A Basic Flaw in the Race War Concept

If you’re in a public place right now, look around you. Pick out people of your own race. That may be harder to do than you think. Race is not based on science. It’s a human construct. We could just as accurately divide ourselves up into rival groups based on eye color, the length and number of our nose hairs, or pimple count. But anyway, do the best that you can.

Have you found your “tribe” yet? Good. (I suppose.)

Now, ask yourself what the motivations of these people might be. Are you all in full agreement politically? Do you all hold the same views on religion? Most importantly, are you all on the same page regarding race?

Don’t bother answering. I’ll do it for you. You haven’t a clue. How could you know? You haven’t even talked to these people. You never will.

This is just a core sample of your cluelessness. Now multiply it by a gajillion, to account for all the other people in the world whom you don’t currently see, and you will get an idea of just how little you know about you and yours. (That goes for all of us. I’m not just picking on you.)

So why on Earth would anyone think that one’s race, or any other race for that matter, would rise up as one in hate, anger, and violence to participate in a race war? It beggars belief that there are so many people out there who think that humans are that unified and robotic in their thoughts and actions.

We don’t even all agree about cranberry sauce, for crying out loud. (Pro or con? Lumpy or jelly-like? Canned or fresh? This is the stuff of great holiday drama.)

But that’s racism in a nutshell, isn’t it? The misguided idea that one can slap a label on someone and then have a complete understanding of their motivations, and be able to accurately predict what they will or will not do. As if we’ll all line up like obedient little ducks in a row, sorted into groups based on the size of our tail feathers.

Do you have any idea how insane that sounds? It’s even worse than insane. It’s idiotic. And yet people buy into it every day.

Charles Manson believed in Helter Skelter, a race war that he felt he could start himself, to the world’s ultimate horror and dismay. The neo-Nazi buffoon, William Pierce, wrote The Turner Diaries to encourage racial annihilation, and crazies have been inspired by it ever since.

You can find people who believe in this insanity all over the web. Dylann Roof was one, and he went on to kill 9 people in a church in Charleson, SC because of it. And Roof inspired the mental defective who killed 51 Muslims in Christchurch, New Zealand.

These poor excuses for human beings went on to inspire a seriously mentally ill guy named James Harris Jackson to walk up to a total stranger in New York City and stab him in the back like the coward that Jackson is. You can read more about his pathetic devolution here. It’s a tragic story. My heart breaks for his family. Thank God he got life without parole. Now he can hang out with equally warped Aryans in their own little iron-barred clubhouse.

But don’t misunderstand. Violence can beget violence. Insanity can trigger insanity. But these people are sick exceptions to the rule. Most of us march to the beat of our own, individual drummers. We cannot be controlled.

I suspect that this utter lack of control is what scares white supremacists most of all. Too bad, so sad. It’s the very definition of life.

Diversity

An attitude of gratitude is what you need to get along. Read my book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

Why It’s Bad to Beat the Bridge

There’s a really fantastic fundraiser that has happened every spring for 37 years here in Seattle. It’s called Beat the Bridge to Beat Diabetes. It’s sponsored by Nordstrom to benefit JDRF, formerly known as the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. It’s a run/walk/fun run that starts at University of Washington’s Husky Stadium and ends at University Bridge, the drawbridge I just happen to operate. This year it will be held tomorrow, May 19th.

I am thrilled that so many people get behind this very worthy cause. I’m also gratified when we can come together in a large group and be a force for good. What I’m not thrilled about, however, is the tradition of beating this bridge.

At the end of this race, at exactly 8:50, I will be raising the bridge. If you haven’t crossed it by then, you haven’t beaten it. But it’s actually fun not to beat it, because there’s a live band and entertainment while you wait.

Here’s the thing, though. I have operated 9 different bridges in 3 different states, and I’ve never, ever seen such a tradition of drawbridge risk taking as I’ve seen on the drawbridges that span the ship canal here in Seattle.

