A White Guy Looks At Racism, Again…

I have spent the day hearing news report after news report saying that Donald Trump is a racist. Even the people at FOX News seem to agree, Mick Mulvaney notwithstanding. At this point, no one believes that Trump isn’t racist, that his tweets aren’t racist, that his policies aren’t racist. Even those people who go on the Sunday shows to defend him really can’t. So, there it is: no more doubting. No more defending, no more believing B.S. No more trying to figure out what he meant. Trump is a racist. Period. Let’s waste no more time with the craziness, or the intent questions, or whatever other guesses we might have. He is a racist. He means to be a racist. He will be a racist unless something changes. He would have to change because he present state is… racist.  Now the question comes: What are we going to do about it?

I’ve been thinking about it a lot and this is what I have come up with. Donald Trump is a hateful man. He hates cities, he hates children, he hates immigrants, he hates people in the military who are trans, he hates Muslims. He hates all kinds of people that decent people love. Who does he care about? Himself. We can all spend time defending the people that we love and their issues. He has a shorter list, and that makes it easier for him, so I see no solution. I used to believe in impeachment and the rule of law, and those are fine choices, if we choose to, and can, use them.  Again, he hates the law. we have to defend it.  His task is easier.  Short of his death, I don’t see him leaving office. Hating him seems to be an option… except it’s not. Becoming hateful ourselves just means more hate in the world. Losing our own souls isn’t worth the effort.

Now, defending good people, that’s a different story. That we can all do. By “good”, I’m going to cheat here a little bit.  By good, I’m going to mean, “anyone who hasn’t given me reason to dislike them”. That means anybody I don’t know, and a whole bunch of people I do.  You can’t pick on people I love, or care about, or don’t even know simply because you don’t like the color of their skin. Doing that is racist, judgemental, and dumb — all things not to be.

Now, here’s where it gets weird… There’s a Twitter hashtag going around, #AnotherWhitePersonAgainstRacism. Blowing my own horn is seen, in my culture (Yankee New England White culture), as bragging. I haven’t used the Hashtag yet because 1) I don’t think hashtags do much and 2) I don’t like to brag.

I want to be another White person against racism. I don’t want to say it. I don’t really care if my White, liberal friends think I am or I’m not. What I do care about is that my Black friends know and believe that I am a White person against racism. If I’m not doing what it takes to be considered a White person against racism, then it doesn’t  matter what I say. If it’s not apparent already, then I’m not who I want to be. In the same way, if you can’t tell by my actions that I’m a Christian, there’s no point in saying it. With each person from each group, I want to genuinely care and act like you matter, no matter what category you represent (unless its intolerance or bigotry).

But there’s a problem with the way I like to do things. Given the way the world is right now, especially in America, if I don’t say it, people could confuse that with my agreeing with racism. I want the entire world to know that am against racism. So, I’ll say it to anyone who I see: I hate racism. I think it’s demeaning to human beings that I care about. I think it doesn’t allow them to be their best selves, or us to see their best selves. Because of that, it just seems dumb, as well as unethical and wrong and not what God wants from us.

NOW, HERE’S THE PART WHERE I ADDRESS WHITE FOLKS… (not snarky, I promise)

Lately, the words have changed. Instead of talking about “racism”, there’s a lot of talk about “White Privilege“. Before anybody gets their knickers in a twit, let me explain that it’s not meant to hurt or deny anyone’s pain. White folk have pain. Lots of folks suffer injustice and problems of all sorts. Talking about privilege means this:

If you go to buy a house, and you’re not steered away from the one you want because of your skin color, you have privilege. If they’ll only sell you a home in a certain zip code, you don’t.

If people don’t fear you because of your skin color, you have privilege. If people do fear you, you don’t.

If people let you dine in any restaurant you want and the waiter doesn’t look at you funny when you come in, you have privilege. If they won’t, just as a general rule, you don’t.

If police can’t kill you and say they were afraid of you, even without a gun, you have privilege. If police can kill you and suffer no consequences, you don’t.

