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?
I was remembering a conversation I once had with a coworker when I worked for the Florida Department of Transportation. We were doing highway inspections out in the middle of nowhere. I mean, there was nothing or no one around for miles except fields of potatoes, and for some reason he chose that moment to say something really racist.
I had to call bullsh**, as I am wont to do in these situations. I don’t know why I bother. It never ends well. But I can’t just sit back and let ignorance like that pass.
“Dude, I can’t believe you just said that. I can’t believe you believe it, let alone say it out loud.”
“I can’t help it. It’s how I was raised. I was taught—”
“Excuse me? You’re a freakin’ ADULT!!! You don’t have to march in lock step with your parents. You’re not a potato. You don’t have to stay where you’re planted. You’re not a stupid man. You get to decide what your morals and values are. I’d find it refreshing if you took ownership of your hate, and stopped blaming your parents for it. It would be even more refreshing if you got a clue.”
It was a long, quiet ride back to the office. Did it do any good? Probably not. But some things just have to be said.
Eight years ago, almost to the very day, I met an amazing young lady named Martine. She is a rare gift in my life, one of those instant connections. I knew right away that we would be friends.
The reason I know when we met is that a few days afterward, Haiti experienced its most devastating earthquake, from which it is still struggling to recover. I immediately contacted Martine, because she is Haitian-American. My heart broke for her as I watched her go for weeks not knowing whether her relatives were alive or dead.
She could have chosen to collapse under this pressure and do nothing. But I’ve since learned that that’s not who Martine is. She will always be part of the solution. She decided to raise funds for Haiti, and I am proud to say that I joined her in this effort. It was exhausting for me, so I still can’t imagine how she did it while going to college full time.
Since then, I’ve seen her graduate, and take on jobs of ever-greater responsibility. I’ve seen her prioritize her health, both physical and emotional. I’ve seen her make some pretty hard life choices. Martine is intelligent and strong and beautiful inside and out. She has integrity. She is one of the reasons I have hope for this country’s future.
If America were designed to Donald Trump’s sick, twisted specifications, I would never have met Martine. We wouldn’t have accepted immigrants from “shithole” countries like Haiti. And oh, we’d be much the poorer for it!
According to this article, were it not for Haiti, we would not have been able to make the Louisiana Purchase, and this country would be one third smaller. Haitians have also contributed to our culture through food, music, dance, and art. They’ve even provided us with our Major League baseballs, and what’s more American than baseball?
There’s a Haitian Scientist working at NASA. Haiti has also provided us with untold numbers of doctors, lawyers, and engineers. They fought beside us in our revolutionary war, and we left them to fend for themselves in theirs.
Today, more than ever, I am ashamed of America for allowing our current leader to represent us. I can think of few people that could symbolize this country in a more despicable way. I want to apologize to the entire world, and tell them that this racist, lying, misogynistic, semi-literate, war-mongering ignoramus is not who we are. I want to tell them that most of the American people would never presume to describe any country as a shithole. Most of us would never brag about grabbing pussies. Most of us care about the environment. Most of us care about the health of our fellow human beings.
And believe me, most of us wish this man had never been elected. I hope that some day we will look back at this administration, bow our heads in shame, and promise to never, ever sink so low again. As with the earthquake in Haiti, it will probably take many years to repair all the damage that Donald Trump has caused. But with Americans like Martine, I have hope that it will be not only possible, but highly probable.
I remember sitting on my couch with an old friend in Florida. We were having a pleasant chat, just as we had done dozens of times before. Then he looked out the screen door toward the park across the street and said something disgusting and hateful and racist about the guys who were playing basketball therein. I refuse to taint my blog by repeating it.
I could tell he meant what he said to the very marrow of his bones, and I was horrified. In that instant, reality shifted for me. I had never heard this man talk like that before. It wasn’t part of my truth about him. And yet, I could tell that in that instant his mask had fallen away, and I was seeing the real ugliness inside him.
And the weird thing was, he knew I’d seen it. As I sat there with my jaw hanging open, he got up, walked out of my house, and I never saw or heard from him again. I was relieved.
Normally, if I think someone is acting out of character, I don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. I try to get at the root of the aberrant behavior. I try to explain why I am feeling the way I feel about it. I try to salvage the relationship. But some things are just a bit too revealing about a person’s basic values. Some things cannot be undone.
It’s not as if we were expressing opposing views about Brussels sprouts. This was major. Some things you can’t simply agree to disagree about. Not if you value your own integrity.
It’s hard to maintain a friendship with someone when you lose respect for that person. It alters the context of every interaction you’ve ever had or ever will have. The foundation crumbles, and the whole structure collapses like a house of cards.
