Why Can’t We Just Be?

Why can’t we just be?

When I was a teenager, I wanted to do one thing most teens do, date. Now, with dating, particularly in high school with all the cliques and such, it’s always difficult. In the 80s in a small Midwestern town, it was even more challenging.

First, there was the covert prejudice between Protestants and Catholics, or as was commonly said, “Christians and Catholics.” I went through that issue for three years, but that’s a different issue.

Next, there was the issue of race, particularly with parents as old as mine. Now, my mother used to tell me race didn’t matter. She’d add how everyone deserved to be treated with respect and dignity. She also used an old line how people were different colours because “God left some people in the oven longer than others.” (How horrible that image is on so many levels, but I honestly believe she never meant anything bad about it).

As it would have it, I really came to like a girl at school who I wanted to ask out for a date. That’s where this issue came into play because she happened to be Black. I already had a hard enough time trying to ask a girl out and I just had this feeling my parents would have a problem with it. I asked my mom about it. Unfortunately, my father heard and commented that no N- would ever be welcomed in his house, let alone have his kid date one.

I saw this girl as my friend. She was funny, smart, and pretty. Sure, she was Black, but that didn’t matter to me. I liked her and wanted to get to know her, spend time with her. Yet, I couldn’t because of my parents. I often wondered if Black kids got the same thing from their parents if they wanted to date White kids. Would her parents have reacted the same way? Obviously, I’ll never know. What I did learn was the hypocrisy of my parents and that I’d not be that way when I grew up.

Even in my adult life, I’ve had acquaintances comment negatively if I said I found a non-Caucasian person attractive. I just don’t understand it. If I find someone attractive, why should skin colour even matter? If I want to be friends with someone who is a different skin colour or religion or whatever, why should it matter?

Seriously, why can’t we just be?

Music Connections and Influence

It’s interesting, at least to me, how early in life music can have an influence on someone.

One of the first memories I have is of my mother singing. It’s was never in a choir, but as she went about her day. Doing dishes or other housework. Along with the radio in the car or even if there was a tune on a program on tv or in a movie. She rarely sang loudly, but sometimes it seemed as if she was always carrying a tune with her.

While I was laying in bed this morning, the clock radio played. The program was a repeat of the “American Top 40” that was hosted by Casey Kasem. In this case, it was the Top 40 from 1971. I was just 3 years old that year and each of the songs I heard were ones I could pretty much recall every verse from. Songs from groups like The Carpenters and even the title song from the musical “Jesus Christ Superstar.” Yet also songs from a group called Ocean (“Put Your Hand in the Hand”) and from Jerry Reed (“Amos Moses”). It just struck me how music stays with people, or maybe it’s just me, from a young age.

I can recall riding along with the younger of my two older sisters in her VW Bug. We were driving probably over to Columbus, OH and it was summer. The sunroof was open and her new Paul McCartney and the Wings 8-track tape was playing. (Some reading this may have to look up what an 8-Track even is). I can still recall hearing “Band on the Run” for the first time on that warm day as we made our trip. Every time I hear that song, I recall that trip, at least that part of it.

I often watch movies and sing along like my mother used to do. Funny how it can be a movie from the 1940s or one from my teen years and how easily I can recall the song whether it’s “Too Ra Loo Ra Loo Ral”, or “Count Your Blessings (Instead of Sheep)”, “Symphony for Unstrung Tongue”, or “Don’t You Forget About Me”. Sometimes I’m fairly certain it annoys my wife and children, but I simply can’t help it because the memory is just that strong.

Music is such a powerful influencer on our lives. And, this is where I’ll comment a bit politically and about our society, as music influences us so much, I find it troubling when it’s music programs that are some of the first to be cut in the schools. It makes it difficult to have future musicians and performing artists without music education.

By that I’m not saying that music will end without music education because I feel people who are drawn to sing or play an instrument will find a way to do so. Yet, their exposure to the wide range of music through history is often stymied by the lack of a solid music education foundation. I was fortunate to have a mother who sang and a number of teachers who exposed me to a wide range of music, both historically and in scope from Gregorian chants to classical to blues to jazz to swing to country to pop to rock and even to Broadway and movies. I can see the influences of the older forms upon the newer ones. Some students, even music students, today cannot. Some are left to discover that history on their own and many times after they’ve gotten out of school.

