well have been my cousins when I heard the news! Ms. Hill got in trouble this week for tweeting that our president is a white supremacist who surrounds himself with other white supremacists and that he was a terrible leader. I, for one, searched high and low and could not find the lie in her tweets. ESPN immediately apologized for her tweets and made it clear that they did not represent the station. She also apologized to the station and her colleagues, basically acknowledging that her tweets could have been misconstrued as being representative of the company. She did not, however, backpedal on her comments. I saw several people calling for her to be fired. Unfortunately, one of those people was Sarah Huckabee Sanders, spokesperson for the White House. For Ms. Sanders to call it a “fireable offense” was pretty damn close to violating the actual spirit of the First Amendment, as in the government can’t impede free speech. So far, it looks like Jemele’s job is safe, but I can’t get over the hypocrisy of people who say that she should “stick to sports and stay away from politics” and ignore the fact that the NFL has received millions of dollars since 2009 from the department of defense to essentially have a celebration of nationalism before every game. It’s also hard to ignore that the NFL is made up largely of black athletes making money for white billionaires. That, to me, is pretty political. At least nine of those billionaires contributed to Trump’s campaign in large sums. That feels pretty political too and probably a big reason why Mr. Kaepernick is not employed.

This week an email caught my attention. It was from “Revolutionary Love”. That was hard to ignore. The Revolutionary Love Project is “a volunteer-run project that offers calls to action, tools, inspiration, and support to fight for social justice through the ethic of love… We, people of faith and moral conscience, resist all policies, actions, and rhetoric that put people in harm’s way. We refuse to mirror the hate and vitriol that we oppose. We commit to fight for justice through the ethic of love — love for others, our opponents, and ourselves. We are rising up across the U.S. and around the world in protest, music, dance, and direct action to declare that #RevolutionaryLove is the call of our times”.

Ummm… hell yes!!!

Last week’s email was about a particular project, a documentary film made about the murder of Sikh man in Arizona which was the first recorded hate crime following 9/11. The film, Divided We Fall: Americans in the Aftermathhighlights the struggles that many have experienced since that fateful day in 2001 and is told exclusively through the stories of Sikh Americans who are often mistaken as Muslims. That anyone should experience hate because of their religion is absurd, but that people are being discriminated against for a religion that they don’t even practice is even more reprehensible. The film seems like a great resource for those who want to start a dialogue about how we can be better neighbors to those who may be in harm’s way in our communities. It seems like a film a lot of churches should be showing…

This post feels more disjointed than most and for that I apologize. Even as I still hold out hope that the NFL can become a more equitable enterprise, I am shocked by the layers upon layers of injustice that are perpetuated by the league and the larger sports-industrial complex. At the same time, I am inspired by the work of grassroots organizers and activists who are making the world safer and better in their own small, tangible ways. May those of us who have marveled at the athleticism and ability of the gladiators on Sunday find just as much to marvel at in the courage and passion of the workers on the margins.

 

 

Thank you to my new Patrons, Bruce Reyes-Chow and Sarah Gibbs. If you would like to support my writing, you can do so at http://www.patreon.com/derricklweston. Thank you!

 

“Never Forget” doesn’t help.

never_forget_by_ischmal-d48dvn4-1

Can I tell you something I’ve never told anyone else, dear reader? Okay. When 9/11 happened I was a student at the University of Pittsburgh. As a film student, I was taking the majority of my classes in the Cathedral of Learning. The CoL is the tallest building dedicated to higher learning at least in this country, possibly in the world. I was terrified to go to classes after September 11th. I did not want to attend my classes on the 3rd floor, or the 5th floor, or the 10th floor, or the 34th floor. I struggled mightily that year. I told everyone it was because I was so invested in the work I was doing with young people on the North Side of Pittsburgh through The Pittsburgh Project. That was somewhat true. But it was also because there were days when I just couldn’t make myself go to class. I imagined sitting in my medieval literature class and watching a plane fly directly at me during the lecture. I imagined fighting to get through to the elevator after watching yet another viewing of Battleship Potemkin. I feared not making it through all ten commandments of The Decalogue.

Yesterday I made a comment about disliking social media on Facebook. Amidst the small trickle of “Amens” were a few people questions pushing back. I realize that a tweet or a Facebook status is often a glib form of self expression, especially on topics that are really important. I feel like I need to unpack my dislike for our commemoration of 9/11 in a more thoughtful way.

