On Super Bowl Sunday

On Super Bowl Sunday

Since I am sometimes accused of bringing race into everything, it seems fitting to bring my growing sensitivity to white privilege and racial discrimination to this high, holy day in American culture. It would seem unlikely that such a quintessential American event would be immune to the systemic racism that plagues the rest of our national institutions. What should we look for as we sit down this evening with our beer, chips and bean dip?

First, we should notice the composition of the teams. Though their helmets may obscure this – other than in the highly visible quarterbacks – there will be very few white faces on the field. About 70% of the players on the Super Bowl teams are black.  This, in and of itself, should be startling.  There is no other place in American society where black men are so over represented.  This even dwarfs the scandalous over representation of blacks in our prison system, which hovers at around 37%.

While some might suggest the presence of so many blacks on football fields is a sign of racial progress and equality, this would be a little like arguing the predominance of black faces in cotton fields of the 1850s suggested blacks had a special affinity for agriculture. In both instances, a more reasonable assumption is that we’ve created systems that either require or direct young black men in a specific direction. While the fields may have changed, the system has not.

Young black men are inundated with media images that predominantly show them as either sports stars, criminals, or sometimes both. While some will argue the media is simply mirroring our society, it seems ridiculous to argue that these images represent the true aspirations of black young people.  Even more troubling, since we know only 0.09% of all high school  football players ever play in the NFL, highlighting the success of black men in sports sets up thousands of young black men for failure and disappointment. While both white and black boys have unrealistic opinions of their athletic prowess, the alternatives for disappointed white athletes are far more obvious than for disappointed black athletes.

This leads me to the second thing to watch tonight. Watch the commercials carefully to see if and when blacks are portrayed.  While marketing firms have become more racially conscious, most of what we will see tonight in the highly synchronized commercials will reinforce rather than challenge racial prejudices or white privilege.  Notice what race of people will be shown with the high dollar items – cars, jewelry, etc.  Notice when blacks are represented and how.  While the Super Bowl is performed by a largely black cast, the programming will focus on white privilege and superiority.

Notice how many white faces will be represented in the quarterbacks, coaches, commentators, referees and owners. (There are no black owners.)  In nearly every decision making position in the professional football industry, blacks are seriously under represented.  They are trusted to guard the quarterback or carry and catch the ball, but they are seldom asked to lead or decide.  Indeed, the percentage of black players on defense is almost 85%.  Since the goal of football is ultimately to score touchdowns, even this highest of prizes is reserved more often for white players.

While some will point out the high salaries paid to black football players as evidence of racial equality, it should be noted that this affluence comes with certain demands by the white owners. As in the days of Jim Crow, black players are free to spend their money as they wish, to peddle merchandise and to garner a certain level of acclaim.  They are not, however, allowed to speak about the racism they encounter in their lives and in society. While they are often lifted up as representatives of their race, they are highly discouraged from modeling anything other than compliance with a racially discriminatory system.  When they violate this expectation, they don’t play football much longer.  Ask Colin Kaepernick.

Tonight, there is one thing we are unlikely to see. We are unlikely to see one of Donald Trump’s “sons of bitches” kneel during the national anthem.  And if they should do so and if the television networks broadcast their act of protest, we can expect to see a myriad of criticisms and condemnations of their unpatriotic and ungrateful behavior. Someone will inevitably say, “If they don’t like America, why don’t they go back to Africa?”  They will imply that the solution to injustice in America is not to resolve it, but to send those who are victims of that injustice away…from football, into prisons, and even to Africa.

Oddly, white people never consider the possibility that Africa might actually be preferable for a black person, that those “shithole countries” have at least one thing that America does not. They are countries where black faces are represented in every occupation and field of endeavor, where the options for a young black boy or girl are not limited to sports or jail.  They are places where black people lead and make decisions.  While African countries have their imperfections and challenges, they far exceed America in giving black people an equal opportunity to succeed.