If companies won’t even consider putting toxins in your neighborhood, you have privilege. If companies will put the most heinous and toxic crap in your neighborhood without even thinking about it and then say your IQ suffers naturally, you don’t.

I have privilege in all of those same ways. Our Black brothers and sisters don’t. If you didn’t know, it’s not your fault. Now that you do, try not to be offended when they say you do. I have always said the problem isn’t that we have privilege (that’s the way life is supposed to be). The problem is that they don’t.

I hope everybody’s clearer now.

 

Resisting with Peace,

 

John

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Trump Means

When all is said and done, some good may come out of this administration, but only as a by-product and only if we live long enough to learn the lessons, of course. It seems to me that there are two lessons here: one factual, and one moral.

The first one, pointed out by the great George Carlin, is economic : there is an “owner” class. If we look at the man himself, and his cabinet and some of Congress as well, you see no one who looks like you. The chairman of Trump, Inc has the chairman of Exxon Mobil as his Secretary of State, he has a billionaire real-estate developer as a son-in-law. He is friends with the CEO of Aetna, who made individually 46 million dollars while withdrawing his company (or threatening to, I can’t remember) from Obamacare. He has a Secretary of Education from an unimaginably wealth family, and a brother who made a “killing” literally and figuratively by founding Blackwater, the “defense contractor” (read ‘mercenary’). Tom Price has benefited from Big Pharma in some incredible amount.  Even Ben Carson, I bet, has made more money than most of us can imagine, but he’s probably the least wealthy among them. On the Russian side, there is Putin and his lot — Putin possibly being the “richest man in the world”, according to Rachael Maddow. On his staff are people — while supposedly making a government pension —  who own Chalets and yachts all over the world. The man from Aetna and the Putin staff are the same type of people: decrying the national debt and the failing economy while they make billions by causing that debt and bad economy. If the economy is doing well enough that you can make $46million, and your salary could pay for health insurance for more than 2000 families at $15,000 per year, the problem isn’t saving money and getting ahead, which most folks are told. It’s not even doctors or nurses asking for too much money which is the more “in-depth analysis” version of this. It’s that one man has 8,000 times the money he needs. In Russia, the economy suffers because there’s not enough money to build things for The People who are all supposed to be equal. Companies are taken over by the the government all the time, and yet, amazingly the government has no money. Two systems, same problem.

Remember when Mitt Romney believed it was fair that he paid no federal taxes because he was only taking what was legally allowed and “everybody should do that”? Remember during the Obama administration, when people noticed that most elected people were millionaires and/or lawyers, while they have free healthcare and pension for life for just serving one term? There’s a connection between all of this. The connection is that some people who make decisions for the rest of us also make make policies which benefit themselves financially — and they don’t believe in a limit to their wealth. Remember the old “Military-industrial complex”? Now it’s the military-financial-industrial complex — what Carlin called the “owner class. Their way of living and being, under Trump, is now public: out there for all to see. Now, the rules don’t apply to them because they’re in politics. Before, the rules didn’t apply to them because they had money. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss, but now they’re doing it in the light of day. That’s the factual piece. 

The moral piece is this: there isn’t anything inherently bad about money. In the old days, there was a sense of “nobless obliege” which is the obligation of the rich to give back to society that they had taken from. No matter how rich you were, you were a part of society. You were connected morally to “the great unwashed” outside your door because of faith and/or The Rules of Good Society, the way Old Money largely still acts today. But now, the point of wealth is to not be connected to The Rules or each other. As long as money is used to untether you from society, there will be problems. 

The man who owns Chobani is taking the opposite tack. The more he makes, the more he shares. He has human connections to his community. Work satisfaction is high. The community does well and everybody does better as the company grows. At the same time, the company grows because everybody does better! There was a factory owner in Lynn, Massachusetts who paid his employees when the factory burned down, because of his wealth (he could) and because of his connection to his workers and his community (he wanted to). 

