Racism, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. It’s not for the racist to say whether or not he’s racist — how the hell would he know if he’s racist or not? He hasn’t the perspective; that’s why it’s up to the racist’s victim — the person the racist behaved in a racist way toward — to say whether or not racism occurred. They get to say “That was racist!” or it wasn’t. The same goes for political legitimacy. You can claim it — but it’s not yours to bestow.
Think of it from Moscow Mitch McConnell’s point of view. Having Trump around your neck is a burden-and-a-half. You’ve accomplished your mission: you’ve hijacked the federal judiciary with lifetime appointments that should set America back a generation while keeping most of the real power in America concentrated into the minority rule-ing hands of the Republicans. Who needs the daily tsoris (that’s the technical term) of Trump yanking everyone’s chain this way and that? While Mitch and the Republicans can’t betray Trump directly (he’s got too much hold over them, too much kompromat, I’m guessing, or too much knowledge of how deep their criminal complicity runs), the American People could — via an election — solve their problem FOR them.
From that moment on, not a single Republican could honestly say Donald Trump’s campaign was legitimate. They sure have worked hard, the Republicans, to keep Donald Trump’s relationship with Russia and Vlad Putin a secret. These aren’t things that make you go “Hmmmmm…”, these are things that make you go: “I get it”. But then, political legitimacy is not a thing you can claim for yourself. In a democratic republic like ours, legitimacy flows from We The People. We grant the legitimacy and authority required to govern us via our votes. If we do not or did not grant you such legitimacy? You do not have it.
If you STEAL an election result — as Donald Trump and the Republican Party did in 2016 — literally giving the majority of voters the diametric OPPOSITE of what they voted for — you cannot claim to govern legitimately. You can call yourself “the president” all you like. In point of fact, you are not the president. You’re using the power gained via your illegitimate power grab to call yourself “president” but the facts say something else. And the facts are about to land on your head.
The Republicans have done everything in their power to avoid oversight and use their offices to help Donald Trump undermine our democracy. Even now, the majority of Congressional Republicans have refused to acknowledge Joe Biden’s legitimacy — as if that would deny it to him. That, in poker, is called a tell. It’s the Republicans acknowledging very quietly that they know that THEY lack legitimacy.
But then, that’s so on-brand for Republicans — claiming to be one thing (patriots, say) while in fact being another (traitors).
That’s why traitors or criminals or Republicans don’t get to say whether or not they are patriots. That’s for others to say. If Republicans feel so compelled though to talk about themselves, there are plenty of things they could confess to. We The People will be happy to listen. But then, pirates like the Republican Party aren’t exactly down with contrition.
They’re not down with legitimacy either. It’s too hard. Requires too much work. Too much honesty and integrity. For criminals, it’s just easier to do whatever works — to put money that isn’t theirs into their pockets and power that isn’t theirs into their hands. Republicans are all children, their mouths crammed with cookies, a cookie in each hand, insisting that, no, they don’t know anything about any stolen cookies.
It’s not a matter of “if”. It’s a matter of “when”: a Great Moral Reckoning is coming — and the entire Republican Party is going to hate it.
Remember back to election night 2016? Remember how the evening began to feel — especially when it became apparent that Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin were landing in the Trump column? It didn’t feel like we’d “lost”. It felt distinctly like something was “taken”. It wasn’t our expectations that were dashed — it was our sense of fairness. The Comey Letter plus Russian disinformation — landing as they did WHILE EARLY VOTING WAS HAPPENING — had a profound effect on the election’s outcome.
In the end, of course, the Comey Letter was bullshit. The investigation wasn’t being re-opened; the files in question were all old. Several “rogue agents” in the FBI’s NYC bureau — all fans of the Breitbart published book Clinton Cash — had dragged their heels for months, refusing to examine the files on Anthony Weiner’s computer. They deliberately waited until October — just so they could get the news media buzzing again about “her emails”. Of course, that was after a whole campaign season filled with cynicism, lies and the news media insisting that both sides were “doing it”.
No, both sides were not committing treason to win the election.
America has been due a Great Moral Reckoning since its inception. “All men are created equal” and slavery are mutually exclusive propositions. There are no compromises between the two. It’s a tug of war where only one side can win. Up until today, Slavery has continued to pin “All men are created equal” to the mat. That is finally changing.