Music, like language, conveys history of humankind. An understanding of that musical history, I believe, can foster unity in our humanity. It can show the influences of the wide range of cultures in our world in a way that fosters a connection between people who might not otherwise see that connection.

And that connection can start at a very early age. Even as a 3-year old sitting on the couch listening to his/her parent singing a tune from long ago.

NYE 2020

Wearied. Worried. Worn.

Three words most of us feel as 2020 comes to a close. Here in the States, it feels like it’s been an additional 4 years of turmoil and tragedy on top of the 4 years of chaos under the current administration.

We are weary of the deceit and evil of the current administration.

All the racial issues re-ignited.

All of the lies told.

All of the double dealing and hate.

The internal destruction of our society brought upon us by an individual and a party who care only for power. That will come to an end in a couple of weeks.

We are worried about a virus that has killed over 350,000 of our friends, family members, and neighbours. A virus that is even mutating into one that may spread faster. Finally, we have a vaccine, yet will it get to enough people in time? We hope. So far, it’s been successfully given to a few. Unfortunately, there are many who refuse to be vaccinated due to ignorance and possibly arrogance. Hopefully, most people will choose the path of science and wisdom and get vaccinated as soon as they are able.

We, as a whole, are worn.

We are tired of precautions.

We are tired of wearing masks and social distancing.

We are tired of people who refuse to wear a mask or social distance.

We are tired of people who deny science, especially at the cost of other people’s lives.

We are tired of not being able to be with those we love.

We are tired of the racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, and hate.

We are tired of politicians who serve their donors and corporations instead of us.

We are tired of not having access to affordable quality healthcare for everyone.

We are tired of our educational system being inadequate and poorly funded.

We are tired of many other things.

Yet, we cannot give up.

We cannot lose hope.

We cannot let the powers and individuals who continue to try to divide us, degrade us, place us into boxes, or defile us ever be able to win.

We must band and bond together in ways we are capable of as humankind yet have failed to do as a whole.

We need to see colour, but only as pigmentation like the colours of a rainbow.

We need to accept religious beliefs as equal in value for we are all on our own journey through life and our beliefs or lack thereof are our guide.

We need to see women and men as equals and even gender as fluid.

We need a newfound respect for education and science.

We need to see love between two people regardless of whether they share the same birth gender.

We need to see our diversity as strength and not weakness.

We are embarking on a new year. Another 365 1/4 days around our sun. It’s time for a new Age of Enlightenment, a new Renaissance. It’s time to look outside our comfort zones, outside our communities, and outside our countries to see the value of all humankind.

A new year with new choices and a new hope.

Happy 2021

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!

The Problem of Walls and Weapons

The tragedy in Paris, as well as Kenya and Lebanon, should send reminders of the fragility of human life in our modern age. Instead, it is fostering a growth in a continued movement for nations to erect walls and allow more weapons to be used to separate and kill people who are not like “us”. Think about that for a moment and consider the following.

More weapons will not stop atrocities like the events in Paris, Kenya, or Lebanon from occurring. A common message sent out from certain aspects of society, particularly in the United States, tries to state that had there been more guns in the hands of the innocent people in Paris, then the atrocity would not have occurred. They state this somehow believing it as solid fact. However, one cannot know if that is true or not. While there might have been fewer people killed, there also could have been may more killed in a crossfire between those who committed the atrocity and those who were trying to defend themselves. In addition, it is alleged that those who committed this heinous act were also prepared to die at all cost, including the use of suicide bombs as what happened near the stadium. I doubt more firearms could have stopped the bombers from committing their horrendous acts.

Then there is the call for walls to be built, either literally or figuratively, to keep out immigrants and refugees because it is currently assumed that one or more of the terrorists carried passports from Syria, the homeland of the majority of those same refugees. While it is horrible that this may be the case, what about the thousands more who are not the aggressors, but the victims of the aggressors? There are thousands of people who are fleeing for their lives from the violence caused by ISIL/ISIS. The majority of them are simply trying to survive, not flee to the West to commit violent acts.

Besides, walls don’t work to keep people, good or bad, out. If someone wants to get around a wall, he or she will find a way to do so. Centuries ago, China built a wall to keep out aggressors. It was breached. Each day, hundreds of people cross the walls and boundaries of countries as they seek a better life. Some remain, and some are deported back to where they came.