Every single day, I see pedestrians ignoring the warning bells and the flashing lights in order to cross my bridge as I’m preparing to open it for a vessel that can’t slam on its brakes and has no option for a detour. I’ve seen people standing center span, taking selfies, while a 2000 ton gravel barge is bearing down on them. I’ve even had people attempt to cross this bridge when it has already started to rise. I’ve had people climb under the gates and approach the million pounds of moving concrete and steel that could crush them like a bug with no concern at all for their life or limbs, simply because they’re impatient for it to close. Someone actually climbed up the fully opened Ballard Bridge, and the local paper, The Stranger, reported on it as if it were a big joke.

If you were to Google Death and Drawbridges, you’d quickly see that playing around on drawbridges is no laughing matter. People get killed on drawbridges every year, and it’s usually due to their own foolish behavior. Fortunately it hasn’t happened in Seattle yet, but I have no idea why, other than the extreme professionalism of the bridgetenders here. Still, I suspect that it’s only a matter of time.

I’m not trying to say that the Beat the Bridge fundraiser is solely responsible for the behavior of Seattleites, but I’m sure it doesn’t help. Additional factors are the use of ear buds and cell phones, which greatly reduce attentiveness; the fact that we have so many institutions of higher education in the area, full of young adults who think they’re immortal; and the cultural standard of this city that encourages people to break rules and live unique, sometimes reckless lives.

It would be wonderful to see Nordstrom partner up with Seattle Department of Transportation for future Beat the Bridge events, and allow them to have a table that promotes bridge safety. It could be manned by bridge operators that could answer questions about the bridges, because the public is naturally curious about them. The general message could be, “It’s okay to beat the bridge this morning, for this worthy cause. But please don’t beat it the rest of the year!” I think this is a public relations opportunity that SDOT should not ignore.

So yes, that will be me, tomorrow, raising the University Bridge promptly at 8:50 am, as hundreds of joggers run toward it. I’ll be doing it for a good cause. And while I’m not speaking for all of SDOT, please know that even as I do this, I’ll also be gritting my teeth.

Stay safe everybody. That’s what matters most.

Beat the Bridge

An attitude of gratitude is what you need to get along. Read my book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

That Race Thing

Recently I attended an all day seminar at work regarding race and racism. That’s one of the many beautiful things about living on the left coast. I doubt it would even occur to my former employers in Florida to allow us to have such training, let alone make it an annual event.

I learned much that day. For instance, on a scientific level, race doesn’t even exist. If you look at our DNA, only one out of every thousand nucleotides is different, from human to human. In fact, Penguins and fruit flies have more genetic differences within their own species than we humans do. (I didn’t learn this in the training, but I’ve read somewhere that our DNA is has 40 percent in common with that of a banana! Think about that the next time you eat a banana…)

The trainers showed us a fascinating video in which they did an experiment with a high school class. They sequenced a portion of each student’s DNA. Before the results came back, they were asked who they assumed they had the most genetic similarities to. Naturally, the African Americans assumed they would have more in common with each other, and the Whites gravitated toward the Whites, the Asians with the Asians, the Hispanics with the Hispanics, and so on. But here’s the interesting thing. That turned out not to be true at all. The commonalities and disparities were actually amazingly random.

The skin color thing is a function of the sun. Humans in more overcast climes developed lighter skin over time so that they could absorb every ounce of vitamin D that they could. Otherwise they would not have survived to pass on their genes. It’s just a melanin thing, as simple as that.

Race is something constructed by society to further political and economic goals. Thomas Jefferson, the same guy who wrote that all men are created equal, also wrote, in Notes on the State of Virginia, that “Blacks are inferior to whites in the endowments both of body and mind.” That was, in essence, his way of justifying his ownership of 225 slaves. But there is no scientific evidence of these inferiorities whatsoever. The only reason blacks became slaves in our society was that the white indentured servants who used to do our scut work before slavery could too easily run away and blend in with the general population. Whereas if your skin was a different color, you had nowhere to hide. Slavery was a much more sustainable outrage than indentured servitude.

We often talk about America being a melting pot. I was taught to believe that that meant we are diverse, and we’ve all blended together to become Americans. I used to be so proud of that! But actually, the melting pot concept was more about the desire for all Americans to be able to assimilate and be exactly the same. It was all about only allowing white Christians to sit at the table. I’m repulsed by how twisted I got this. I’d much rather that we be a hardy stew.

