Sometimes Happiness is hard…
This is not my normal type of post for the Ministry of Happiness, but these my friends are not normal times, or maybe they are, and if so, then I’m really sad.
I had a hard time getting out of bed this morning. It started with the fact that I’ve tweaked some muscles in my neck and it eases up during the day but stiffens overnight. So raising my head this morning to get up was a painful proposition. So I laid back down and got lazy and grabbed my phone and procrastinated getting out of bed. I quickly encountered the news about the officers who were shot in Dallas, there was information about a black man found hung in Piedmont Park in Atlanta. It was quickly deemed a suicide, too quickly some believe and no autopsy is too be performed. It’s hard right now to simply just trust the authorities after the recent news about the deaths of more black men being shot on traffic stops or while selling CD’s in front of a store. I don’t want to have that distrust but these days it is pretty hard not to.
The news hit me harder than I expected, I laid in bed for a while feeling what I can only describe as despair. Sure, I got up, I went to work and while engaged in all of the busyness of my job I was distracted and felt ok. But once that ended it was back, throughout the day via Facebook I saw posts that made me hopeful, posts about hope and unity going forward. But I also saw far too much hate in the responses of people to the events that have happened and it filled me with despair.
I’m a lucky man, I have friends of all types scattered all over the world (I wish they were nearer). My selected family is composed of a wonderfully diverse set of humans and this set includes conservatives, deeply religious Christians, Atheists, Buddhists, Muslims, flaming liberals, libertarians and people who really don’t care at all about politics. I have gay, straight, bi and trans friends, I have monogamous happily married friends, swinger friends, even polyamorous friends. These friends come in every shade of human and within all of those sets and there are some combinations of descriptors that make for some seriously lovely and unique humans.
In the last few weeks, we’ve seen a lot of the communities my friends exist in get attacked, from Orlando to Minnesota, from Baton Rouge to Dallas, yes I have family and friends who are cops as well. I’m sick of it, I’m tired of the hate, the ignorance, the political polarization, the myth of an exceptional America. An exceptional country does not harbor the levels of disrespect, hate and racism that exist in this country.
We have to change, for the savior of our country and our very souls we have to do better. These issues are not the fault of liberals or conservatives, the media is not the problem, President Obama did not cause this. We are the cause of all of it and that is both the good and the bad news. The good news being that if we caused it, we can fix it.
We have to get off of the stereotypes, but we also have to correct the problems of bias and racism that are cooked into the very structure of our society. Let me tell you how I learned about white privilege in fourth grade. In our elementary school locker room we had baskets we left our clothes in when we changed for gym class. Some idiot flipped a bunch of baskets over while we were in class and our clothes were jumbled. No big deal, there were three of us and there were three pair of underwear. One generic pair that were pretty ratty, and two pair of Fruit of the Looms, one pristine, one in good shape but with a little split near the tag. The three of us, one white, one black, and one brown. Now two of us were middle class, one was very poor and as such he immediately and accurately was given the non-Fruit of the Loom pair. That left two of us and I honestly believed that my underwear had no damage. My friend Joe, also believed the same thing. The gym teacher came in, heard the claim and without blinking gave the split pair to the black kid and gave me the pristine pair. I felt vindicated until walking down the hall a little while later I remembered, mine did have a split. For a long-time I didn’t understand why I was automatically given the best pair. It took me being older and reflecting on it to realize it had simply been the color of my skin.
The way people look should not be how we determine how to treat them, but it is. We treat white, black and brown people different. Beautiful people are treated better, I get far better treatment in my work clothes than I do on the weekend in a pair of jeans. If we determine someone looks gay, whatever the hell that is supposed to look like, we treat them differently. Dressed like a hippie, have a big beard, be anything but 1950’s normal white in this country and you are treated differently.
I saw a post from someone today about how they were incorrectly pulled over and they listened to the cop and nothing bad happened. The person that wrote it was white and the implication was clear, that if black people just behaved themselves they wouldn’t have any problems, wouldn’t get shot. The post made me incredibly angry, this person’s world view is myopic and bigoted whether they realize it or not. It made me sick that people liked the post. I don’t fit the 1950’s stereotype of white America, I have been pulled over for driving while looking like a hippie, this past year a cop admitted that the way I looked was the reason for the stop. I have had cops try to do illegal searches on these stops, I’ve been roughed up, I once had my driver’s license whipped into my eye. Black and brown drivers have it way worse than I do. So no, just obeying the law and doing what your told sometimes isn’t protection against harm, and when it happens often enough to a person, they understandably get frustrated and angry. None of this justifies being unjustly shot by a cop and as horrible as the ingrained racism in our society is, the reaction can’t be to start shooting cops that’s equally unjust.
I’m afraid for my country tonight, a hot summer Friday night with passions running high and protests in many, many places. We may be seeing a return to the type of violence and upheaval we saw in the late sixties. I would have hoped we could have gotten to the kind of positive change we saw after that period, without the violence, but it doesn’t look like that will be our path.
What can we do? You’re one person, you can’t fix society, end institutional racism, de-polarize America’s politics by yourself, and you’re right. But there are things we can do, simple things that may seem silly but may have more of an impact than you imagine. First, smile at people, especially people who don’t look like you, especially people who are likely on the margins of society, hell go crazy and say hello or have a nice day for no damn reason, hold the door open for them, thank them if they hold a door for you.
Call out the bullshit in your world, if your friend or family member expresses an idea that is bigoted call them out. Ok, you’re 90 year-old grandma gets a pass, but no one else. There is no need to do it publicly and start a fight, delete the comment, message them directly and have a conversation friend to friend without name calling or anger, the purpose is for everyone to understand each other, to understand the impact that our words have. If someone can’t do that, do you really want them as a friend on your social media account? I realize confrontation sucks, but allowing bigoted remarks to stand on your page is tacit approval of what’s being said.
Watch your assumptions. I see people jumping on each other because they assume intent that may not be there. Not every black person hates white people, not all whites are racist. Just because someone supports Black Lives Matters it doesn’t mean they don’t think other lives don’t, don’t assume they do. Equally, don’t assume that whites who feel frustrated or feel under attack are racists, you can feel the pressure of change, you can feel embattled and not turn to hateful thoughts. We all must find a way to put ourselves in other people’s shoes.
Actually talk to people. We have to talk to each other about these issues, not on social media, not in sound bites, but face to face. We have to have discussions about the issues in this country, those conversations can be uncomfortable as hell. But if they are done with open hearts and open minds, if we are respectful of one another’s feelings, we can do it and foster understanding and empathy.
My friends we have to try an understand each other, we have to care about each other regardless of whether or not we share a religion, a skin color, a sexual orientation or a political party. Almost every person I know has either a religious belief or a philosophy that they adhere to in life. I’ve made a point in life to be familiar with most of these and from Islam to Christianity to Taoism, to agnostic ideas of right and wrong none of these philosophies espouse hate as a way to a better life. Sure, none of them are perfect, they can be interpreted in ways to create the “other” or outsiders. However the core message that Jesus, Mohammad, Buddha, Lao Tzu, Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, the Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh, Mother Teresa, Khalil Gibran or any of the other philosophers of life we read espoused was simple, love one another, be good to each other, don’t kill each other. If we could just do that, we’d all have happier days my friends. ~ Rev Kane