On Super Bowl Sunday, it seems appropriate to ask this simple question. What would it take to create a system where black people were over represented in the halls of Congress, at hospitals, on universities and in corporations?  Would we think it odd if 70% of congress people, doctors, professors or CEOs were people of color?  I suspect white people would find this disturbing, even threatening.  That this same level of over representation on football fields seems perfectly normal and acceptable is evidence of our inability to see the deep racial dimensions of everything in our society.

Even the Super Bowl.



An Apology To Dr. King

An Apology To Dr. King

My apologies to you, Dr. King.

Until this year, I did not fully recognize my offensive behavior. Like most white folk, I saw the celebration of your birth as a day off work rather than a moment of national reflection. I was unaware of how we’ve neutered the poignancy of your complaints, defanged the sharpness of your rhetoric and domesticated the wildness of your dream.  I did not realize that we celebrate your birth in order to avoid the circumstances of your death, that a white man silenced your voice with a bullet.  Until this year, I did not understand that this day – unlike Thanksgiving and Fourth of July – should not be a day of celebration, but a day of national mourning.

My apologies to you, Dr. King.

Until this year, I was oblivious to how I and so many other white people – conservative and liberal alike – have taken your name in vain. We have popularized our favorite quotes without reference to your consistent themes.  We have repackaged you as a good negro – patient, gracious, reasonable and respectful.  Though our grandparents thought you uppity, offensive and dangerous, we portray you as preferable to Black Lives Matter, implying you wouldn’t share their concerns, complaints or strategies.  Until this year, I didn’t comprehend how fully we’ve dishonored you.

My apologies to you, Dr. King.

To those of us who know so little about you and your concerns, I hear your complaint that, “Whites, it must frankly be said, are not putting in a similar mass effort to reeducate themselves out of their racial ignorance. It is an aspect of their sense of superiority that the white people of America believe they have so little to learn.” I acknowledge the shallowness of our interest and I apologize.

To those of us who blame the lack of economic progress by people of color on people of color, I hear your retort that, “It is a cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself up by his bootstraps.” “Many white Americans of good will have never connected bigotry with economic exploitation. They have deplored prejudice but tolerated or ignored economic injustice.” I acknowledge the callousness of our disdain and I apologize.

To those of us who criticize people of color when they take to the streets to demand justice, I hear your reminder that, “We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” I acknowledge the truth of your analysis and I apologize.

To those of us who accuse Black Lives Matter folk of being as extreme as the white supremacists, I hear your rebuttal that, “The question is not if we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists will we be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love?”  I acknowledge your condemnation of our false equivalencies and I apologize.

To those of us glory in our tolerance of people of color, offering them a smile and a handshake rather than the justice they so desire, I hear your conclusion that, “Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.” I acknowledge your impatience with our lack of sincerity and I apologize.

To those of us who find the shooting of an unarmed black man by the police a statistically acceptable occurrence, I hear your indictment, that, “We must be concerned not merely about who murdered them, but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderers.” I acknowledge your frustration with our lack of urgency and I apologize.

To those of us who think you would be pleased with our racial progress and complimentary to today’s white person, I hear your prophecy that, “I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice, who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.”  I acknowledge the legitimacy of your fears and I apologize.

To those of us who have neutered, defanged and domesticated you, I hear your judgment that, “He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetuate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.”  I acknowledge the fairness of your critique and I apologize.

Dr. King,  while you were willing to be arrested and jailed for what you believed, we have passively tolerated the reversal of many of your most hard fought victories.  If anyone is to blame for your unfulfilled dream, it is us.  Today, on this day of reckoning and mourning, I pledge to take your concerns, complaints and commitments more seriously, to be one of those white people who sees and hears you as you are and not as we would have you be.

My apologies to you, Dr. King.

Why White Men Should Feel Ashamed

Why White Men Should Feel Ashamed

November was an enlightening month.