One last thought for those of you who still think others are inferior because they have not reached your level of success. It’s easy for us W.A.S.P.s to forget that everyone else has to start 30 yards deep in their own end zone. They don’t have the leg-up that we were born with and never earned. This picture is one of the hand outs from the training. Print it out. Mark off all the privileges you have. Then mark off any additional ones you feel you don’t have that people will assume you have. (For example, I’m not a Christian, but people would think that I was.)

Once you’ve marked off all that privilege, think about who has to be oppressed for you to have each one. It’s a sobering realization. Now, tell me again how all men are created equal?

IMG_3057

Start a gratitude practice today. Read my book. http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

The Importance of Including Stakeholders

I had the opportunity to attend a meeting with hundreds of other City of Seattle employees in which one of the many goals was coming up with ways to get the community involved in the decision-making process for city projects. Anyone who has been to Seattle knows that it’s a beehive of activity. Something is always under construction. Roads are being repaved. New transit opportunities are being launched. And all of these things, while being created, have an impact on the neighborhoods in which they’re located.

Sadly, the impact on minority neighborhoods is often more severe. When you cut off traffic flow to mom and pop businesses it can kill them, whereas a Starbucks chain can most likely weather the storm. And there could be cultural and language barrier impacts that you aren’t even aware of. In the past, the predominantly white male administrators of this city did not take these matters into account.

This reminded me of a cartoon I saw many years ago (which I desperately wish I could find on line so I could post it at work, but no luck so far): It shows a bridge submerged in a river, with only the spires sticking up, and on the bank there’s a guy in a suit, jumping up and down in frustration, and a construction guy is saying to him, “If you want one of those over-water thingies, you got to specify.”

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray spoke at the meeting I attended, and he had a lot to say on the subject. Fortunately, he was humble. He admitted that mistakes have been made, and he took responsibility for them. One of the more notorious city mistakes was the treatment of hookah lounges.

There are 11 such lounges in the city, and some people feel they are hubs of violence. People have been shot dead in front of hookah lounges. Surrounding businesses have been impacted. People started approaching the mayor and begging him to do something. So he came up with a plan to shut them all down. Read more about that here.

To say this caused a ruckus is putting it mildly. Many members of the East African and Middle Eastern communities protested loudly. These establishments are meeting places for them, and places to celebrate their cultural identity. And in truth, they can’t be held responsible for criminal acts that take place outside their walls. That’s a law enforcement issue. That’s a gang violence issue. Having some white men in suits barge in, thinking they have all the answers, without even discussing it with those people who would be most impacted by their decisions was offensive to say the least. The mayor had to back down on that one.

Now Seattle is one of the first cities in the country to employ RETs, or Racial Equity Toolkits. And it’s the only city in the country that requires that such a toolkit be used at least 4 times a year in every city department. This toolkit is a series of steps that get the community stakeholders involved in the planning process for city projects. It requires that planners view their projects through a racial equity lens. How will our actions impact this particular community? What can we do to reduce or prevent negative impacts? What important things might we be overlooking?

I left this meeting feeling rather proud of my new city. We may not always get things right, but by God we try. That a very important start, and it counts for a lot.

GARE-Racial_Equity_Toolkit

“No, it’s because you’re a jerk.”

A few years ago, I was downtown in a large crowd of people, anticipating a huge fireworks display. The weather was mild, and everyone seemed to be in a festive mood. One guy was a little too festive. Extremely intoxicated, he started screaming and cursing at his family. And this was a big guy. Everyone was intimidated by him.

There were no cops in sight. His horrible behavior was putting a damper on everyone’s spirits. It was as if someone had poured toxic waste into an otherwise crystal clear pond. People actually started moving away from this guy, even though there was very little space left.

The matriarch of his rather large family finally said to him, “You are embarrassing us.” And the guy looked around at the staring crowd and paused. But full of liquid courage and liquid stupidity, he shouted, “What? You got a problem with me? It’s because I’m _________, isn’t it?”