I had a similar reaction when a female coworker, upon discovering that an 11 year old girl had been sexually abused, said, “Well, she must have wanted it.”
After my head exploded, we did our best to avoid each other from then on. There’s no recovering from that. It just says too much about the person that you are, deep, deep down, where it matters most. It says too much about the way you view the world and the people in it.
It’s sad to lose a friend. But it’s heartbreaking to discover that the friend you thought you had never really existed in the first place. Fortunately, these situations are rare. I’m glad to say that I haven’t had an experience like this in years. Maybe I’m becoming a better judge of character with time. But unfortunately, to have a healthy home, sometimes you have to take out the garbage.
Here lately, humanity seems to be struggling with concepts that should be pretty straightforward. It doesn’t make any sense at all. It is causing conflict and anxiety that seems completely unnecessary. Given that so many people these days don’t seem to want to think, let me lay down some basic concepts for you:
Texting while driving? Deadly.
Waiting your turn? You freakin’ better!
Compassion? Karma, baby.
Net neutrality? Crucial.
Racism and/or sexism? Idiotic.
A fur coat for your schnauzer when people are starving? Unconscionable.
A right to health care? Obviously.
Voting? The most important thing you can do.
Helping yourself to my french fries? Get your own.
Not pulling right up to the car in front of you in a traffic jam, thus preventing the people behind you from getting through intersections sometime this century? MORONIC.
Abuse of power? May your chickens come home to roost, and soon.
Courtesy and Respect? The bedrock of civilization.
Education? Critically important.
Smoking? Bad for you. Even worse for those who love you.
Human rights and basic freedom for everyone? Duh.
Paying your fair share? Of course.
Vaccinations? Not important, as long as you’re okay with having the life expectancy we had in the freakin’ 1600’s.
Global warming? HERE. NOW.
Abuse of children or animals? Sick. Demented. One of the few things worthy of torture.
Taking care of the planet? A good idea if you want to live.
Blocking the grocery aisle because you’ve run into a friend? STUPID.
None of these concepts seem particularly controversial to me. And yet here we are, a world divided on these issues. I don’t get it. I really don’t. Please make me understand.
I once watched a TV show featuring the charismatic chef, Jamie Oliver. He was trying to teach school children to eat healthier, so as to combat America’s chronic problem with childhood obesity. He was also trying to get school cafeterias to serve healthier food.
In this particular episode, he taught children how chicken nuggets are made. (Check out the clip here.)
Basically, they remove the expensive cuts of meat from the chicken, then they throw the carcass, bones, skin, connective tissue and all, into a massive blender. What comes out is this pink, pasty goo, much like the pink slime in beef that you’ve heard so much about. They form that into patties, bread it, fry it up, and there you have it. Chicken nuggets!
Gross, right? But here’s the scary part. He shows those kids the whole process, and they’re going, “Ewwwwww!” the entire time, but in the end, when Jamie asks them who would eat that, every single child raises his or her hand. Every. Single. One.
How is that even possible? That’s like forming a hamburger out of poop, and then watching someone not only eat it, but eat it with gusto! Denial on this level renders me speechless.
Although I’ll never understand it, at least it makes me realize that the Trump phenomenon isn’t new. I mean, he basically handed the American public a massive shitburger, topped with sexism and covered in a special racist sauce, with a side order of hate, and supersized it with a complete disregard for democracy, and they ate it.
Yup. What we are suffering from, dear readers, is a national case of Pink Slime Syndrome. The only difference is that those of us who don’t want to partake are being force fed as well. Bon appetit.
Have you ever had a conversation that caused you to look at things in a whole new way? I had one of those recently. I was having a delightful chat with a guy about fun things to do in Seattle. I’d never met him before, but he gave me lots of good ideas.
Then, at the end of the conversation, he said, “Be safe going home.”
Since we had briefly touched on politics, I said, “It’s hard to feel safe these days.”
And his response was, “Welcome to my world.”
You see, he’s African American, and yeah, he probably never feels quite safe going home or going anywhere else, for that matter. Never. And just like that, I lifted my head up out of the cloud of delusion I’ve had the privilege of residing in my whole life long.
This awful, unsettled feeling I’ve had for the past couple weeks is his status quo. This feeling of being misunderstood by just about everybody, of being actively disliked? He has lived that every day. The certainty that most people really don’t have your best interests at heart and are in fact actively working against those interests is a new and horrible feeling for me, but that’s his normal.
And I have to say, this sucks. That, and I’m ashamed of how spoiled I’ve always been. If nothing else good comes from the Trump presidency, at least I can say that my eyes have been opened. And my life will never be quite the same.
Everyone has the right to be safe going home. Everyone has the right, but many of us don’t have the luxury.