In late October, I posted an essay entitled “How To Tell If A White Person Is Racist With One Simple Question.” Though my blog is generally read by a couple of thousand people, in this instance and to my surprise, my post generated over 120,000 views over the next few weeks.  I received hundreds of comments, many of which I could not approve because of their ugliness and profanity.  If I had any doubt about the premise of the post – that people’s negativity toward the question of reparations is a fairly good indicator of their blatant or latent racism – the response to the post dispelled them.

Throughout November, I engaged – both publicly and privately – in lengthy exchanges with angry, white men over the legitimacy of reparations and the present state of racial relations in America. These conversations led me to write two follow up posts outlining a reasonable approach to reparations as well as my own personal commitment. I also became more aware of the present and potential dangers of angry, white men.

During this encounter with white masculinity, I gradually realized the responses of angry white men to reparations echoed what I was hearing from other angry, white men about sexual harassment. As you know, November was also the month of Harvey Weinstein, Louis C. K., Charlie Rose, Roy Moore, Matt Lauer and Al Franken, of countless allegations of sexual assault and harassment, and of denials and justifications.  As I was engaging in one discussion while listening to another, the similarities in the responses became more and more obvious.  It was almost as if racist and sexually inappropriate men were reading off the same script.

Deny or Question the Veracity of the Injury

As I talked with white men about slavery and racial discrimination, I was amazed by how often they denied the existence of racism today. According to them, America was a level playing field and any disparities between blacks and whites were the fault of people of color.  Some actually argued that, if racism existed, they were its target. While no one claimed slavery didn’t happen, they were quick to diminish its impact. One man even quoted Muhammed Ali, who – while boxing in Africa – once quipped, “Thank God my granddaddy got on that boat.”  In this twisted manipulation of Ali’s opinions on racism, slavery was actually a positive historical event bringing Christianity and prosperity to black people.

This same willingness to deny or discount a past injury was echoed in many of the responses of men accused of sexual harassment. Even when the past harassment was acknowledged, men were quick to suggest that the incident was trivial, even unmemorable. Franken apologized, but admitted he couldn’t even remember the incidents. One defender of Roy Moore actually argued that Moore’s behavior was somehow similar to that of Mary and Joseph in the Bible. Moore wasn’t a creepy pedophile. He was a Biblical patriarch.

Question the Timing of the Injured Party

Those accused of sexual harassment were quick to question the timing of the allegation. They asked why, after so long, these women were finally claiming injury.  There was little recognition of how – if the accusations were as described – these men had used their power to intimidate and harass their victims, to even threaten them should they expose the injury. Ironically, our patriarchal culture makes it extremely difficult for women to expose sexual assault and harassment and then castigates them for their reluctance. Only the recent number of successful exposures has given some women the courage to speak out.

Angry, white men express similar irritation with the timing of calls for reparations. They too asked why, so many years after the end of slavery, black people were demanding reparations.  There was little recognition of how – for most of the past 150 years – powerful white men responded to calls for reparations with everything from laughter to lynching.  As with victims of sexual harassment, people usually expose past injuries when they feel some modicum of safety.  A nation that only apologized for slavery in 2009 shouldn’t be surprised by the sudden upsurge in calls for reparations.

Question the Motive and Character of the Injured Party

During my exchanges, I repeatedly heard reparations described as the strategy of “money grubbing black people.” Instead of legitimate compensation for centuries of economic exploitation, reparations were often defined as an injustice to white people.  According to this trope, white people are hardworking and responsible. Our affluence has nothing to do with past oppressive. Inversely, black people are greedy and irresponsible. Their present challenges are the result of their own flaws.  While only the most bigoted came right out and said black people were lazy, stupid or immoral, much of the rhetoric implied as much.  In the end, these arguments often ended by suggesting white people were the victims.

