Saturday, August 19, 2017

My Two Cents: A Southern Gentleman's Take

Dear Southern, non-racist White People:

How y'all doin'?  Been a rough couple of days. Let's talk Confederate statues for a second. I'm a black man who is proudly, unapologetically of and from The South. (You know my roots are southern, in part, because I know where to place the apostrophe in "y'all".)

One of the great things about being a black man in The South, in addition to the abundance of white women who feel guilty about their ancestry and / or want to get back at their parents (Obama almost killed that; Trump brought it roaring back.) , is the fact that I never have to explain the confederacy; be it flags or statues. Though the Civil War was a long time ago, people just assume what side I would've been on. Y'all aren't offered that same courtesy. Let's be honest, not everyone can be related to the one white family that either didn't own slaves or treated their slaves well. Shirley Temple's bloodline only runs so deep. [Editor's Note: Yes, I know not all white people owned slaves. I know my history. I saw "Free State of Jones". All white people wanted to own slaves, they just couldn't all afford it...Again, kidding?]

"Damion, this is all (very?) interesting," you might be saying. "But where is this going?"  Here's where this is going:  I understand the need to know your history; I understand not sweeping your bad acts under the rug; but you don't let those bad acts define you, and you certainly don't celebrate them.  (In case I've lost you, the "you" is The South and "bad acts" refers to "The Confederacy" and "Slavery".  All caught up?  Good. I shall now continue.)  The Confederacy happened in The South, Slavery happened in The South, but neither of those things define The South.  As all bad acts, those things should bring a sincere sense of shame and leave a pit in your stomach.  They should not elicit a sense of pride.  And the truth is, in most people, they don't.  If they did, there wouldn't have been such a concerted, institutionalized effort within The South to soften or change that part of history.  So, are confederate monuments / statues an acknowledgment of that time in history or a celebration of it?  To me, the answer is simple: forget what it's called "monument" vs "statue"; forget, for a moment, the intent behind it; then ask yourself, "How does it make most people feel?".  When you go to a Holocaust Museum or a Slave Museum, you leave feeling disgust and that the images and artifacts you viewed speak to a time that can never be allowed to happen again.  When you drive, walk, or run down Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virgina, for example, how do you feel?  Do you feel pride, a sense of wonder at all the majestic statues, or, worse, do you feel nothing at all.  If any of those things describe your feelings (or lack thereof), then it's not about "knowing your history"; it's about denying it.

Here are just a few reasons I love The South:
  1. The accent.  There is nothing quite as pleasant as a southern accent.  (As with the British accent, there are some pockets which grate the ears, but, overall...)
  2. Hidden slights.  Southerners can insult people in such a way that, not only does the target of said insult not get angry, but they thank you for it.
  3. Sweet tea.  There are places in America (America!) where you cannot get a sweet tea.  There are even some places, places whose name I dare not utter (I'm looking at you Southern California), where they will hand you a Snapple...A SNAPPLE!!!
  4. Fried chicken
  5. Barbecue
  6. Hushpuppies
  7. Chicken and dumplings
  8. Grits (I'm getting hungry. Need to change stride.)
  9. Foghorn Leghorn
  10. Country music
  11. The outfits (cut-off jean shorts, cowboy boots, white or plaid shirt tied in a bow, cowboy hat...yessir) [This is for women only]
  12. The Blues (Of course, the reason for the blues isn't to be celebrated, but...lemonade, which brings me to the next thing)
  13. Lemonade
  14. Moonshine. I don't drink, but I love the outlaw history of moonshine and how it led to NASCAR.
  15. Easy-going, relaxing way of Life
  16. Neighborly
  17. Backroads
  18. We're not Yankees

There's no denying what The South once was and, in some people's hearts, still is.  There may be people in your bloodline who carried out heinous acts, but their acts don't make you a bad person and making them into heroes doesn't make you one.  The Confederacy doesn't define The South. Don't let it define you.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Dear Diary: We the People

Friday, January 20, 2017

Dear Diary:

On Tuesday, November 8, 2016, the people of The United States of America elected Donald J Trump to be their 45th President.  Upon viewing the results early the next morning by the light of my smartphone, I immediately went through the 14 stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, you gotta be kidding me, F* That!, no, seriously you gotta be kidding me, fear, dammit white people,  commiseration, washing all of my black clothing in preparation for the weeks ahead, incoherent rants, unfriending everyone on Facebook, and re-friending everyone on Facebook so I could swear at them.  Today, I have, begrudgingly, reached the 15th stage: acceptance.  That doesn’t mean I won’t hold him to account, because I will.  As should everyone.

