6/15/2020 – the undefined shape of truth

It is not always needful for truth to take a definite shape; it is enough if it hovers about us like a spirit and produces harmony; if it is wafted through the air like the sound of a bell, grave and kindly.     

    –         The Maxims and Reflections of Goethe

Over the last few weeks of action in our country, I have tried my best to listen and to learn. To force myself to look at inconvenient truths, to weigh my own understandings against those of others whose perspective I don’t regularly see through. To acknowledge the ugliness that does indeed exist in the world, whether I choose to look at it or not.

It has been an often inconvenient ongoing exercise. But it is one that I know in my heart is the right thing to do, and that makes it not as scary to look into the figurative mirror. The unease and the defensiveness of instinctual reactions is more easily diffused for me when I know that I’m doing the right thing.

The words above by Goethe have been giving me hope through this. Even more challenging than doing the work of breaking down my own biases and recognizing how I benefit from the world today in a way that others do not, is trying to see a way toward a productive path forward of fixing these deeply rooted problems of injustice and inequality woven into the threads of our entire society.

Just as frustrating as taking the journey itself, is watching others obstinately refuse to take it. Watching our current president purposefully antagonize the very wounds that many are seeking to heal is simultaneously infuriating and saddening. Seeing people refuse to sit down and talk to each other, to learn from one another, is depressing. 

And yet, opposite of that I see room for hope and truth. I see people acknowledging things they never have before. For the first time, I see people empathizing in ways they previously have not. People are listening.

We live in a time where no one listens anymore. We only shout.

But right now, if you pay attention closely, and you look out over the cacophony and the multitudes, I see more people with mouths shut and ears open than I’ve seen in years. And it gives me hope. I see people who have previously been discouraged to the point of apathy suddenly taking action. And it gives me hope. I see society’s weak suddenly finding strength.

And it gives me hope.

And reading Goethe’s words above, the thing I am hoping for us most as a society is that Truth becomes a thing we learn to embrace again. That it isn’t a scary thing. That it shouldn’t be something we are ashamed of, and that the noblest thing we can do is seek it always, regardless of the shape it takes. I hope that it shines a piercing light into our speech, our politics, and our relationships, so that fiction or plausible deniability no longer guide us, but the patient, reconciling transparency of truth becomes a thing we all chase and aspire to. That truth will become an attribute that all individuals seek to prioritize again, instead of greed or gain. And I hope it is enough.

“…it is enough if it hovers about us like a spirit and produces harmony; if it is wafted through the air like the sound of a bell, grave and kindly.”

6/8/2020 – Amplify

Find the good. It’s all around you. Find it, showcase it, and you’ll start believing in it.
~ Jesse Owens

The last two weeks have been both encouraging and exhausting. Terrifying and exciting. Frustrating and hopeful.

One of the core initiatives of the current Civil Rights movements of Black Lives Matter activists is to amplify black voices. So rather than sharing my normal weekly thoughts of things I’m focusing on, I’m going to quote other black voices in this week’s writing, as well as highlight/share the things I’m reading currently to deepen my understanding of our country’s history of racial oppression and how it affects the lives of our black brothers and sisters daily.

With the onslaught of information, emotion, direction, learning, outrage, and more that has been flooding into our news feeds, it has probably gotten a little overwhelming for some people. While I think it is important to contribute to and immerse oneself in this wave of information that is seemingly “suddenly” available (in quotes because it’s always been available, but never more culturally thrust to the forefront and prioritized, unfortunate as that is, than it is right now. And there’s no time like the present to contribute to the improvement and repair of society), I also think it is good to check in frequently and review progress as it is being made, to ensure everyone knows the general direction in which we are all marching.