Owners with class have no interest in being in the Owner Class, because of their values. Ben and Jerry, media darlings that they are, and the owner of Starbucks are owners of a corporation, not owners of people. They are people first, at once constrained by their communities and welcomed in it. The type of people closest to Trump have always existed. Maybe now, for the first time ever, we get to see what they look like and how they operate.

Resisting with peace,
John

Decriminalize Poverty!

Today, I saw a news article that said the administration was going to try to cut 3.1 million people’s Food Stamps. The idea, said the man who proposed it, is that only the truly needy can get them. This may well be the final battle in the war on the poor. There will be casualties.

For at least 40 years,the poor have gotten poorer, and worked harder to stay poor than in any time I can remember. Years ago, I had a client whose children were in DCYF custody because she had 3 or 4 children and she couldn’t afford them. She couldn’t afford to feed them. She couldn’t afford to clothe them. What money she had was taken by the drunken father of her children.

Could she work? Not and raise her children in the poorest section of a working class town. The neighborhood she could afford wasn’t safe, so she didn’t want to leave them alone. She had a car, but it didn’t pass inspection, so the police ticketed it. She couldn’t afford to pay the ticket, so it put her into debt. Down from a zero net worth to less than that. Another resource gone. If she drove it, they’d take it, impound it, and she’d be further in debt.

Some of her children tried to feed the family by getting into the local industry — drug dealing. That brought the police to her door and DCYF took her children. I remember saying in a conversation with the social worker that “poverty wasn’t against the law — yet.”

While her case sounds harsh, any other person in her neighborhood could easily be in the same predicament. That case was 20 years ago.

Recently , I had a similar case: this time involving 3 different medically children and a single mother. In order to make ends meet, she filled out the forms for renewing their food stamps. A definition was changed on the form and she was disqualified from getting Food Stamps for 60 days until they processed her brand new renewal!

That’s the legal/policy part of this story. Somewhere in Washington, some policy-maker thinks this is a great idea, consistent with their philosophical viewpoint. Let me suggest that that policy-maker has never been poor. If they had, this would not be happening.

Even budget-wise, they are only seeing the smaller picture, if that much. Here’s why:

I have seen this client for more than two years now. She has made extraordinary progress which has allowed her to stay sane enough to raise her children, despite the hardships. She simply refuses to go down. And yet, when she lost her food stamps, she melted down for the day, because she couldn’t feed her kids and she couldn’t work harder and now what was she going to do? Financial stress is a killer. It just is, especially if you’re trying to live within the law. So, for this simple policy change, the government saved a few hundred dollars not feeding her children. They lost money paying for her mental health. They could easily have lost money paying the police to come to her house if she lost her temper. They could further lose money paying for, housing, and paying DCYF staff to deal with her case. And if, as many do, she had chosen illegal ways to make money, the state and the feds would have paid for all of her time in the justice system. I don’t know prices, but I could easily see those services costing thousands of dollars by “saving” a few hundred.

None of that economic stuff is the point, though. This simple policy change could have — and for a day — did destroy lives. This woman was frozen in fear, anxiety and grief, so her mothering skills were down that day. If she wasn’t the solid person she was, her life, and those of her children would have been destroyed. That is the tragedy here.

What the government is now proposing will guarantee that same outcome, for a longer period of time. People’s lives will be destroyed. It is as simple as that.

Of course, the other option is to ask the rich to pay their fair share so that people who can’t lose a dollar, or make a mistake, or have misfortune dealt to them one more time, can have something that looks like a life. There is a distinct connection between poverty criminality. If people can’t survive legally and don’t have other legitimate ways of paying for things, they will seek illegitimate ways of doing so. We can avoid much chaos, much violence, much mental health care if we let people have enough to eat, and enough money to buy the things they need.

When we criminalize poverty, we create desperation, we create havoc and instability in an already unstable world. In short, we create criminals.

When we are compassionate towards those whom life kicks —often and hard — we bring some stability to our society, and create people who can add to the world, willingly and with joy.

The choice is ours. Let us choose wisely for all of us.

Resisting with Peace,

John