But there are other walls that become built that are unseen. These are the walls that separate people in a more social sense than a physical one. One wall is prejudice and the other is fear. These two walls are ones that are sometimes insurmountable, not because of their size, but because of how people latch onto them with such fervor. These unseen walls cause us to place barriers between one another. Sometimes, these walls are in the form of words we use to label large groups of people as being bad based on the actions of a few people who look like the group or happen to worship using the same terms as that group does.

Right now, it happens to be Muslims who are being portrayed by media and certain elements of society as being nothing but bad people. They are called terrorists as a whole based on the actions of an extreme few of those who hide behind what is a peaceful religion. The vast majority of Muslims want nothing but to live in harmony within their communities as well as those places where they live among non-Muslims. The majority feels the need to pay for the sins of the few as they are pressured to speak out against acts of terror or be seen as supporting it. Yet, if people from a different religious background commit an atrocity, the innocent of those backgrounds are not pressured to speak out. If a Christian person commits an atrocity, there is no call for all Christians to speak out against it. If a Jewish person commits an atrocity, there is not call for all Jewish people to speak out against it. Only the Muslims. Yet, there are some who continue to say that if they don’t, then they are guilty of the supporting the crimes committed by the few.

The problem is not with religion, it is with people in general. The problem is not with needing more walls, but needing fewer ones.

That’s right, I said fewer walls to separate people. The walls of ignorance, fear, hate, oppression, poverty, war, and famine need to be torn down. In their place, we need to build one thing up above all else. We need to build up our fellow humankind. We need to end wars, and start spreading peace. We need to replace hate with love. We need to eradicate poverty and build plenty. We need to educate others so they may have what they need, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

A recent article I read was one where the interviewer had the rare opportunity to speak with ISIS prisoners of war in Iraq. The vast majority of those who were interviewed did not join ISIS for religious reasons, but for economic and emotional ones. They were starving and this terrorist organization promised them a way out. The terrorist organization gave them someone to blame for their problems, in this case, the West. While some of that is true since, while many of these people’s lives were bad under Saddam Hussein in Iraq, their lives became worse once he was deposed as civil war broke out in their country based on centuries old hatreds. Some joined out of fear that if they didn’t, then they and their families would die.

As I read the article, something occurred to me. The reason why many of these people joined was similar to why people join street gangs. Some fear that if they don’t, then they will die. Others do it as gang life promises them a sense of belonging and/or prosperity. Some join because they are so far in poverty that they need someone to blame and the gang tells them who to blame for their situation. This is not unlike those who voluntarily joined the Nazis in the 1930s and 1940s. It is not unlike those who joined the Ku Klux Klan in the post-Civil War South. It is not unlike those who join militia groups in modern society or other fringe, hate-filled groups. The majority of people who do so are looking for more in their life in some way and the gang persuades them that gang life is the way they can have or be more than who they are.

There needs to be an alternative to this lifestyle to make it stop. Rather than waging war in countries against people, there needs to be a fight for better living conditions. A fight for jobs. A fight for equality for all people regardless of who he or she is or what he or she believes. There needs to be education for all people to understand different cultures and religions as find common ground between them rather than what is different about them. Education is a powerful weapon against hate, fear, and violence. When humankind understands differences, then it becomes harder to fear or hate them. Instead, there becomes a natural instinct to try to see the similarities. But this only occurs with the chance to learn about our differences in a non-biased fashion. It comes with knowing who we are as individuals and facing our fears, prejudices, and ignorances, acknowledging them, and going beyond them to build understanding.

None of this means we have to like the way others are. It doesn’t mean we have to become like who others are. It does mean we must respect our differences and embrace our similarities. We must learn to love one another, whether we like them or not. For some people, this is seen as being too politically correct, as if that is a bad thing. However, it is actually being more humane to our fellow humankind.

Will this end all the problems instantly? No, there is no quick fix as many hope. It took time to build the walls, it will take time to tear them down as well. But it’s worth it.

The late Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr., said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” This rings so true for our world today. Peace can only come through light, never darkness. Hope can only thrive where all humankind sees one another as one rather than as many.