Here are a few things I’ve either been tracking myself, or cobbled together from my social media news feeds (I’m sure there is a lot more):

I am lucky that whatever fear I have inside me, my desire to win is always stronger.
~ Serena Williams

Officers being held accountable for gross misuse of authority, nationwide:
– Minneapolis upgrades charges to officers in George Floyd murder
– “No-knock” warrants suspended in Louisville in response to Breonna Taylor murder by police (they were at the wrong address)
– Denver officer fired for tweets celebrating police violence
– 2 Officers fired in Atlanta for tasing a couple while in their car
– 6 additional officers charged for additional violence during protests
– Louisville, Kentucky Chief of Police fired.  – due to shooting of David McAtee
– San Francisco announces new hiring policy prohibiting hiring of police with history of misconduct  
– Seattle issues ultimatum to police unions demanding accountability for racist practices

You don’t have to be one of those people that accepts things as they are. Every day, take responsibility for changing them right where you are.
~ Corey Booker

Racist monuments to infamous white supremacists removed/destroyed in:
– Birmingham, Alabama
– Bentonville, Arkansas (scheduled)
– Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
– Alexandria, Virginia
– Richmond, Virginia
-Fort Myers, Florida

Start where you are, with what you have.  Make something of it and never be satisfied.
~ George Washington Carver

Policy change campaigns launched:
– Denver, Colorado announces Senate bill SB20-217, police accountability reform bill
– California Prosecutors launch campaign to stop District Attorneys from accepting police union money
– Atlanta denies proposed expansion of prison system

I prayed for twenty years but received no answer until I prayed with my legs.
Frederick Douglass

Movement to de-militarize and lessen power of police nationwide begins:
– Mayor of Tulsa agrees to not renew Live PD contract
– Minneapolis announces plan to defund police
– Los Angeles announces $150million reallocation from LAPD budget to community social programs
– New Jersey announces Policing reforms
– Richmond, Virginia announces Police reform
– Portland, Oregon discontinues use of armed police officers in schools

Change will not come if we wait for some other person, or if we wait for some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.
~ Barack Obama

I am encouraged by these progressions made only in the last 2 weeks! This only proves to me that we are capable of so much more in our society, and that for once in a very long time, I am seeing how positive change can be forced on a larger level. I keep thinking about what is possible if the pressure is continuously applied for a month, 3 months, a year. 

It’s not enough to simply hope.. I think one should always be learning something, so I have committed to re-prioritizing some of the books I was planning to read, as well as following a few local and national black activists that are thought leaders of this change. Here is a short list of some of these sources:

Ta-Nehisi Coates – 
Between the World and Me – a black father’s letter to his son, about the ways of the world.
The Case for Reparations – article in The Atlantic from 5 years ago, sparked a very interesting dialog about the use of policy in property, housing, and even lending as tools of segregation and wealth oppression against the Black Community.

@Chescaleigh – Franchesca Ramsey is an actor, author, and writer of MTV’s show, Decoded. I find her voice to be enlightening on the subject of race in today’s climate, and she’s good at breaking things down in simplistic bites.

Rachel Cargle – Rachel is a black author that has a 30-day course called “Do the Work” on her website at www.rachelcargle.com/ that I’ve just begun. It helps point out my racial blindspots so that I am becoming more aware of the disparities between my privilege and the privilege of others.

Shaun King – Activist, Podcaster, Speaker, Shaun King’s podcast, The Breakdown has been an informative, timely, and thoughtful look into today’s social justice issues. He also has a project at www.GrassrootsLaw.org which is “a policy plan that will radically change the system and confront police brutality and mass incarceration head on.”

These are just a few voices that I’ve chosen to begin listening to in order to educate myself on these complicated issues (there are plenty of other accounts I have followed on social media, but i haven’t delved deep enough into them yet to post them here). I have also begun following a few local activists and public servants here in my community of Denver in order to become more aware of local politics, with the intent of eventually finding a way to donate my time and money and get involved in my community.

What about you? Have you read any of these individuals’ work? Who are you following that I should know about? What are you learning? Would love to hear from you, and would love to keep these conversations going.

Every time you state what you want or believe, you’re the first to hear it. It’s a message to both you and others about what you think is possible. Don’t put a ceiling on yourself.
~ Oprah Winfrey

6/1/2020 – Why Violence?

In a conversation with someone I care deeply about over the weekend, the question was asked: “Why do they need to use violence to get their point across?”

It’s a question I’ve seen countless people asking on social media in the last week. I’ve heard people demanding answers in heated discussions. I’ve seen various forms of it, including dismissive versions like “how does stealing TVs solve racism?” 

It’s a great question, and a valid one. Because no, the single act of stealing a TV does not end racism in America. If that is your argument, congratulations, you can have that point. 

But you’ve also missed the larger point altogether.

