Coming Back to America

I originally thought of this as a quick post to social media, but then rethought that as it goes deeper than a post to Facebook and certainly much longer than Twitter can handle. This post concerns observations and thoughts that I had as I faced returning to the U.S. from having lived in Canada for almost 5 years.

We moved to a city in the Province of Ontario from Florida back in 2013 because of a job opportunity with the organization for whom my wife works. When we left, I was well aware of the racism and prejudices present in this country both from having children of a different race as well as having taught at the middle school and high school levels and having to attempt to teach students not only English, but also Holocaust/Tolerance education. I also saw it as the conservative media and politicians continued to attack President Obama’s every action. Yet, seeing it from the outside gave me a much darker look at what was going on in the U.S.

One way that I saw the dark clouds of paranoia and xenophobia was when I’d have to make trips back into this country for medical or other purposes. As the election of 2016 came closer, the officials at the U.S. border became increasingly more visibly armed and their questioning more increasingly and ominously paranoid. Whenever I would enter the U.S., the guard would ask questions that seemed odd. It started with asking me my license plate number (not something I’d memorized as I doubt many folks do). Then, it morphed into requests for me to remove my cap and glasses. Then, questions regarding my political views about the incoming administration and how I viewed living in Canada, if I liked it better than living in the States. I became thankful for my ability to hide my true feelings and even flat out lie after a few times of this. My tension would not cease until I returned to the safety of Canada and their border patrol’s benign questions concerning if I had any alcohol, tobacco, or firearms and where I lived in Canada and why which I deemed valid as it was their country and I was a guest in it.

The night of the election and for weeks afterward, I couldn’t sleep. I began to also overeat and simply not care about whatever happened to me because I knew that I’d be returning to a nation very much unlike the one I’d left. I cried a great deal. I tried to step up my efforts to find a way that we could remain in Canada. My wife tried to convince me that things would not be as bad as I thought they would be. But she didn’t watch the news nor pay attention to the rantings of the incoming administration. She felt that his party would hold him in check and that it would not be as bad as it appeared.

Once the current administration came into power, the guards at the border got worse, their open carrying of M-16s more apparent as did their now body armored uniforms. They became bolder in their questioning. Now, they would focus on my having a beard as they asked and re-asked the same questions to try to somehow catch me in a lie. At one border crossing, it became apparent that it was too isolated to be safe to cross back into the U.S. due to the behavior of the guards; so, I went out of my way to cross at a more populated one so there would be more witnesses to anything that could happen. Yes, I became fearful of returning to the country of my birth and citizenship, not because of doing anything wrong, but due to my fear of being seen as a threat because I did not agree with the policies of the new administration.

The news, as we watched both news from Canada and the U.S., seemed not to match. While we heard just the facts from the Canadian networks, the U.S. seemed more slanted. Some items occurring in the U.S. not mentioned in U.S. news broadcasts were mentioned in Canadian ones. Tougher border crossings for both U.S. citizens as well as Canadian citizens arose. It was like the U.S. intentionally did not want people coming in.

Once we moved back, it seemed like a cloud was descending over the States. More and more accounts of racism and prejudice. The rise of a more virulent and violent white supremacy. And the response from the current administration was everything from silence to stating there were “good people on both sides.” Under any other U.S. administration in my lifetime, Democrat or Republican, the actions of white supremacists would have been condemned. That was no longer the case. I’d lived in Florida when Trayvon Martin was murdered by a white man simply for walking down the street. Yet now, there were Black men and boys, such as Eric Gardner and Tamir Rice, being killed by police and getting away with it. There were people trying to escape violence and poverty now having their children placed in cages at the U.S.-Mexico border. There were people who were brought to this country by their parents years ago who were being threatened with deportation to countries they knew nothing about. The U.S. border officials started showing up at bus stations where I moved to try to deport people. Migrant farmers were being picked up and whisked away in an increasing manner. All of this and the administration not only condoning it, but ordering it and for no reason aside from prejudice and hate.

As I write this, a few days ago Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden named Senator Kamala Harris to be his running mate in the upcoming election. Almost immediately, the supporters of the current administration began to attack her based on the color of her skin and gender. They are putting out a conspiracy theory that she is not a U.S. citizen simply because her parents were immigrants. She was born in Oakland, California, and is a U.S. citizen regardless of whether her parents were or not. (They were, by the way). It’s the same tactic they tried to do to President Obama because his father was Black and his name was not a Western one.