Over the past 9+ weeks, I have become ever-disappointed in Americans on both sides of the aisle.  (Yes, I know there are more than two political points of view, but there are only two sides of an aisle.  So, work with me.)  In both defeat and victory, people should be gracious.  Since November 9th, a lot of people, as well as their elected representatives, have been everything but.  There’s no need to rehash everything, because it would serve no purpose.

The purpose of this post is to give my thoughts on how we get back from where we’ve been over the past year or so.  Last year at this time, I had a conversation with a woman in a bar about Black Lives Matter and the Dallas police shootings.  She was half Russian, half Native American, both her brother and sister were police officers. She was worried for their safety, and I was worried about mine and those who looked like me.  Several weeks later, after another shooting and an ambush of innocent policemen, a friend of mine, Jen Miller, expressed concern about the state of race relations.  How had we gotten to this point?  What more could she do to help? Would I write a blog post with my thoughts?  I made several attempts to do so, but could not find the words.  Not any that would help.  Truth is, whenever I thought about the subject, the deaths, the rhetoric, the comments in the media and on Facebook, it would bring me to tears. 

A friend and mentor once told me, “If there comes a time when you have to serve as a go-between in a relationship, that relationship is officially over.”  I don’t believe that we have reached that place as a nation, but, as relations have taken a hit across all facets of our society: race, gender, sexual-orientation, nationality, religion, and socio-economic class, it seems as though it fast-approaching.  But, hey, if we can bring species back from the brink of extinction, and Janet Jackson can have a child at 50, there’s no reason we can’t bridge our national divide.

To that end, I have decided to share my thoughts regarding how I think we can achieve this.  As opposed to the many articles I’ve read on this topic, most of which involve going door-to-door and telling white people how horrible / fortunate (“horrtunate”?) they are, my steps, of which there are 12, are ones that are relatively easy to adopt.  I plan to enact, and monitor my adherence to, these behaviors going forward.  Will it be simple? No.  Will I falter? Yes.  But, I will acknowledge my failures and strive to do better.  So, without further ado, I humbly offer “Damion McCloud’s 12 Steps to Healing America and Saving the World”.  Nobel, please…

Step 1: A Dish Not Served

There’s a saying that revenge is a dish best served cold.  I take this to mean that, when wronged, you should take time to plot your revenge and wait to hit back when the person least expects it.  I used to subscribe to that theory, but I grew up.  Constantly thinking about how you were wronged, plotting revenge, and taking revenge serves no purpose.  Unfortunately, some of our leaders, whether they be political, community, or thought leaders, have not moved from that line of thinking.

Our political leaders seem embroiled in a never-ending game of “They started it”.  They delay appointments, add controversial provisions to bills, water-down legislation, etc., etc.  Sometimes, they have good reasons.  More often than not, however, their motivations are rooted in revenge.

There have always been parts of our society who have felt disenfranchised, exploited, and powerless.  When these populations achieve newfound power, there is a natural desire to get back at those you believe caused your pain.  When Nelson Mandela was elected President of South Africa, he could’ve used that power to bring South Africa to civil war.  Rather, he used that power to heal a broken nation and inspire others to do the same.  We celebrate Mandela, but we don’t seem willing to emulate him.

So, when you listening to or observing the actions of the people who claim to have the best interest of their constituents in mind, question their motivations.  Also, question your own and adjust your behavior accordingly.