Most of the men exposed as sexual harassers would have us believe they – rather than their accusers – are the victims. The women are money grubbing liars motivated by a desire for fame. Often, in diminishing the credibility of their accusers, the unrelated or incidental failings of their accusers are paraded publicly.  While few men come right out and say these women are loose and immoral, much of the rhetoric implies as much.  Ironically, though the men deny assaulting or harassing the women, they also imply their accusers are the kind of women who invite or deserve such treatment.

Diminish the Impact of the Injury

Many of these men also suggest their actions were trivial, playful or even well intentioned. The injury, if acknowledged at all, is presented as minor. Moore asked the mothers for permission to date their daughters. Franken was just kidding around.  All Louis C.K. asked was that they watch.  If the women weren’t liars, they were certainly exaggerating or misconstruing what happened. The victims of sexual harassment are either portrayed as pathetic losers trying to pull down their superiors or – if they are deemed successful women – as evidence that the past assault and harassment didn’t impact their careers.

Those opposing reparations utilize this same paradoxical argument. On one hand, the success of a few blacks is offered as evidence that there wasn’t really any injury.  How can racism exist in a country where Barack Obama was elected president?  Those people of color who have not succeeded are examples, not of systemic racism, but of their own inadequacies.  The racism that cannot be ignored is trivialized as the bigotry of a few white supremacists.  Micro-aggressions aren’t real.  Most of what people of color report as racist is either exaggerated or misconstrued.

Reject Any Responsibility While Normalizing The Behavior

Ultimately, the goal of angry, white men – whether in talking about reparations or sexual harassment – is to avoid any personal or corporate responsibility. Either they didn’t do anything wrong or they have no responsibility for the actions of others. Yet often, in avoiding any culpability, they express sentiments that suggest they harbor the cultural and philosophical positions that undergird racism and sexism.

While they quickly condemn the most horrific examples of racism and sexism, they often follow these condemnations with justifications and excuses.  Boys will be boys. White people should be able to celebrate their heritage. It was just locker room talk or bar banter.  Men can be sexually harassed by women, too.  Whites are the victims of racism as much as people of color.  Sexual harassment is simply the by-product of gender equality and sexual freedom.  People of color need to toughen up if they want to succeed in a free society.  And on and on.

It was usually at this point in a discussion that I would withdraw from the conversation. What had started out as a discussion of an injury had ended up as a rationalization for a system which empowers men to injure the less powerful.  By the end of November, I’d realized what opposition to reparations and reports of sexual harassment had most in common – angry, white men.  These were men desperately defending the very privilege that makes racism and sexism possible.  I began to suspect those complaining the most were probably also men with past transgressions.

Time and again, in this past month, I have heard men say, “I will not feel guilty about being white.” Initially, I assured them this was not my intent, that I wanted them to take responsibility rather than feel guilty.  By the end of the month, after hearing other men declare that they would not feel guilty for being men, such complaints began to ring hollow. There is a certain kind of white masculinity that should deeply embarrass all men.  This distorted masculinity is not solely exhibited in the David Dukes and Roy Moores of America.  It is deeply ingrained in the psyche of millions of white American men.

As much as I wish it were so, racism and sexism will not be solved by reparations or the firing of countless sexual harassers, though both of these responses are necessary. Our culture will only begin to change when more men accept some responsibility for the white patriarchy that makes David Duke and Roy Moore possible. They are not aberrations. They are representations. It is far past time for white men to finally feel ashamed about how we, our peers and our forefathers have treated women and people of color.  No more excuses.  No more justifications.

We need white men strong and brave enough to publicly abandon both the vestiges and the privileges of white patriarchy.  These are men willing to acknowledge the injuries of the past and to accept their continued complicity in sustaining systems that oppress people of color and women.  If white men want to be proud, let it be a pride in their commitment to stand up – not in defense of other white men – but in defense of those who have been defenseless for too long.  Until we are willing to do this, shame on us.