I am intentionally leaving that space blank because I’ve seen this play out before, and any word would fit. Young, old, black, white, male, female, Lithuanian, Laotian, Christian, Islamic, short, fat, ugly, straight, gay, left-handed, French speaking… it could have been anything. It would have been just as stupid.

We all have qualities that set us apart from the people around us. Sometimes when people react negatively toward you, it’s not because of those characteristics. It’s because you’re acting like a fool. Unfortunately, bad behavior transcends race, creed, religion, gender and orientation.

So next time people look at you with disdain, before you go there, ask yourself if you’re in fact being a jerk. Yes, prejudice exists in the world, and it’s wrong. But often the most simple answer is the correct one. There’s every possibility that you’re just an a**, plain and simple.

[Image credit: liquidmatrix.org]
[Image credit: liquidmatrix.org]

Revel in the Differences

I went through this period in my life where my family was so poor that all we had to eat was a bag of potatoes someone had given my mother. No oil to fry them with, even, so my mother baked them. To this day I rarely can bring myself to eat a baked potato. It seemed like that situation lasted for years, but it couldn’t have, surely.

That experience definitely made me appreciate variety in food. I love almost any food you can name. I enjoy going to opposite extremes from one day to the next. Lasagna today, Chinese tomorrow. It’s all good. As long as it’s different from yesterday, I’m happy.

I don’t get people who want everything to be the same. People who associate only with their own race, or expect people to have identical religious beliefs confound me. Why would you want to live in a monochrome world?

I was once told by a fundamentalist relative that because I hadn’t accepted Jesus Christ as my personal savior, I was going to go to hell. I responded, “If the only people in heaven have to look like you and think like you and believe like you and act like you, heaven must be a boring place indeed, and I’d rather not have to spend eternity there.”

I enjoy diversity. I like to be exposed to different points of view, different cultures, different flavors. It’s the differences that add spice to life. Man shouldn’t live on baked potato alone. It’s just not healthy.

potato

[Image credit: popsugar.com]

“It’s Because I’m Black!”

One time I was at the front of the line at my grocery store, making my week’s purchases. Next in line was a lady with a small child, and she had a full cart as well. Behind her stood a lady with just two items. That lady said to me, “Excuse me, would you mind if I went ahead of you?

Normally I would say yes. No problem at all. I do that all the time. I even suggest it to people who don’t ask. But in this situation I would be speaking not only for myself, but for lady number two. For all I knew her child was sick or she was in a hurry, or a whole host of other possible scenarios. I tried to catch her eye to see if it was okay with her, but she would not look up. Awkward.

Before I could say even one word, lady number three sensed my hesitation and completely lost it. She started shouting in the middle of the store. “She’s only doing this because I’m black! There is no justice! It’s not right!” And she threw her two items on the ground and stormed out.

I was stunned. And I have to admit, overflowing with righteous indignation. Anyone who knows me at all would know that her race wasn’t even remotely a part of my hesitation. How dare she even think that? She didn’t even know me!

Since that day I’ve had several thoughts about that incident:

  • That was one of the few times in my life I’ve been on the receiving end of blatantly aggressive prejudice, and it did not feel good at all.
  • I can’t imagine what it must be like to experience that sort of foolishness on a daily basis throughout one’s life.
  • Because that woman had probably experienced that kind of prejudice herself all too frequently, perhaps I should cut her just the tiniest bit of slack.

But on my most colorblind days what I really think, to be honest, is that that lady had a rather severe personality disorder, and was rude and extremely hostile. So if I ever were to run into her under similar circumstances, I’m afraid my generous nature would probably take a holiday and I’d make her obnoxious butt wait her turn just like everyone else. Silly cow.

I’m quite sure her mother did not teach her to behave like that. And I’m even more sure that discourteous and aggressive behavior is not acceptable no matter who you are and what you’ve experienced in life.

Sorry, but sometimes having a genuine lack of bias can also be demonstrated by not bending over backwards for someone simply to avoid being viewed as a racist. True equality comes when the world expects you to suck it up and deal with the ugly bits of life just like the people who are standing with you in the very same line.

We are all in this together.

grocery line

(Photo credit: lehighvalleylive.com)