Have you ever been bullied? I mean truly, mercilessly, repeatedly bullied. Over and over by the same jerk, and there was nothing you could do about it. I have. I was bullied a lot as a kid. A lot.

I couldn’t escape it. Everything I did was always wrong, was always pointed out to me. I felt stupid, I felt small, I was defenseless. I lost all confidence. I questioned myself in everything I did. It grew to affect me in ways that were totally unrelated to the acts of bullying I endured. I couldn’t talk to girls and had trouble making friends. I felt no value in myself at all, so why would they? I lost motivation in almost everything, and I started giving up. I stopped trying to play baseball (which i loved), i stopped getting good grades and gave up on getting into a good college. I had no hope. I became isolated. I had no allies to help or defend me.

When I wasn’t being bullied mentally and emotionally, I was being physically bullied. So why didn’t I fight back? Isn’t that what they say? If someone bullies you, fight back. So why not fight back? Because I was tiny, and I didn’t know how to fight. I didn’t start growing as an adolescent until a couple months before graduating high school.  I didn’t have a prayer of being able to defend myself. I was so scared. It was easier to give up, or comply, no matter how wrong the bully was, so that the torment would end quicker, than it was to fight back. 

When you are repeatedly and intensely bullied, the thing you begin to feel is “hopeless.” Especially when you have no one supporting you. Hopeless. It’s a dark feeling, and one that many people never truly feel in their lives. 

But one day, I’d had enough. After years of the abuse, I didn’t care anymore. I couldn’t take it. I reached my end. I picked the fight, over something so trivial and stupid, I don’t even remember what it was. In that isolated moment, I was in the wrong. AndI knew I was going to lose, but I didn’t care. 

The feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, depression, and helplessness… for a minute, they all faded, and for the first time, I felt something else, something very, very different. For a minute, they were all replaced by raw, uncontained rage. I blacked out. I don’t even remember very much about the next few minutes.

I got my ass kicked. Soundly. I was no match for the size and skill advantage of the bully, and it wasn’t long before a break in the fighting caused me to get up, dust myself off, and then run away. There was no question that I had lost the fight, completely and totally. That night, all the feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness returned, and I cried myself to sleep.

But something had changed. I had used violence for the first time in my defense, and I was confused by it. For a few brief moments, I hadn’t felt worthless. This was confusing to me, because I grew up going to church and being taught that violence was always wrong. But now, something about it felt… different. It didn’t feel good, but it also didn’t feel as bad as I’d been taught it was. There was an allure to it now, it felt tempting. It felt productive. I felt alive.

I look back over the last 19 years of my life since that night, and i have regrets about using anger and violence to solve my problems. It set a dangerous precedent for me that has become one of my biggest struggles (mainly anger, not as much violence), one that I’ve only begun to truly control and deal with in the last year or two.

But something else happened that night. It was the beginning of the end of the bully. I may have lost the fight, but the spell of control and power was broken. Word got out that I had stood up to the bully, and others began to rebel as well. I never allowed that power to be wielded over me again, and it wasn’t long before the bully was powerless and alone for a change, as no one would even talk to the bully, eventually. The bully became depressed. 

But why do I share this story? Because it’s the same thing that is happening in America right now. Black people have been bullied, in ways that white people can’t possibly comprehend, for hundreds of years, and they have run out of rational ways to react to it. The bullying is still happening, often on full display of the public (but exponentially more commonly in very subtle ways that you can’t see unless it is happening to you), and the reaction is emotional, it’s physical, and at the moment, it is violent. Sure, there are some people stealing TVs and breaking windows and escalating the aggression, but that in no way diminishes the point that protesters are trying to make. 

They have tried to enact change in every other way possible, and none of it has worked.

I am not promoting the burning of buildings and looting of stores.

But would you criticize me for using violence to stand up to my bully? I’m guessing you wouldn’t. Do I regret it? Yes, a little. Would I use violence today to stand up to my bully? Honestly, probably not, when I think about it. But did things change for me? Yes they did, in many ways. So it is a difficult conundrum for me to consider.

So during the madness occurring on the streets of our cities right now, when you ask “Why do they have to use violence to get their point across?”  
I will answer your question with the same question directed back at you:
“Why do they have to use violence to get their point across?”