DACA Was Not The Dream

DACA Was Not The Dream

I am an enthusiastic supporter of the Dreamers, the 800,000 undocumented young adults who have lived nearly all of their lives in the United States. In any just society, these young people, who were brought into the United States by their parents while minors, should not be held responsible for the actions of their parents or the gridlock of our political system over immigration policy. Sending them “home” to countries most of them don’t even remember is cruel and unusual punishment. For most of them, the United States is the only home and culture they’ve known.  No ethical person, regardless of their position on immigration, can justify their deportation.

However, I am not a fan of DACA.

Even President Obama, in establishing the DACA program, admitted it was a stop gap measure designed to clarify the legal status of the approximately 65,000 undocumented young people graduating from US high schools every year. While DACA made it possible for these young people to obtain a driver’s license, attend college and find employment, it actually created an unsustainable and unjust status for these young people.  Mr. Trump was right to suggest that Congress should come to some bipartisan agreement on their status.

Consider the Faustian bargain offered to DACA participants. They were allowed to remain in their homeland as long as they accepted a diminished and unequal status.  They can work and pay taxes, but are denied many services.  They must pay into social security though they are denied access to its benefits.  They can attend college, but must pay a higher tuition without any loans or assistance.  They can live in US, but they cannot vote.  They can only leave the US with permission.  If they are arrested, they can be denied due process and immediately deported.  Every two years, they must pay $500 to renew their participation in this charade.

This is what we have offered these young people who’ve attended our elementary schools, who’ve graduated from our high schools with honors, who’ve excelled on our sports teams, who’ve entered our armed forces, who’ve worked in our companies and who’ve fully assimilated into our culture. While many of them seem genuinely appreciative of the DACA program, they shouldn’t be. It is not just or fair to punish them for the crimes of their parents.  They deserve much better.

Those who want to send them away make Uncle Sam into a father who refuses to acknowledge his illegitimate children. The illegitimacy does not reside in the children, but in circumstances beyond their control.  Only the conditions of their birth are questionable. In every other way, they are legitimately American.  Indeed, they fit the conservative litmus test for a “good” immigrant.  All of them speak English.  Most have little or no allegiance to their country of birth.  They are fully committed to our values. They understand themselves as Americans.

Though most conservatives will not admit it, their chief flaw is the color of their skin. They are not white.  It is this, though it is seldom acknowledged, that makes them so frightening to those who would have them deported. They threaten white supremacy and must be racially profiled and demonized.  Fortunately, while Trump and his administration have tried to justify rejecting immigrants of color as being dangerous and criminal, the DACA participants stand as 800,000 counter arguments to that racist rhetoric.  We call them dreamers because they so perfectly exemplify the American dream of taking advantage of this land of freedom and opportunity. Rejecting them makes a mockery of our cultural myths and values.

Those of us protesting the termination of the DACA program need to be very careful. In opposing this action by the Trump administration, we need to oppose the injustice of their status and not defend the legitimacy of the program.  The goal of our efforts should not be the restoration of the DACA program, but the creation of a path to citizenship for these young people.  Anything short of this could inadvertently create the foundations for an American apartheid, where a whole class of people is given a permanent second class status.

The United States will continue to debate our immigration policy and process. We can disagree about how to best guard our borders.  We can design better ways of meeting our economic needs without encouraging undocumented workers.  These are all valid and important discussions.  What we cannot do is punish these children for our own ambiguity.  If our elected representatives in Congress refuse to protect the Dreamers, they have no real commitment in the American dream.

Why People of Color Deserve More Lollipops

Why People of Color Deserve More Lollipops

Recently, when giving lollipops to two of my grandsons, the youngest said, “Papa, you gave my brother a lollipop yesterday and I didn’t get one. Can I have two today?”  Before I could respond, his older brother replied, “That wouldn’t be fair.”  Without any thought, I sided with my oldest grandson and said, “What happened yesterday doesn’t matter. Today, you both get one lollipop.”