Let me start with the “Never Forget” motto that is at the center of the 9/11 commemoration ethos. I’d as soon forget the birth of my kids as I would forget that horrific day. I remember where I was, who I was with, what I did, what I felt, who I talked to, and what I watched, which was mostly the second plane flying into the second tower on a continuous loop. I remember worrying about my future wife’s sister who was a flight attendant. I remember fielding calls of whether or not I was okay because all of the early reports of the fourth plane said that it crashed in Pittsburgh. I remember going to pray with the new church I was apart of and more than ever wanting certainty of the realness of my faith.

To ask those of us who lived through it to never forget is insulting. In any other situation of trauma, we would not ask the traumatized to never forget. “Don’t you ever forget that time you were raped!” “Remember that time you were robbed at gunpoint!” “Always remember when your dad walked out on your family!” It’s insensitive and demeaning to throw such platitudes around.

Here’s my other, more global opposition to the “never forget” adage; our not forgetting has been the core of our not healing. Those in public life who tell us to “never forget” would often have us do so in order that we might remember the victimization that we felt that day and use it as a justification for either forfeiting our rights in the name of security or victimizing others in the name of justice. The call to remember is never a call to scrutinize the American imperialist enterprise. It is never a call a to think through how our policies have created disenfranchised young men around the world who saw this as their only option. It is never a call to repentance for the ways that America has equipped and empowered those who would do violence in the name of freedom. Were our call to remembrance also a call to analysis or a call to accountability, then maybe it would strike as a useful endeavor. As it is currently presented, it is simply a call to remember the fear and helplessness that I felt on that day, and that serves only my darkest demons.

9/11 was a national trauma. As someone who has been dealing with my own personal traumas therapeutically, I know that memory can be an important part of the healing process. But if the intent is not to open the wound for the sake of airing it out, then we only open ourselves up to be infected by hatred, fear, and violence. (…hope I didn’t beat that metaphor to death…). I think that there is some good that come from remembering 9/11 if we are willing to do the work of accepting how small and childlike we all felt on that day and the days that followed. If we were really willing to dive into the psyche of nation that was at the time making decisions based on fear. If we were willing to admit that we made decisions in Afghanistan and Iraq based off of that smallness and insecurity that we felt and repent of the lives that were lost or irreparably altered because of our fear-laced actions, then I would say that we’re getting somewhere. Instead we shine two lights representing the symbols of our economic empire instead of questioning the culpability of in wars and conflicts across the globe.

It is because I love my country that I want it to heal from this wound that has plagued us for almost half of my life. 9/11 was an invitation to the be on equal footing with the rest of the world. What we experienced one day is what many nations deal with daily. We had an opportunity to join more fully into the world community and now we are retreating into a new age of isolationism.

Personally, I will never forget 9/11. It was a beautiful, early fall day. The sun was shining, the air was brisk, and the wind was pleasant. And with that backdrop, the world was being changed forever and I believe for the worse. America rallied around its military might and ability to create wealth for the very few in the name of patriotism. We became less than what we are. This is what I remember about 9/11… and it continually breaks my heart.

#NoKaepNoNFL, Week 1

feature1-1-c949e4c660afee4d

A few years ago I started boycotting Wendy’s. While the rest of the fast food industry signed on to the Fair Food Program, an initiative to pay tomato growers who supplied their produce to the industry a fair wage. Instead of signing on to the agreement with the other major fast food suppliers, they began to get their tomatoes from Mexico instead of Florida like the rest of the chains. You can read more about it here.

I love Wendy’s! They are easily my favorite fast food place. Not going there these last three years or so has absolutely sucked. I miss the Baconator. I miss it so bad. And their fries. And their strawberry lemonade in the summertime. God, I’m making myself hungry and angry at the same time. My boycott has seemingly had no effect on Wendy’s corporate behavior. I’ve probably brought more attention to the issue through tweets, Facebook posts and blog posts like this, but I don’t think I’m on Wendy’s radar. I honestly don’t think I ever will. It will take either a larger social movement or increased corporate pressure for them to change. Nevertheless, my boycott continues. Why? Because as much I would like to change the world, it’s more about the kind of person I want to be. I get to make decisions about who gets my time and money. I can’t just enjoy Wendy’s food and ignore their sins. I can’t turn a blind eye. As Maya Angelou once said, “when you know better, do better”.

