Time For White People To Act Up For Racial Justice

Thursday 17 August 2017

As a teenage white boy in the late 1990s, learning about the Civil Rights Era in my Holgate HS history class, I remember asking myself, “What would I have done if I had lived during that time?” Would I have marched with Dr. King or others like him? Would I have stood up against racism, bigotry, and oppression where I lived? Or would I have sat idle on the sidelines, unwilling or unable to challenge the status quo of a white-topped hierarchy?

The unfortunate events that took place in Charlottesville this past weekend are a tragic reminder that I need not wonder how I would have acted had I lived five decades ago; my opportunity for action is now.

Violent actions by white supremacists and calls by white citizens to “Take Back America” are a stark reminder that we do not, as many claim, live in a post-racial society. These events, along with recent government actions that seek to restrict people of color from voting and claim discrimination against white students applying to college, clearly show that race is still a defining construct of our country.

And as such, each of us has the opportunity to stand up and act out against the same vile beliefs and actions many hoped were relegated to history books.

So what can we do?

We—white people—need to learn the history of racism and begin to recognize systems and structures that are still in place that continue to oppress people of color. These include an unjust education system; unequal policing and jailing practices; and continued banking and mortgage discrimination, just to name a few.

We need to take the lead in addressing policies and practices in our government and the organizations we’re a part of that perpetuate racism. We need to recognize that white supremacy has been baked into our country and most of its institutions and work to eliminate it.

We need to openly and regularly discuss issues of race and racism at our workplaces, schools, places of worship, and dinner tables so we can become more comfortable when it’s time to have the tough conversations.

If you’re a white person sitting idly by, avoiding taking action against the systemic and interpersonal racism present in your life and community, you’re complicit in allowing it to continue.

The time of action is now. What are you going to do?


La Frontera 2016

Wednesday 9 November 2016

I have a lot of printed t-shirts hanging in my closet, and I’m usually thoughtful about which one I wear on a given day. Yesterday, working the election polls, I decided to go with my Chicago neighborhoods tee (which looks like this, but on a shirt).

Today, flipping through my shirts, I stopped and pulled down my Camp Mowana “La Frontera” theme shirt. The meaning that we were shared (at least as I internalized it) of “La Frontera” was of a place between, neither here nor there, a place of transition from what was to what is to come. In seeing that word and what it’s come to mean for me in the 10+ years since I obtained the shirt, I decided it was the appropriate way to capture my mood this day. (The shirt is subtitled “Where Jesus Meets Us” for some context for the camp’s choice of theme.)

Sitting here, the day after our citizenry (or at least those of age who decided to vote and are not restricted by law from doing so) went to the polls and elected a man who has shown callous disregard for so many different groups of people, I feel between. We’re obviously moving forward, at least in terms of calendar time, but it’s also clear that we’re in the middle of something big.

While there were likely many people who voted for Donald J. Trump out of animus for specific groups and peoples (Blacks, Muslims, Mexicans, Immigrants, Jews, even women), I suspect that that population alone would not have been enough to propel Trump to the presidency. Instead, there were many who simply turned a blind eye to this part of Trump, taking an “It’s not that important” stance to these issues and focusing instead on his anti-establishment rhetoric and their dissatisfaction with the political status quo when dealing with their (economic) lives.

Whatever the reason citizens opted to vote for Trump (who appears to have not even received the most votes overall, just enough in the right states—but that’s a topic for another day), our country will soon know the leadership of a man who embodies a white supremacist and xenophobic framework, supported by an electorate who at worst find this trait positive and at best find it negligible. (I’d be remiss if I didn’t note that I believe failing to condone such oppression is unacceptable and as good as promoting  that oppression.)

For me, this time—definitely this day, likely the next two months, but perhaps also the coming four or more years—has all the feelings of what I envision for La Frontera. It will be a time of struggle as we figure out where our country, full of a vast number of peoples with a vast number of beliefs and ideals, goes from here.

How can we create a land where all people are able to live in peace and comfort and seek self-fulfillment? How do we heal the wounds that (not only this election cycle but) our history has given so many of us? How do we listen to one another and recognize that my ability to live a full and valuable life does not depend on others suffering, and vise versa?

There are no easy answers, and (as always) the outcome of this election, no matter who had won, didn’t make these questions any less relevant. After all, it takes more than a president to change a country (see: Barack Obama).

As we move through La Frontera, it is important for all of us to ask ourselves what our role will be in the healing future of our country and its peoples. If you’re seeking a place to start on this first Wednesday after the first Monday in November, I recommend it be there.


After Cubs victory, pushing for end to other generational longings

Friday 4 November 2016

Here in Chicago, we’re celebrating. After more than a century of waiting, “Next Year” is finally here; the Chicago Cubs are World Series Champions.

As I watched the post game celebrations with my roommates and girlfriend—none of them sports fans, but all of them swept up in the excitement—they asked me to help them understand the significance of this win for Cubs fans.