I’ve thought a lot about that exchange, especially in the days since the Department of Justice announced an investigation of colleges and universities for discrimination against white students in admissions. In essence, the Department of Justice hopes to reverse the practice of affirmative action and its goal of increasing the number of people of color in higher education.  Critical of this decision, I’ve wondered if I handled the situation with my grandsons correctly.  My response to my younger grandson was remarkably similar the attitude of the Department of Justice.  What happened in the past doesn’t matter.  Equality is only measured by what is happening today.

At least in the situation with my grandsons, the inequality between the number of lollipops was merely happenstance. I love my grandsons and have always treated them both generously.  If my younger grandson had been with me the previous day, I would have given him a lollipop.  Unfortunately, if we’re talking about racial discrimination, there is a mountain of evidence that not all of Uncle Sam’s nephews and nieces have been treated with equal generosity.  If lollipops represent the resources our nation has allocated for specific groups, we who are white have been given far more lollipops than others.  In such circumstances, what does fairness look like today?

Like many people in the United States, my two grandsons disagreed on what equality should look like. The younger, aware of a historic inequality, was asking me to rectify an injustice.  He was arguing that equality could be measured over two days as easily as over one.  The oldest, aware of an immediate inequality, was demanding a judgement limited to the present moment.  He made his complaint of injustice even though he knew that – when measured over two days – he would be the recipient of one more lollipop than his brother.

My oldest grandson’s strategy is one of the pillars of systemic racism. When we who are white argue that what happened in the past doesn’t matter, we are not arguing for equality and fairness; we are defending our advantage.  When we say college admissions should be administered blindly today, we are intentionally ignoring the historic reality that Lady Justice was peeking from behind her blindfold in the past.  Though she systemically denied justice and opportunity to minorities for centuries, we act as if those facts are irrelevant.  Everyone should be judged by their merits.

However, when this argument is judged by its merits, it fails horribly.  Limiting the measure of equality to the present is an arbitrary decision.  In criminal cases, our courts often address past injuries.  Indeed, for some serious crimes, there is no statute of limitations.  Sadly, our unwillingness to address past racial injustices implies we don’t see these injustices as serious or criminal.

Equality without a memory is almost always unjust.  Once Lady Justice peeked from behind her blindfold to deny people of color of their rights, she can’t escape behind it when they complain.  Pretending there is a level playing field is a lie designed to protect white privilege.  A Department of Justice that suddenly requires colleges and universities to be completely objective makes a mockery of what it purportedly defends – justice.

My younger grandson’s plea for a second lollipop represents the legitimate complaint of people of color across America. He knew – probably because his brother proudly announced it – that his older brother had received something he had been denied.  Confronted with an obvious opportunity for that injustice to be rectified, he made a fair request – give me what I was previously denied.  He hoped that his grandfather would see the righteousness of his appeal.

I failed him.

I wish I could say I denied him a second lollipop because I didn’t want him to ruin his dinner, but that wouldn’t be true. I chose to give each grandson one lollipop, not because that was just, but because that was easiest.  I knew, once my older grandson complained, that to give my younger grandson a second lollipop would result in a conflict.  Once he proclaimed, “That wouldn’t be fair,” I was cowed.  Limiting equality to the present moment was the easiest decision.

I lied to my youngest grandson.

What happened yesterday does matter, especially when we’re talking about centuries of slavery, the genocide and marginalization of the Native Americans, decades of Jim Crow, the exploitation of migrant workers and countless other injustices.  While it is certainly easiest to limit equality to the present moment, it is seldom just.  When our courts try to ignore the past, they nearly always multiply its injuries.

I wish my older grandson had responded to his younger brother’s request with kindness. If he’d said, “Papa, he’s right. He should get two lollipops,” I would have quickly agreed to their request for restitution.  When this didn’t happen, I did what our legislatures and courts have done for far too long.  I took the easiest route, the one least likely to solicit the complaints of those who have previously had the advantage.  I missed an opportunity to teach my grandsons about the complexities of justice.