The Electoral College is a vestige of slavery. It’s been a long time since a Republican became president because he won the popular vote. They now rely on the Electoral College to keep them — a minority — in power. They rely on a relic of slavery to keep slavery alive.
The Republicans have always portrayed themselves as the “moral party” — pointing to their piety as proof. Their piety is horse shit. So’s their “morality”.
The irony? The “moral party” — especially its religious wing — are the ones who most fear a Great Moral Reckoning. That’s because they’ll have the most to lose from it.
America must finally confront the racism that we built into our democracy. We have to own it. Slavery is, above all, stolen labor. That’s the whole point of having a slave: they work for you for free. You may have to house them and clothe them and feed them — so they’ll be able to work for you whenever you need them — but you don’t have to house, clothe or feed them well. The point is you’re not paying them — and that means you’re saving a fortune entirely at their expense.
Stolen labor is theft. It undermines not just the people whose labor is being stolen but all labor — because when it goes unpunished (as it almost always does), it encourages more stolen labor. I shouldn’t have to say this: stolen labor is immoral. To benefit from stolen labor is immoral. To profit from it — even more immoral.
Once we’ve owned our thievery, we can begin to fix the future. We can change our emphasis from making the rich richer to raising all boats. Real morality flows from equality. What’s moral is what’s most equal and what benefits the most people without harming anyone.
America’s women — especially Black women — are already driving us away from corruption and toward the “come to Jesus” moment we desperately need. When this is all done and dusted, America will owe its Black women more than a “thank you”. We’ll owe Black men, too. But Black women will have been made to bear the additional burden of sexism. We’ll owe Black women our deep, abiding, permanent respect — which we owed them all along.
Despite this country treating Black women callously in every way, Black women have kept the flame of American democratic principles alive. Though they’ve never benefited from the level playing field promised in our foundational documents — Life, Liberty, The Pursuit Of Happiness — they’ve demonstrated via their tenacity how the rest of us should feel about our democracy. Black women got it a long, long time ago. So did Black men of course. America’s founding ideals are worth fighting and dying for.
Note: while it’s understandable we might have to fight outside forces from time to time to protect our democratic principles, we should NEVER have to fight inside forces.
While one side perpetually plays the moral indignation card, it’s the other side that perpetually feels actual moral indignation — because of the first side’s relentless immorality. Our news media fails to see it because they’re convinced “both sides do it” while, in point of fact, both sides don’t.
Both sides don’t suppress the other side’s voters, for example. Both sides don’t commit treason in order to win elections. Both sides don’t relentlessly obstruct oversight or election security. One side does this — and for specific (political) reasons. How, I wonder, will our news media explain itself when we come to the understanding that, no, Donald Trump did not “win” election in 2016, he STOLE the election. Cheating to win does not equal winning. It can NEVER equal winning.
That’s something our news media will have to learn the hard way — via its own Great Moral Reckoning.
It sucks waking up every day, feeling exactly what former first lady Michelle Obama described yesterday in her podcast — a persistent mild depression. I’d quibble with the word “mild” but then I’m a quibbler by nature.
This would never have happened to a white family. Listen to the sound of those terrified children and then look to the WHITE COPS (a female included). Wonder what could be going through their minds. Wonder at the inhumanity.
Think about the trauma that will haunt all of them forever.
I sure hope the people in that van can sue the Aurora, CO Police Department. They’re going to need the money to pay for their therapy. And, it seems, the only way to drain racism from a police department is to, first, drain it of money. At least the money that supports the racism inside a police department.
It gets extra disgusting when you consider that the people inside the van are paying the tax dollars that resulted in them lying on the pavement, terrified for their lives. They paid for that. They will pay for it the rest of their lives.
This has been going on FOREVER. Black people have been saying it. Racists have an excuse. They’re the cause. What about the rest of us white people? Why have we put up with it?
Down deep? Most of us didn’t believe it. Not so much because it strained credulity but because it was too monstrous for our tender, white minds to process. We couldn’t imagine it. Our imaginations failed.