There is no cause for this aside from hate and prejudice. In the coming months as we head toward the election, I know it will only get worse. It is my hope that the country can ignore the hatred and prejudice and come together in supporting the positive change that exists in the Biden/Harris ticket as well as in all the progressives that are running for office in this country. They need to be, indeed must be, elected in order for this nation to make it through this darkness and survive.

As President Lincoln once stated, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” This country is divided under this current administration. It will not stand if this continues. No, I am no naive enough to believe it will not take work to bring about change once the administration changes. Yet, I know that it is only with a massive change in the governing of this country that any movement forward can occur.

White privilege is not what whites think it is

White privilege doesn’t mean what some Whites think it means. They get stuck on the word privilege believing it to equate with wealth and comfort. However, that’s not it.

Privilege, as defined by the Merriam Webster dictionary, has two related definitions. The first is “a right or immunity granted as a peculiar benefit, advantage, or favour”. The second is “to accord a higher value or superior position to”.

The social and political system of this country grants people who are white with certain privileges that are not given to people of colour which are based simply on the lack of melanin in their skin. It has nothing to do with wealth, but everything to do with living each day.

Whites can and do go about our lives not really worrying about being pulled over by law enforcement or being shadowed in stores by security/loss prevention personnel.

Whites can and do get jobs over people of colour based not on qualifications, but on skin pigmentation.

Whites do not get stereotyped as being savages or lazy anywhere near the amount people of colour do.

A white man walking along the street while wearing a hoodie doesn’t have to pull the hoodie off when people pass him out of fear of being thought of as potentially violent.

When a white person does get pulled over or stopped by law enforcement, they don’t automatically get approached by the officer having his/her hand on the butt of his/her service revolver.

The list can go on ad nauseam, but I won’t belabour it. These are facts. People of colour, particularly Black and Brown skinned people face discrimination every day practically from the moment they are born.

Black and Brown mothers and fathers train their sons on how to try to avoid suspicion from ignorant whites so that they can come home from something as simple as a trip to get candy at the corner store.

Black women see images society throws at them saying their beauty lies in straightening their hair.

Black and Brown people are constantly told to behave like whites behave if they want to achieve success and stay safe in this country.

Again, the list can go on ad nauseam.

Enough is enough though!

Blacks and other people of colour cannot fix the system that’s rigged against them by themselves. It’s up to whites to join with them, listen, and act with them to change the system from one of systemic racism to one of real equality.

Not Enough

Not Enough

Shirts are not enough.
Signs are not enough.
Painted streets are not enough.
Sentiment is not enough.
Letters and emails are not enough.
Voting is not enough.
Protests are not enough.

All of these actions, while necessary and good, are not enough to bring about meaningful and lasting change in this country. We need tangible and earnest change in the system to rid ourselves of the systemic racism that pervades our country.

While the above-mentioned list is a start, we need to elect officials at all levels of government who will listen and act in a manner that changes the system. We must move forward with the agenda for which people are shouting, protesting, dying, and being arrested. We must make the agenda into law.

No human should worry about being mistreated based solely on the colour of her or his skin.

No human should worry about being killed based solely on the colour of her or his skin.

No human should live in poverty based solely on the colour of her or his skin.

No human should worry about being able to get a job based solely on the colour of her or his skin.

No human should worry about not having healthcare based solely on the colour of her or his skin.

We must force our government to truly make this country one where equality is truly equality.

Equality across the imaginary concept of race.

Equality across all cultural differences.

Equality across all genders and sexual orientations.

Equality across all religious beliefs or non-belief.

The idea of equality for ALL PEOPLE truly should be equality for ALL PEOPLE!

High Time for Common Sense and Embracing Intelligence—Pandemic edition

As we are still in the midst of a pandemic which is showing few signs of dissipating, we need to heed the advice of experts and not the ravings of a narcissistic sociopath. Yet, there are so many people who refuse to heed the calls for caution and preventative measures. This is upsetting and makes me wonder why this nation has gone from one where scientists and experts are heeded to one where anti-intellectualism is lauded.

It would be far too easy to blame all of this on the current administration, although that is certainly a reason for some of the resurgence of anti-intellectualism. There has to be more than that though. I recall growing up in a country where scientists and doctors were heeded when they called for certain things to occur in order for people or the environment to be healthier. This country saw the end of leaded gasoline, the end of vast pollution of our water and air, and movement toward cleaner energy. All of these were due to scientific research and solutions that arose from that research. We even went from disposable rockets being used to travel into outer space to the reusable Space Shuttle program.