I don’t know what the courts will do when the Department of Justice challenges the practice of affirmative action, but I fear they will do what I did. They will weigh the resentful complaints of white people and do what is easiest.  They will limit justice to the present moment rather than do the far more difficult work of trying to remedy their past indiscretions.  They will pull the blindfold tight in order to avoid seeing the obvious – their complicity in injustice.

Thanks to my grandsons, I see my responsibility. I need to do what I would have wished of my oldest grandson. I will advocate for an application of justice that is  measured by decades and centuries.  I will acknowledge the legitimacy of calls for some kind of restitution.  I will say, “They’re right.  They deserve more lollipops.”

Choosing Sides In Charlottesville

Choosing Sides In Charlottesville

In most situations, there is value in finding middle ground. Society is complex and solutions are seldom simple.  There are often multiple perspectives.  We are wise to consider various points of view, to resist the temptation to choose a side.  We must seek compromise and unity.  In most situations, these things are true.

Not in Charlottesville.

In most situations, people should be allowed to express their point of view, even if it be offensive and immoral. We are a country that champions freedom of expression.  We value the public square and the free exchange of divergent opinions.  We tolerate even our uglier voices.  In most situations, these things are true.

Not in Charlottesville.

In most situations, the President of the United States should avoid taking a side. They should seek to represent all the people of the United States.  They should condemn in the strongest terms, any egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence, regardless of the source.  In most situations, the President should maintain objectivity.

Not in Charlottesville.

Let’s be clear about what happened in Charlottesville. White supremacists and Nazis gathered by the thousands to flex their political muscle, convinced they were newly empowered to terrorize and intimidate. They came with shields, weapons and torches.  They reenacted the rallies of the Ku Klux Klan and reminded us of the Kristallnacht of Nazi Germany.  They chanted their hatred for people of color and for Jews.  They did not come seeking middle ground.  They were not interested in the free exchange of opinions.  They came to do violence to the very fabric of our nation.

Mr. Trump, in his remarks yesterday, implied there was hatred, bigotry and violence on both sides of the confrontation in Charlottesville. This is a false and dangerous equivalency.  On one side was a group of people committed to all the ugliness above.  On the other side were people opposed to this immoral and abhorrent philosophy. Though Mr. Trump doesn’t seem to understand it, the choice in Charlottesville is clear and straight forward.  Which side are you on?

One side sees white people as a superior race deserving of special status and privilege.

The other side sees all people as equal, endowed with the same inalienable rights.

One side looks back on the days of the Southern Confederacy and the reign of Hitler’s Third Reich with nostalgia.

The other side looks back at these historic periods as atrocities.

One side hates all those who are not white, blaming others for their own inadequacies.

The other side values a diverse culture, celebrating our various unique contributions.

One side came to Charlottesville convinced many Americans, perhaps even the President, share their racist viewpoint.

The other side came to demonstrate most Americans do not.

Yes, both sides chanted their opinions. Both sides screamed their disdain for their opponents.  Both sides perpetrated acts of violence.  But do not make the mistake of our President.  This does not in any way or form make both sides equally culpable for the deaths and injuries in Charlottesville.  One side was an attack on human decency.  The other was in defense of human goodness.

In the days ahead, be prepared for the attempts to spread the blame in Charlottesville.  Some will avoid the necessary task of choosing sides. These efforts are both unnecessary and suspect.  If you cannot see which side to align with in Charlottesville, your moral compass is broken.  The blame for what occurred belongs in one place and one place only.  It belongs with the white men who organized this rally and who thought yesterday would begin the restoration of a more racist America.

Not in Charlottesville.

Not now.

Not ever.