I made a few attempts—someone getting a job in their chosen field after years of trying, a young adult being the first of the family to attend college—but none got it quite right. The Cubs’ Game 7 win ended a generational longing, fulfilled a desire to prove we were “good enough,” and provided a feeling of accomplishment and acceptance that had eluded Cubs fans for decades.

There are few among us who were alive the last time the Cubs won the World Series, and most certainly no one who remembers it. But focusing on the living leaves out the countless stories of fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, children, and grandparents who all cheered for the Cubs but never lived to see this moment.

I’m sure most Cubs fans have that huge fan in their lives who is no longer here to join in the excitement. For me, it’s Ron Santo, the former Cub and Hall of Famer who called games on Cubs Radio for 20 years. Ron’s radio antics are legendary, and while I never knew him personally, he’s certainly the biggest Cubs fan I’ve ever known. But having died in 2010, he’s not here to experience the joy of this historic occasion.

In pondering the generational longing of Cubs fans, I couldn’t help but think about the many other groups of people who have endured much more pain and suffering over the course of generations and still yearn for an end to their trials and tribulations. What would it mean for African Americans to be fully accepted and valued in our country, for their generational longing for justice to come true? What would it mean for women to achieve complete agency of their bodies and their lives, to be treated as fully human and not as objects or accessories?

In a city like Chicago, examples of continued injustice seeking recompense abound—lack of police accountability and continued issues of police brutality; gentrification and hyper segregation; and an underfunded school system, to name but a few. Many have died in the fight and the wait for justice, and yet these problems still persist.

We are conditioned to think that change will happen eventually, that if we’re patient enough, it will come. “The Cubs will win, some day, they have to,” we said. But their win was not inevitable; it took the concerted effort over multiple years of Cubs management to create the team that pulled this off.

Similarly, to create a country and world where justice reigns, to fulfill the generational longing of so many, it will take a concerted effort. But so many of us sit back, waiting for some inevitable day of justice that has yet to come. And as the days and years pass, more and more individuals depart us who were never able to experience justice, never able to shake the generational longing that had been plaguing them since their memory began.

Achieving that goal is the work of us all. We must diligently look at how our government, our institutions, and our own selves prolong the longing felt by so many others in the US and beyond. The joy and exuberance that will be felt when that longing has ended will pale in comparison to any joy being felt by Cubs fans today.

With “Next Year” having finally arrived for Cubs fans, we must all join in doing the work to end the generational longing still felt by so many.


Say no to Columbus

Monday 14 October 2013

Today in the US it was a National Holiday to celebrate Christopher Columbus.

For the past few years I’ve been making a point to declare any celebration to be for Indigenous People’s Day. But this web comic makes a good point for Bartolomé Day.

The Oatmeal: Christopher Columbus was awful (but this other guy was not)


the racialization of the electoral college

Tuesday 6 November 2012

Today (and the past few weeks), millions are casting a ballot for President of the United States, and nearly as many will be asking one simple question: Does my vote count?

For many of us, the answer is probably, “No.” It’s not that our votes won’t be counted—in lieu of hanging chads, malfunctioning voting machines, and good old fashioned election fraud, our vote will tabulated and tallied in precincts across the country—but what we really want to know is, “Does my vote matter?”

Civics lessons across the country proudly push the mantra that every vote counts, that “one person, one vote” is the basis of a democratic society, but from New York to California, Texas to the Dakotas, nearly every state is already classified red or blue, its outcome a “foregone conclusion.” In the electoral college we seemingly have a voting process that is truly Orwellian, where some votes truly“are more equal than others.” (And I won’t even get into the issue of money in politics.)

Though he made some changes based on recent polls, a week ago Nate Silver’s 538 blog (published by the New York Times) classified only 9 states as “competitive”: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, and Wisconsin. These are the “states that matter”, and even the candidates have no qualms about focusing their time and money in the swing states; in fact, according to fairvote.org, of the 252 campaign visits by the presidential and vice presidential candidates since the Democratic National Convention, 251 have taken place in one of these nine states, including 72 in Ohio alone. (The lone outlier was a stop by Congressman Ryan in Michigan.)

This sense of voter disenfranchisement isn’t anything new. While the swing states shift from election to election, many have probably lived their whole lives in states considered a “sure thing” for one political party or the other and felt like they really had no say in who was elected President.

However, examining the effect of the electoral college on the impact of one’s vote in relation to a person’s race leads one to discover a hidden world of voter disenfranchisement of people of color.

One obvious examination would be to look at the racial makeup of the “competitive” states. Based on the 2010 Census, there were approximately 237 million people in the United States 18 and over (the age necessary to vote), approximately 67.2% white. But the population of the 9 competitive states is approximately 71.9% white, a difference of nearly 5%—a significant difference, especially if the race ends up being as close as many predict it will be

However, looking at only these swing states unnecessarily skews the data. This is because, of the 110 electoral votes “in play” in these states, it is predicted President Obama would need only 33 (about a third) of them. So while these are the states in which candidates are still vying for individual votes to win electoral votes, these states will not decide the president in the normal sense of “receiving the greatest number” and thus brings about some mathematical ambiguity.