Yet, now we are in what is now the 7th month of a pandemic and while science is saying we need to wear masks, social distance, and wash our hands, there are still people who do not. Instead, we have people demanding to live life as it was before the pandemic with a nonchalance that is terrifying at times. The current administration feels that the economy is more important than human life, except for the life of a fetus, that is. Heaven forbid abortions remain legal and safe and/or contraceptives be available to prevent unwanted pregnancies or the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. I digress.

Now, we have the current administration demanding that public schools reopen even as the rate of spread of the Covid-19 is increasing in almost half of the country. While I agree that face-to-face education is important both for learning and the development of social skills, the cost in lives is not worth the risk. Many of our schools lack the space for social distancing that is effective as well as lacking the ventilation systems that are proven to reduce the chance of spreading the virus. Add to this a workforce of older teachers or even younger ones who live in extended family situations with parents who are immune compromised, plus the families of students themselves who may have individuals who are immune compromised or at risk, it is a recipe for disaster. We must heed the advice of the experts, not the whims of an administration that has no expertise in matters of health.

There’s also the argument about the economy and how the pandemic has harmed the economy. Yes, it is true that the economy is suffering. There are people out of work due to the pandemic. There are businesses that have needed to close, either for the duration of the pandemic or for good because of the pandemic shutdowns. Yet, why isn’t this also being seen as a call to change the way our economy operates so that it can become viable in the event of a pandemic? We have seen some changes already from an increase in grocery shopping and food delivery services. These are good even when there is not a pandemic, especially for people who are unable to leave their homes or be around groups of people for health reasons. We have seen companies re-tool their production lines to create needed personal protection and medical equipment. We have proven that some industries can still be viable allowing their employees to work from home.

Perhaps what is needed is an investment in other technologies to make it even more possible. Improving access to high speed, reliable, and secured internet would be one thing. Better programs for distance meetings are another. Seeing the pandemic as an opportunity to affect real change rather than something that stymies our productivity would be great, wouldn’t it?

While we are on the subject of the economy, I’d like to add that it is imperative that the cost of a vaccine for Covid-19 must be affordable, even free, once one is found to work. This is not a time for profit-making, but for healing. The same can be said for all medicines for every chronic condition. We, as a nation, must demand that people’s health come before profits. If people are not healthy, they can never have the financial resources to help drive the economy.

Will we see an end to the pandemic? I believe we will, but not without people taking more responsibility for themselves and those around them. That responsibility must become the new normal. The responsibility includes wearing a mask when in public, washing hands, and social distancing when possible.

Wearing a mask when in public should be seen as a badge of honor or even commonplace, rather than an infringement upon one’s rights. It’s a bunch of bullshit that wearing a mask is somehow an impediment to a person’s rights. Right to what? Spread a possibly fatal disease to someone else? That’s not a right, it’s second degree murder. Hell, some of the people complaining about wearing a mask are the same folks who cover themselves in camouflage and deer urine and sit for hours in a tree stand. To think they cannot manage to wear a mask for a 30-minute trip to the grocery is egregious.

Handwashing should be a habit anyhow even without a pandemic. It protects both the individual from getting an illness as well as spreading an illness. Nothing is quite as disgusting as watching someone leave the washroom without their washing their hands with soap. It doesn’t matter whether they needed to evacuate fluids or feces from their bodies, they still need to wash their hands.

Social distancing is not really that difficult. Yes, there are occasions where it is not feasible, such as grocery shopping or other routines that involve human interaction, but when someone is ill, then they should not be around others anyhow. This, of course, brings up the need for paid sick leave so that people can afford to take time off when they or a loved one is ill. There is no reason why someone should have to work when he or she is sick, especially if they are contagious. That simply spreads the illness as well as putting yet another burden on the healthcare system in the event more people become ill from the person who is sick. If the person who is ill can still do his or her job from home, then so be it. If not, the person should not be penalized for being sick. That’s simply being humane toward one another.

All in all, my message is that we need to listen to science over stupidity in this. Our country needs to stop with all the anti-intellectualism and believing that the rights of an individual are somehow more important than the rights of the whole of society when it comes to health.

Science is real. Wear a mask. Wash your hands. Social distance when possible.