I’ve written year after year about my love for the NFL. I’ve ignored the criminal activity of some of their players, noting that the percentage of NFL players involved in criminal activity mirrors the percentage of the general population. I’ve ignored the creeping influence of a militaristic patriotism that began on this day 16 years ago. I figured it was somewhat unifying. I’ve ignored the violence of the game and its influence on the players. We all make trade-offs in our jobs. Some of us bend our backs sitting at a desk for hours. Musicians get injuries all the time from dedication to their instruments. Many people put themselves in harm’s way for their work, not just police officers and soldiers, but social workers and nurses. Plus, the game is safer than its ever been due to changes in equipment and rules to the detriment of the play on the field. We make compromises for the work we love. The NFL employs huge numbers of African Americans, far more than the Presbyterian Church (USA). Sure all of these might seem like rationalizations (they are), but I was willing to do the mental gymnastics because of the enjoyment I get from the game and the community that forms while watching.

I had to draw the line with the blacklisting of Colin Kaepernick. I’ll be honest, I might feel completely different about this had Mrs. Clinton won the election, but in Trump’s America, protest is the greatest tool that we have. We have to be able to speak against the evils we see in the world. We have to call police to account for their presence in urban communities. We have to use every platform that we have speak on the issues that affect the most vulnerable in our communities. That Kaep has been treated worse than domestic abusers, rapists, and (alleged) murderers for simply sitting quietly during the national anthem is abhorrent and ridiculous to me. That there was seemingly a concerted effort to keep him out to the league this season even while it was increasingly clear that certain teams could use his skills was beyond disheartening. That the league cared so little about its black fans when it has built its billions on black bodies… yeah…

So, Thursday was opening night and yesterday was the first Sunday of the season. I’m already feeling the NFL’s absence. I watched college football with friends on Saturday. It was fun because of the friends, but the quality of the game is different and I don’t have the long standing emotional attachments. Maybe that will come in time. Instead of rushing home to watch football, I had a meeting at work that went into mid afternoon and then I came home and took a nap. I know from friends’ posts that the Steelers won and that the Patriots lost on Thursday. This would normally be a source of immense joy. Today it all just makes me sad.

Part of my commitment during this time is to draw attention in this space to the work of community activists who are doing amazing grassroots work. Yesterday, I conveniently came across this article. It’s a list of 15 black, female organizers who are not getting the recognition that they deserve. I knew a couple of names, Alicia Garza and Rosa Clemente’s work I’ve heard quite a bit about. (Ms. Clemente almost got me to vote third party this year!) But there are also a lot of women here whose names and work I didn’t know. I would encourage you to take a look at the list and the organizations represented. If someone is near you, find a way to get involved. If they’re not, I’m sure they need funds.

I’m doing this part because people like Antonio Brown, Aaron Rodgers, and TJ Watt don’t need anymore recognition. But the people who are putting their lives on the line everyday to strengthen their communities, those are names we should know. I particularly like this list because it highlights the work that black women are doing and have always done to be the heart and soul of hurting communities. The world would be much better off if we did more listening to black women. I’m also encouraged by the number of Trans* women and Trans* activist on this list as this is a place where much more attention is needed.

It’s week one and there is a football-shaped hole in my heart, but I will use this time and energy to lift up people who I think are true heroes. I’m hoping that will take some of the pain away. I know the NFL probably won’t see this and even if they did, they probably wouldn’t care. But this is about the kind of person that I want to be. Right now, I am a person who values activism over entertainment.

The Nation We Want to Be

file-1

 

With the repeal of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Act (DACA), another statement has been made by the Trump administration about the kind of nation that they want this to be. This has been the program that has been developing from the beginning: keep Muslims from coming in, use ICE to round up people suspected of being here illegally, dog whistle to those who think that white people are an endangered class, and, now repeal protections for those who came into the country as children. Let’s not forget rolling back sentencing limits for people arrested on minor drug offenses as well as limitations on access to military grade weapons to police forces, actions will disproportionately affect African American communities. Oh, and the military transgender ban and removal of Obama era LGBT workplace protections. That’s to say nothing of the attacks on healthcare, environmental protection, and saber rattling with foreign leaders.