The Walls That Divide Us

The Walls That Divide Us

When I was a boy, my parents moved our large family from a town to a farm. We went from a small house with a small yard to a house on eleven acres of fields and woods, with a small pond and a creek running through it.  For my three brothers, my sister and me, the move was magical.  Our first summer there was one of adventure and exploration.  We spent our days clearing trails through the woods and building small wooden bridges over the creek.  We also became acquainted with our neighbors, of which we had one.

Our new home shared a lane with one other house, inhabited by a young married couple with no children and a swimming pool. My siblings and I quickly decided to become fast friends with Roger and Eilene and their pool, visiting them several times each day.  We were certain they would like us and utterly devastated when – a few weeks after we arrived – Roger built a tall privacy fence between their house and ours.

When we asked my father why Roger and Eilene had built the fence, he avoided the obvious answer that young married couples don’t usually fantasize about sharing their lives and their pool with five very noisy and nosey children. Instead, he said, “There are two kinds of people in this world – people who build walls and people who build bridges.  Roger and Eilene are the wall building kind and we’re the bridge building kind.”

I’ve remembered my father’s words often throughout my life. Time and again, I’ve encountered people and situations where the dividing line has often been between wall building and bridge building.  I’ve seen this in issues of politics, race, economics, gender, religion and sexuality.  I’ve also realized that most of us are taught to be one or the other.  Neither I nor any of my siblings have ever built a fence between our yards and those of our neighbors.  We understood that what you build is a reflection of a deeper attitude toward life.

Ironically, in my formative adult years, I watched another conservative Republican president – Ronald Reagan – spend a lot of time talking about walls. Only his mantra was “Tear down that wall.”  I vividly remember when the world celebrated the tearing down of the Berlin Wall and all that it represented.  Conservatives and progressives alike recognized that any wall that keeps poor and oppressed people from freedom and opportunity is to be hated and opposed.  Back then, it was the Communists who were chanting “Build that wall.”

I suppose that’s why I worry so much about our President’s desire to build a wall on our southern border. I fear our country is changing and not for the better, that what we want to build is a reflection of a deeper malaise, of a not so subtle shift from being a nation of bridge builders to being a nation of wall builders.  Does this desire to build a wall represent a deeper inclination to build walls between people of different politics, race, economics, gender, religion and sexuality?  This seems a fairly easy case to make.

Early estimates for the cost of building the border wall run anywhere from $15 to $25 billion dollars, with past performance by government construction projects suggesting we error on the higher number. Other projections suggest manning, monitoring and maintaining the wall could require an additional billion dollars each year.  This would make the wall a $35 billion dollar investment for ten years of “protection” from poor and oppressed men, women and children seeking freedom and opportunity. More damning, this priority on wall building will mean the paltry $320 million dollars of foreign aid we have previously provided to Mexico will end.  In the first quarter of the Trump presidency, we gave less than $1 million dollars in assistance to battling poverty in Mexico.

As a director of a community development organization – CoCoDA – which does work in Central America, I have to wonder what would happen if – instead of a wall – we invested $35 billion dollars in schools, clinics, roads and housing in Mexico and Central America. After all, another way to eliminate illegal immigration is to eliminate its necessity.  I’d feel so much better about the use of my tax dollars if I knew they were going to building something that will enhance human lives.  But then again, I’m bridge builder.

However, in the end, it is not the financial cost of the wall that most concerns me. We are a rich nation and can afford to build a wall.  What I fear is the cost to our national psyche.  What are we teaching our children about the world and our place in it?  Will the walls we create to “protect” ourselves eventually become our prisons, keeping us from seeing, understanding and relating to the rest of the world?

When I was a boy, Roger and Eilene built a wall between their home and ours. It made it much harder for my siblings and me to visit them when they were swimming in their pool, but we persisted.  A couple of years later, they sold their home and moved.  While I don’t know how much we contributed to that decision, I suspect their wall didn’t accomplish what they hoped.  That is my experience with walls.  They seldom provide what we desire.