Stand Up Speak Out

I recently received a comment on social media on a comment I made regarding white privilege. The person responded to me asking me if I too was white and, if so, how could I defy my race and state that we need to fight against white privilege. These types of comments are not new to me as I have been called “a traitor to my race” and that I am “no longer white” because I am “betraying my race” as I speak out against white privilege and racism.

My answer is simple. As a white person born with a privilege I did not earn, I MUST speak out against it. That we live in a society in the 21st century in which the color of our skin somehow provides us immunity to many social ills and grants us further immunity against continual harassment, racial profiling, and with privileges denied to our fellow humankind who are Black, Hispanic, Native American, and Asian is appalling. It should be equally appalling to every white person as well, particularly as we live in a country where, at least on paper, it states that every person is equal.

That very equality written into our constitution is a lie if all humankind is not treated equally. It is up to us, meaning white people, to confront the reality of the inequality and address it head on, both personally and systematically. If we do not, then we are guilty of perpetuating the inequality that surrounds us. It is long past time to change how this society works, or doesn’t work, when it comes to the lives of our fellow citizens.

We must stand up against racism and be willing to do so for the long haul until we eradicate its ugly head from our society. This means that when all the protests and hashtags begin to fade, we need to still be vocal and active to create the change that is needed. This means that when we see someone acting, speaking, or behaving in a racist manner, we speak out against them and make them stop. We educate them how it is wrong to judge people based on the color of their skin. We stop believing stereotypes and start support breaking down the ideology that perpetuates them. We speak up when we see someone of color being treated unfairly or abusively by anyone.

Speaking up is imperative to change the system that treats people of color differently than whites. When laws or law enforcement is in the wrong, they are called out and changed. Law enforcement, when behaving unjustly, must be called out and the guilty charged with the crime. Elected officials must be held accountable as well. There are not one set of laws for whites and another for non-whites, there is the law and it should not see color when it comes to how justice is handled.

There is no reason why a Black person charged with a crime and a white person charged for the same crime should not be subject to the same punishment. None.

There is no reason why a Black mother should have to worry about her son as he goes to the store to buy candy. None.

There is no reason why a Black man should be worried to go for a run in a white neighborhood. None.

There is no reason why a Black person who is pulled over for violating the speed limit should worry that she or he may have a gun pointed at them or worse when a white person who does the same does not. None.

White people MUST stand up and speak out against racial injustice to make damned certain that change happens. Our Black brothers and sisters cannot do this alone, history has proven that much.

So yes, white privilege exists. It is wrong and it needs to end now.
Black Lives Matter.

It’s Time to Desegregate English Classrooms

“I am not tragically colored. There is no great sorrow dammed up in my soul, nor lurking behind my eyes. I do not mind at all. I do not belong to the sobbing school of Negrohood who hold that nature somehow has given them a lowdown dirty deal and whose feelings are all hurt about it…. No, I do not weep at world—I am too busy sharpening my oyster knife.”—Zora Neale Hurston, “How It Feels to be Colored Me,” World Tomorrow, 1928.

Can you feel the strength and soul of the author in this quote? I hope so, because Zora Neale Hurston, along with her contemporaries of the Harlem Renaissance and her modern contemporaries of today are exactly what is needed in the reading curriculum of our schools. Yet, Zora Neale Hurston is often overlooked at best. When, or rather if, the Harlem Renaissance is taught, it is but a blip on the radar in most English classes in this country. The same rings true for most authors who are not white. They may appear in brief cameos in our English classrooms, but that’s about it. Instead, our students read primarily dead white writers from the supposed “canon” of English literature. Talk about a travesty of an education. It is nothing more than academic white privilege when writers of color are ignored or minimized rather than taught.

Now, before anyone misunderstands me, I feel it is important to read the classics. There are lessons to be learned from the great writers of the “canon” of literature. I am not advocating the abolition of reading Chaucer, Shakespeare, the Bronte sisters, Dickens, Twain, Steinbeck, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, or the like. They need to be read and the historical context of when they write must be taught alongside of their works of literature for they are inter-related and a piece of our collective history as a human race.
However, the works of Zora Neale Hurston, Maya Angelou, Sojourner Truth, Langston Hughes, Malcolm X, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Frederick Douglass, Alice Walker, Amy Tan, Maxine Hong Kingston, Sherman Alexie, N. Scott Momaday, James Weldon Johnson, Toni Morrison, Sandra Cisneros, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and countless others need to be taught as well. Not glanced over, but actually taught to our students. Yes, this list includes writers who are Black, Hispanic, Latino, Native American, and Asian. That’s the point.