The true way to see the effect of the electoral college on people of color is to look at the electoral college on a national scale. As noted, the US 18 and over population is approximately 67.2% white; however, based on state populations in relation to their electoral college weight, the electoral college votes are distributed to a population that is the equivalent of 68.1% white. And while this may not seem like a significant difference, it is equivalent to adding 6.6 million whites age 18 and over to the population.

It is not simply the electoral college that cause the voices of people of color to be diluted in elections. Because most states have some form of voting restrictions for convicted felons (a population disproportionately made up of people of color), the number of people of color eligible to vote is reduced, increasing the distribution of white voters.

Also, some ambiguity comes into play because the census counts citizens and non-citizens (green card holds, those here on visas, undocumented residents) alike, with congressional districts and electoral college votes distributed not by the number of citizens but by the population. Thus, the voices of non-citizens—many who pay taxes—are repressed, again disproportionately affecting people of color living in this country.

There is much to be done in regards to election reform in this country to create a system where every vote bears the same weight and every citizen feels they are truly heard. Such reform includes the elimination of the current electoral college structure, a system that continues to disenfranchise millions of people every four years—whether they are aware of it or not.

Visit the National Popular Vote website to see one campaign to end the electoral college.


privilege posts

Thursday 18 October 2012

I write about privilege Wednesday, and BAM! all these other posts/articles about privilege show up in my life (mostly via facebook).

Here they are, for your reading (and viewing) pleasure:

Tagg Romney: Mr. White Privilege

White Woman Wears Afro, Life Changes. Or Something.

Two students, two high schools, two divergent paths to college

Everyone’s a Crybaby (video — some “bad” words if you can about that kind of thing)


When it “getting worse” is a privilege

Wednesday 17 October 2012

Over the course of this election season, I’ve at times taken a Zen approach to it all and said to more than a few people, “Sometimes it has to get worse before it gets better.” And there is definitely still a part of me that believes this may, in fact, be true—sometimes I don’t think anything will change some people’s minds about how our society needs to be run except them experiencing hardship themselves, though I also know that experiencing hardship in and of itself does not produce the same outcomes of belief in all people and can sometimes more deeply ingrain stereotypes and biases…

But aside from all the little spins I can put on the argument to make it seem like a good one, as I’ve thought more about this in the past few weeks, I’ve come to conclude it’s a dangerous outlook for me to have for one simple reason: I’m speaking from a point of privilege.

Over the past few months I’ve also talked to many about how I’m a straight, young, white male, and how that pretty much puts me at the top of the “Privilege Olympics”. So I continue to work toward equality and equity for all people. But continually recognizing and “checking” one’s privilege is a 24/7 job, and it’s easy to let your guard down.

Whenever I’ve said that maybe “it has to get worse”, I’ve subconsciously been confident that whatever “worse” means, it doesn’t mean worse for me:

  • If Roe v. Wade is reversed, I won’t be the one who has to suffer the consequences it would have for the control of my body and reproductive choice.
  • If salary inequality continues such that women are paid only 70-80% of what men are paid, or if that percentage decreases, I won’t be losing any money from it.
  • If voter ID laws that disproportionately affect the poor, elderly, and people of color continue to be rolled out and applied, I won’t have to worry about losing my ability to vote.
  • If the movement of equal rights of homosexuals is halted, and gains made in the past years reversed, I won’t experience the consequences of any of those changes.
  • If Obamacare is repealed or amended, I’ll still have health insurance or be able to afford coverage.
  • If the economy takes another downturn, I’ll probably still have a full-time job. And even if I should lose it, I have significant savings that could last me for a while and have everything working in my favor to help me get a new job faster than others in a similar position. And even if worst comes to worst, I have grandparents who own their homes outright that I could live with (in addition to parents with a partially paid off home).
  • If religious rights of non-Christians are curtailed, it won’t affect how and if I want to worship as I see fit.
  • If we continue to fight wars, allow drone attacks, and permit oppressive governments to bring about terrible lives for people around the world, it won’t be my life that’s affected.

So while it may not matter to me personally if “it has to get worse before it gets better”, it sure does matter for many others (well over half the country, actually). If I’m going to be fighting for the rights of ALL people, to be striving for equality for the oppressed and marginalized, then I need to be taking a stand toward creating a better country for us ALL to live in and recognizing that when changes for the worse happen, even if they don’t affect me directly, they still matter and aren’t just “collateral damage” for some eventual change that may happen some day.

So when you and I go to the ballot box and vote (and even those who choose not to vote), it’s important to remember that it’s not all about “me” but about all those we know and don’t know who will be affected by the very real consequences of decisions made by those we elect to positions in our government. Our choices matter and directly impact the lives of other around the country and around the world. It’s not to be taken lightly; I’m going to continue to try to remember that, and I hope you do, too.