Real Americans

I recently had a person respond to a comment I made on a Facebook post deriding me for my concept of what an American is and is not. I commented that America is not what it once was and that it has gotten to be a place vastly different from where I was born and raised. This becomes even more apparent to me since I am temporarily living outside of the States due to family employment. I am gaining a much different perspective on the US while living in Canada and being able to visit my native land on occasion. What I am seeing, in addition to what I hear from my neighbors and acquaintances, saddens me sometimes when I think of the potential that exists in the United States to do so much more with the wealth that is there than what is currently occurring. What has happened to my country? To our country? Why are we acting the way we are? What exactly is a real American?

As I see this becoming more of a series of posts rather than one concise posting, I will just touch on the one concept that bothers me. That concept is what a ‘real’ American is. When I was growing up, an American was someone who was either born in the United States or immigrated to the United States and worked his or her way to citizenship. It could also be a child born overseas to US parents or even to one US parent. Sounds simple enough. I even think it is still the legal definition of what an American is. So, what happened?

The scene is becoming increasingly common. Someone asks another person the question, “What are you?” I heard this often from students I taught and even neighbors where I once lived in Florida. They asked me this. They asked others this. They did this in a quest to place a person in a box. Ironically, the people asking the question were usually white and they asked this question to someone who was not White, more than those who are white. Interesting. The concept of what a “real” American has devolved in some way to mean a person who is not Caucasian. Given the skin tone of most Native Americans is not Caucasian that makes the question both rather idiotic as well as rather insidious.

The idiocy stems from the fact that the United States is a mixture of people and cultures far beyond those from Northern Europe. The Southwestern Untied States has people from Mexico, Central and South America. They were there before the first Europeans arrived. The rest of the United States was once vastly inhabited by Native Americans who, as I mentioned before, are predominantly non-Caucasian. After Europeans arrived, many others started immigrating to the United States and settled here. Some Asians were brought over to work on the West Coast and help build the once vast railroad network. African-Americans were brought over both as slaves and some came as free persons. If something happened somewhere in the world, people came to the United States to change their lives for the better. The United States earned and enjoyed being called the Melting Pot of the world. Our country is a land of diversity. That diversity once made us great. We fought a Civil War and went through the Civil Rights movement to make all races seen as equal. It set us apart from many countries in the world where the make-up of the people is the same. Somehow, the love of our diversity has morphed into division.

Part of this idiocy has been manufactured in the form of certain media outlets attacking the skin color of our current president. He presents a quandary for what was once the majority of the American population. President Obama is neither entirely Black nor is he entirely White. He is of mixed race. That mixture seems to have scared some people who are just too xenophobic to realize that being of mixed race is okay. Perhaps these same people once advocated laws that banned intermarriage between people of different races. They saw that taboo fall with the advent of Civil Rights and dealt with it. However, when the leader of their country became someone with those qualities, they could not handle it. Therefore, we have seen a rise in those who question his citizenship and even hate him for being someone they cannot place in a box.

These same people have taken this even further and started to question their neighbors being citizens or not based on skin color or religious beliefs. Somehow, this has also changed into questioning someone’s citizenship or loyalty to his or her country. Recently, we heard of a young man who is of Mexican descent who was ridiculed when he sang the National Anthem at a basketball game. Even though he was born in the United States and is therefore a citizen, people were accusing him of being an illegal immigrant to the United States simply because of his cultural background. What difference should it make when it comes to his being an American? We are a nation of immigrants. Look at the names in the telephone directory. They are all not European names. They are names from the world pantheon of names. With those names are cultures, religions, and lifestyles that all blend to make the United States unique and wonderful. It is a shame to disparage anyone based on his or her cultural background.

Here, in Canada, the question is not asked as “What are you?”, but rather “What is your cultural background?” Yes, that may simply sound like a politically correct way to ask the same thing, but it goes beyond that. It acknowledges that the person is a human being first, and then presents a curiosity about what that person believes, practices, or lives. It is less combative, in part, due to the length of the sentence, but also due to the nature of the words used. Perhaps we, as citizens of the United States, should take this and apply it to our country. No, Canada is not perfect. No country is perfect, but imagine if we started viewing each other as people first, then whatever culture, religion, gender, gender preference, or whatever box that is needed to make us feel better. We would be better able to define a ‘real’ American as someone who loves our country because she or he was born here or immigrated here for a better life.