Of these authors of color, I want to single out the authors who are Black, especially in light of the Black Lives Matter movement and the necessity of our schools helping to give our Black students, and indeed reminding the Black community as well of their vital heritage and culture, role models from the Black community instead of making them read only white authors all of the time.
I cannot count the number of times I have spoken with students who are Black and they have never heard of Maya Angelou, Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, or Zora Neale Hurston. It is appalling, but not surprising. I taught middle and high school English in Florida for about 12 years. I literally taught about 35 miles from Zora Neale Hurston’s hometown of Eatonville and there were students, and a few teachers, who had never heard of her. That is egregious!

It is imperative that students see and read authors who look like them in order for them to see the richness of their cultural heritage instead of only the cultural heritage of white authors of European descent. I propose that all school districts come up with a curriculum that requires the reading and study of authors of color alongside the traditional canon of literature. While it will not solve the racial issues we have as a country, it will help to desegregate the literature read and foster communication and understanding through literature by having students read authors from across cultural and ethnic lines.

Additionally, when students read authors who look like them and share similar cultural experiences as they do, it encourages reading, boosts self-esteem/self-image, and provides positive role models for them. All of those, in turn, help students achieve better in school and in life. In addition, when students who are not normally exposed to other cultures read authors from differing cultures, it enhances understanding and empathy, promotes tolerance, and helps society as a whole.

I know this because I witnessed it on a small scale when I taught middle and high school English in schools that varied from having a homogeneous student body to ones having a more diverse student body. While it did not eliminate racial or cultural issues, it did alleviate them. I also saw the faces of students who read, for the first time, a book by an author from their cultural/racial background. It was like a light appeared for them. They saw how an author who looked like them could write and tell a story that mattered. In many cases, I would deliberately take books from authors of varying cultures and present them to students based on common themes. The discussions my classes had were amazing as they made connections between the books, their lives, and the lives of their classmates. Students learned so much about one another as well as themselves, and the literature. That is real learning. That is what we need to be doing in our schools.

Land of the Brave who are Free

You’re fine with other races

If they’re making music or playing ball.

You’re fine with immigrants

If they’re picking produce or serving you at the mall.

You’re fine with foreign workers

If they’re cleaning your room.

You’re fine with a woman

If she’s naked in your room or carrying a baby in her womb.

You’re not fine if any of these people have the gall

To stand up, stand proud, stand tall

Against your prejudice and hate

This makes you the reason there’s no time to wait.

No time to debate

About the changes that are needed in this place.

Because your ideas need laid to waste.

Now is the time

Now is the place

For our country to erase

All the hate

All the hurt

All the pain

It’s time for justice to fall like rain.

Maybe then we can be

The land of the brave who are free.

The Masks We Wear

The masks we wear

To muffle the lives we bear

Can get stifling at times.

We want to scream

We need to shout

For we feel no one cares about

Our lives or the humanity around us.

We shuffle through

Our lives untrue

To our own wants, needs, and desires

Wanting to stoke some fires

Of passion or passionate times

To wake up another person

Shake them from their mediocrity

Shake us from ours as well

To leave our self-created lives in Hell

To find comfort in their eyes and face

Or entwined within a long embrace.

To laugh

To feel

To love

What Matters Most

We chase after money,

Then we chase after time.

We’re told time is money.

All while being told we need more

More things

Bigger houses

Better cars

The latest technology.

Instead, we should chase after our children.

Give our loved ones our time.

Time is not money, it’s just time.

Our time

That finite amount of measurement

We are given in this life

To learn

To live

To love

Life is not a competition

It is not a race where the first to cross wins.

But a race against the clock that is our life

Our finite life

To learn more

To live more

To love others so much more.

That’s what matters most.

I Am Human

This is who we are as humanity. This is what matters most. Regardless of who you are, where you are, or what you do, treat others as you treat yourself whenever possible.

I am white

I am black

I am hispanic

I am asian

I am indigenous

I am Christian

I am Muslim

I am Jew

I am Buddhist

I am Hindu

I am Sikh

I am a pagan

I am a believer

I am an atheist

I am straight

I am gay

I am lesbian

I am bisexual

I am transgender

I am queer

I am asexual

I am intersexual

I am rich

I am poor

I am tall

I am short

I am thin

I am curvy

I am hairy

I am bald

I am old

I am young

I am single

I am married

I am a father

I am a mother

I am a son

I am a daughter

I am ___________

I am human