Step 2: Adult

Good people can have differing opinions.  Good people can sometimes discuss those differences at an elevated volume.  Passion does that.  When discussing your opinions, do so as an adult.  How do you know if you’re not being an adult?  I have a few, simple guidelines:
1.     If, after making a point, you have the desire to say “Boom!”, you’re probably not being an adult
2.     If you start calling people names (“libtertards”, “conservaturds”, or “Killary Cunton”, for example) you’re not being an adult
3.     If you can’t make your point without swearing, you’re probably not being an adult

Another part of being an adult is apologizing when you’ve offended someone.  Yes, I know people seem to be extra sensitive these days.  I’ve gone so far as to call this “The Golden Age of Outrage”.  However, it is not for you to tell someone how they should feel.  You don’t know what has happened in their past that may trigger a given emotion.  So, if you have offended them, don’t try to explain it away or further belittle them.  Just apologize.  It doesn’t mean you’re a bad person; it means you did a bad thing.  Adults recognize the difference.  Also, if your offense was especially egregious, they may not accept your apology. Apologize anyway, and learn from the experience.

Step 3: Know Your History

You can kick and scream about how the group in power has exploited you or kept you down, but the simple truth is this: No minority group has ever made / can ever make inroads without the help of the people from the majority.  The end of slavery, desegregation, the right to vote for blacks and women, the first African-American President, legalizing gay marriage.  None of that would have been possible without help.  So, don’t act in ways that keeps people on the fence from acting on your behalf or makes those who have championed your cause to regret it.

Step 4: Go Rumpelstiltskin

In the fairy tale, Rumpelstiltskin spun straw into gold.  In this step, I’m asking that you spin your frustration into empathy.  When the “Political Correctness” movement first started, I was a freshman in college.  I had never considered myself a bad or uncaring person.  I had friends, whom I also considered to be good people.  However, I liked to make jokes.  Often, at the expense of others.  For the most part, there was no malicious intent, and people knew I was joking.  I was young, male, and, as it turns out, stupid.  (The first two often invariably lead to the third.)

Suddenly, after 18 years of such behavior, I was told that it was wrong to tell some of the types of jokes I had been telling for years.  I was also told that parts of speech that had never had a bad meaning, in my eyes, were now wrong or offensive.  For example, you could no longer call Asian people “Orientals”.  “Oriental” was to be used only to describe things (rugs, for example) not people.  Like an idiot, I railed against such things.  “Why should I have to change the way I, and everyone else, have spoken for years?  Why am I the bad guy all of a sudden?  Why can’t people take a joke anymore? Blah, blah, blah.”  It was very frustrating.  Just more rules to follow.  Didn’t people realize that I was bla--?  Then, one day, it hit me.  I was black.  I know what it feels like to be judged by factors outside of your control.  I know what it feels like to be called a name you don’t like being called.  I know what it’s like to be part of a group that changes the what it is acceptable for people who are not a part of that group to call it: Black, Negro, African-American, Soul Brotha # 1; sometimes, just to keep white people off-balance.  Being black means I should know better.  It should make me empathetic when people, for example, protest the name “Washington Redskins”.  It doesn’t matter what I think the nickname means in a certain context or if I had malice in my heart when saying it.  (Obviously, it matters somewhat, as it defines whether you’re a racist, an asshole, or just ignorant—none of which are mutually exclusive.)

It’s not only those who are part of a minority group who can feel this empathy.  Relatively recently, white people have begun to understand at some level what it feels like to be unfairly judged based purely on the color of their skin.  As the controversy surrounding the confederate flag reached a fever pitch, and people started being suspended or fired for using the “N-word”, white people who had never owned a confederate flag or even thought of saying the “N-word”, felt on edge.  This, I’m sure, was frustrating.

Empathy should be shown on both sides of the equation.  Just as you may understand how it is to be part of the offended, you also know how it is to navigate the new social norms.  Learned behaviors take time to adjust.  Allow for people to make slip-ups, accept their apologies (within reason), and don’t make them feel worse than they already do.  No one’s perfect, people may be on different parts of the acceptance spectrum than you are, and they will be more willing to change if they don’t think they will be blasted for every mistake they make along the way.