This is the America a lot of people voted for. That can not be overstated. This is what many in this country wanted. They imagine a return to a country where the heterosexual, white, Christian, nuclear family is once again held up as the model of normalcy against which all other people are judged. They imagine a country where we don’t have to be “politically correct”… meaning that we can be as crude at categorizing the “other” as we so desire. This is an America where “good” people are protected from the scourge of crime and blight that plague our urban centers and “bad” people are locked up simply for causing fear in the hearts of said aforementioned good people. Notice here that “good” and “bad” become racialized terms in this scenario. What’s imagined is that this country can return to a time when the concerns of marginalized people weren’t force fed down the throats of the general populace, where compassion was limited to helping “good” people when they get stuck in a jam, and anyone outside of the mainstream could be either ignored or ostracized. It’s an America that values homogeneity because it makes life “simpler”. It’s an America that’s tough; tough on crime, tough on terrorism, and tough on people who disrupt the ebb and flow of “normal” life.

What I have just described truly is the ideal for a large portion of this country. It’s an ideal that wraps racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and xenophobia in codified language of “freedom”, “security”, and “values”. It’s an ideal that sees America with a “whites only” sign on it, with occasional exceptions made for the “good” minorities who know their place and aren’t “uppity”. It’s an America whose Christianity, such as it were, is forged in the model of Constantine, the Crusades, and colonizers, a Christianity that only exists to reinforce the legal strictures of empire. It’s an America where the only form of “service” that is recognized as having value is military service, because willingness to fight and die for the empire is noblest of endeavors. It’s a nation where facts come from theologians, not scientists and where a pre-scientific understanding of weather (i.e. – the hurricane is because of your sexual immorality) is more accepted than a scientific one (i.e. – the hurricane is because of our environmental immorality).

Surprising no one, this is not my dream for this country and it is time for us to do some real soul searching about the kind of nation we want to be. As a parent, I always begin this internal conversation with the question of in what kind of world do I want my kids to grow up. While “safe” is high on my list, it’s not at the top. I want my kids to grow up with an appreciation of the differences that exist in other people. I want them to develop empathy and compassion. I want them to be able to get outside of themselves and see the world as much larger than they can imagine. I want that to fill them with wonder, not fear. I want them to grow up in a world where they feel some discomfort because they don’t speak a language or don’t know a custom. I want that to drive them to learn more and appreciate more. I want them to live in a nation that makes provision for the most marginalized among us because we value their humanity. I want them to live in a nation that welcomes the stranger, not just because they have something to offer to the culture, which they most certainly will, but because welcome and hospitality are the hallmarks of a compassionate nation. I want them to live in a nation where people who hold on to the prejudices of the past don’t feel comfort in speaking their vitriol aloud because there is no place for their words to find an audience. I want my kids to grow up in a scientifically informed society that understands the ramifications of burning fossil fuels, large scale agriculture, and rampant consumerism and begins to make changes in the ways we work, eat, and live. I want them to grow up with an appreciation of the unique expressions of gender and sexual orientation that exist in the world so that they may be free to be who they truly are and love who they truly love. I want them to grow up in a nation where the few who have to go to prison go into an environment where they can be rehabilitated and I want there to be systems in place that welcome them back into society. I want them to grow up in a nation that doesn’t see the poor or disabled as mooching off of the system, but as brothers and sisters that are our responsibility to care for.

I want our national religion to be compassion. It can be Christian compassion, Jewish compassion, Muslim compassion, atheistic compassion, agnostic compassion, secular humanist compassion… whatever. I want our national religion to be compassion. I want to see justice, restorative justice not criminal justice, be the law of the land. I don’t think any child in this country should go to bed hungry. I also don’t think any child in this country should go to bed with a fear that they or their parents will be deported the next morning. I don’t want any couple in this nation to fear holding hands as they walk down the street. I don’t want any qualified person in this country to be denied a job or housing or a loan because of their skin color. I don’t want a police force that treats those they are called to serve and protect as the enemy. Our nation should lead the world by feeding its hungry. Our nation should lead the world by welcoming its refugees. Our nation should lead the world by recognizing the impact that our consumptive lifestyles have on the entire globe and making crucial changes. Our nation can only be great to the extent that our nation is willing to serve. That’s not me saying that. I’m just echoing Jesus. “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all” (Mark 9:35). The same must be true of nations as well as individuals. Our greatest won’t come from who we exclude but who we include. It won’t come from whom we deport but who we welcome. Our greatness can not come from fear. Our greatness must come from love.