Step 5: Don’t be THAT Person

Don’t be the person who chooses the one negative connotation amongst a myriad of positive ones just, because you don’t want to have the difficult conversation. Let’s take “Black Lives Matter” as an example.  There’s obviously an implied word missing.  Anyone with common sense knows the missing word is “Also”, “Too”, or “Still”.  Some people, however, most of whom know better, act like they believe the word is “Only” or “More”.  Why do they do this, because it’s much easier to say “All Lives Matter” and act as though you’ve made a meaningful contribution, than to address the underlying issues.  There are many things in life that can be interpreted multiple ways.  How you choose to interpret them says as much, or more, about you as it does about the thing being interpreted.  Especially if you choose the one negative connotation amongst multiple positive ones.

Don’t be the person who is overly literal in their interpretation, because you don’t want to have the difficult conversation.  This happened so much with the phrase “Global Warming” [“Then, why am I cold?” “Because, you’re an idiot.] that they changed it to “Climate Change”, which people still refute.  The same is happening with “Gun Control”.

Don’t be the person who perpetuates a false narrative (i.e. forwards fake news) and says, “I’m just trying to expose the absurdity of our system, man!”  Fact check or at least check to see whether or not the source cited is a real entity.  It’s not hard.  If you don’t want to take the time to check it, don’t spread it.

Don’t be the person who writes a long rant about something only to end with “This is just my opinion. I am not looking for someone to try to change it.”  People who are not interested in having their mind changed in the face of contradictory evidence are a big part of the reason we are at such odds.  Everyone wants to talk, but too few want to listen.

Don’t be the person who only reads the headlines and assumes they know what the article is about.  It only takes a quick glance at the Comments section to realize that people either didn’t read the story or lack basic reading comprehension skills.  Those people get worked up, others who made the same assumption get worked up, and all the while everyone is essentially in agreement, but are too lazy to know it.

Don’t be the person who changes the subject, because you don’t want to talk about the topic at hand.  If I hear one more person ask “What about black on black crime?” in order to avoid talking about race, I will scream.  Hey, “black on black crime watchers”, when you solve same-on-same crime for every other race, gimme a call.

Don’t be the person who dismisses a good idea, because you don’t like the person who came up with it.  Good ideas come from everywhere.  If people dismiss ideas out of hand because of their feelings for the person who came up with it, or who will get the credit, things will either take forever to get done or never get done.

Don’t be the person who takes everything too seriously.  You have to be able to laugh at the sheer absurdity of everything going on in this country and the world at large. If not, you’ll either spend all your time being angry or crying, and your conversations with others will reflect as much.

Step 6: Some People Are Just A*holes

In this, “The Golden Age of Outrage”, it seems as though people are more and more willing to call people racists, homophobic, sexist, xenophobic, etc. with the slightest slip-up.  They do this for one of two (or both) reasons: 1) They enjoy the power associated with knowing they can get someone fired, and / or 2) they know doing so essentially shuts down all conversation.  As someone who regularly jokes that everything is racist, even if the party committing the offending action is of the same race, I recognize that not every person who commits an offending action is automatically an “-ist” or a “-phobe”.  Some people are just assholes. 

Of course, being an “-ist” / “-phobe” and being an asshole are not mutually exclusive.  You can be both.  More often than not, however, people are just assholes.  Calling them so is just as rewarding as calling them an “-ist” or a “-phobe” and it may have the added benefit of sparking a behavior-altering conversation.  If not, don’t fret…they’re an asshole.

Step 7: Don’t be an A*hole

Seems self-explanatory.

Step 8: Don’t Throw the Baby Out with the Bath Water

It’s okay to demonize an act or behavior; it’s even okay to vilify the person(s) who committed the offending act.  It is not okay, however, to characterize an entire race, gender, ethnic group, etc., based on the actions of a few.  It’s also not okay to attribute the offending action(s) of a given person(s) to the fact that they belong to a certain group.  Again, pretty simple.

Step 9: Check Yourself, Fool…and Others

When watching the news or reading a news story, if you see that someone committed an offensive act, be cognizant of using words / phrases such as “I knew it”, “typical”, or “there they go again”.  If you hear others use it, call them on it.  This is especially important if children are around, because they pick up behaviors from those around them.  Could this cause some discomfort? Yes.  Do it anyway.

This also applies to people who live in gated communities.  I recognize that there are valid reasons for living in a gated community.  However, when you have children, whether they live with you or visit, you need to explain the reasons more explicitly than saying “safety”.  Oftentimes, gated communities are comprised of people of the same socio-economic class or race.  So, if you tell children that the gated community is “safe”, and all they see are people like them, they may associate people who are not like those they see in the gated community as “unsafe”.  Again, not saying don’t live in a gated community.  I’m just saying you will have to work extra to ensure those associations are not drawn.

The elderly.  Part of the incentive for living a long life is the fact that you can get away with saying or doing darn near anything, and people just dismiss it as “old people crazy talk”. The issue is that these crazy people are often asked to babysit.  While it’s important to have your children respect their elders, you also need to make sure your children understand that sometimes gramps has mental lapses that are not to be admired or emulated.

Step 10: Images (God Made)

God made Man in His own image…not yours.  In other words, get over yourself.  Too often, people ask that others take things into consideration that they are not willing to do themselves.  Let’s take people who complain about others who drive in the left lane as an example.  The complaint usually goes as such: “You’re not the police…It’s not your job to make me slow down…How do you know I’m not rushing to get to the hospital to visit a friend or family member who’s dying…blah, blah, wah!”  First of all, why do you think it’s about you?  The person in the other car could be in his / her own head and not even notice or be thinking about you.  How do you know the person in the other car didn’t just leave the hospital to see a friend of family member for the last time?  The point is, why should someone consider things from your point of view when you aren’t willing to consider things from theirs?

Step 11: Don’t Demonize Desirable Behavior

Somehow, we’ve reached a place in this country where desirable traits are maligned.  Let’s take “political correctness” as one example.  Yes, the pendulum may have swung too far in some cases.  People, however, talk about political correctness as if it’s the worst thing ever conceived.  If you stop to think about what the concept is trying to teach, however, it is simply that we should treat people with respect even if it poses an inconvenience.  Truth is, everybody has something that they find offensive.  Just, because what another person finds offensive isn’t offensive to you doesn’t mean you should belittle them.  Odds are, there are some things that offend you that others would find ridiculous.

Another behavior that has been denigrated is so-called “flip-flopping”.  This term used to mean changing your mind on a given issue multiple times in a short period, seemingly to gain votes.  Now, the term is used for changing your mind at all.  You believed one thing 12 years ago, but “suddenly” you no longer believe that. It’s as though once you go on record as believing something, you are not allowed to change your mind about it…ever. Even if new evidence comes to light.  Politicians feed on this truth, and voters eat it up.  If no one is ever allowed to change their position on something without being perceived as weak, how are we ever supposed to evolve as a people and a society?

Step 12: Do the Math

Finally, and this step encompasses all the others, “do the math”.  As bullying, suicide, domestic violence, and misogyny have received more and more attention, “Know Your Worth” has become an oft-repeated mantra.  I agree with that whole-heartedly.  People should know their worth.  They should never let anyone treat them as less than.  So, by all means, sit down and figure out exactly how much you’re worth.  But when you finally arrive at that number, keep in mind that the cashier at the grocery store arrived at that same number…as did the waitress who brought you your lunch, the security guard at the front desk who won’t let you in without the proper credentials even though you’re running late to a meeting, the bathroom attendant who hands you a towel, the janitor who makes sure you have a clean place to come to work every morning, the bartender who listens to all your problems and kindly dismisses your advances while working herself through school, the police officer trying to keep your community safe, the homeless man looking for a break, and so on and so on.  You have worth, but it is no greater than anyone else’s.  Once we can all get to that realization, everything else will fall into place. 

As I said at the beginning, I hold out hope that we’ll get there, because We the People.