Donald Trump’s relationship with Russia has also revealed a failure of imagination — on the part of most Americans but, worst of all, on the part of our news media. Plenty of them STILL can’t imagine that Donald Trump has any sort of “unseemly” relationship with Vlad Putin. They still wonder aloud why Trump is always so beholden to Putin.
If they scratched their heads any harder, they’d create permanent divots in their skulls.
The truth about Donald Trump has always sat there in clear view. FFS — the first concerted oppo research carried out against Trump established that. Paul Singer, the money behind the Washington Free Beacon (a conservative news organization awarded for its journalism by the extremely conservative Heritage Foundation) hired Fusion GPS to dig up dirt on Trump. Fusion was a research company run by former Wall Street Journal reporters Glenn Simpson and Thomas Catan. For the record — no one here is a raving socialist.
Simpson testified before the House Intelligence Committee on August 22, 2017 for ten hours. Back then, the House was run by Republicans who were trying to undermine all investigations into Trump’s 2016 campaign and its strange relationship with Russia. Simpson testified that the first thing Fusion did after getting the oppo research gig was their due diligence. They got their hands on every piece of Trump-related anything (newspapers, magazine articles, TV interviews, radio interviews, books). They scoured the internet, shopped at Amazon, visited actual bookstores and even the public library.
What they found — in publicly available material, in other words, information ANYONE could find — convinced them that Donald Trump could well be an international criminal who’d used his bankrupted Atlantic City casinos to launder Russian mob money. If that was the case, they understood, then Trump was completely compromised. To do the dirty work inside Russia, Fusion sub-contracted the work to Orbis, a London-based private intelligence firm run by Christopher Steele — former head of MI6’s Russia desk.
That’s why the Steele Dossier exists. It’s Steele’s raw intel. Let me repeat: it’s RAW INTEL. If you don’t understand the difference between raw intel and news reporting, you should put down the raw intel. It will confuse you.
In the shadow world of spies, one can’t rely on a “smoking gun”. One has to rely on context — the most complete picture one can form so as to discern real objects from fog. The Steele Dossier paints a picture that has remained mostly accurate about Trump and the many ways Russia has compromised him.
And yet, our news media STILL describes this document as fake.
Because Donald Trump and the Republicans describe the dossier as fake. Of course, they have to — they’re all compromised toghether. Hell, the Republicans knew Trump was in bed with Russia during their 2016 convention. Current GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy famously walked into a meeting of Republican muckety-mucks and said “There’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump”. Then Speaker of the House Paul Ryan wasn’t shocked by that news. He was so un-shocked in fact that 1) he didn’t call the FBI and 2) he swore the whole room to secrecy. “No leaks. . . . This is how we know we’re a real family here.”
We don’t know what secrets Trump has shared directly with Vladimir Putin — his chief handler — because Trump has never let Americans in on the meetings. The Russians always seem to know what went down though. How much imagination does it take to connect dots here?
Look at these two photos of Donald Trump and Vlad Putin. How much imagination does it take to extrapolate what these photos are shouting at us?
Donald Trump violated the Constitution the moment he took an oath to uphold and protect it. We knew it as he did it — and yet did nothing. Failure of imagination — to act but also to recognize what the ripple effects of our failure would be. Our imaginations failed to tell us that there would even be ripple effects.
Yet, here we are.
Racism is failure of imagination. Extreme religiosity is failure of imagination. Of course it is — you’re letting an imaginary creature or creatures do all your thinking for you. Misogyny is failure of imagination. So’s bigotry and fear of LGBTQ people and intolerance and ignorance of any stripe. It’s all failure of imagination.
Fortunately, failure of imagination is fixable. All one has to do is step outside the box you’re living in, take off your normalcy bias blinders and open your damned eyes.
LOOK at what is instead of assuming you know what is. Actually LISTEN to people and what they need. Imagine solutions that aren’t earthbound. Yes, we can’t make the impossible possible. But we have to be willing to challenge the impossible. Better yet, let’s give our imaginations a chance.
We may find that what we thought was impossible isn’t.
As shocking as it is that we’ve come to this, it’s even more shocking that, to a third of the country, “this” makes them happy. They’re glad America has come to this.
Racists are never going to like Democracy because every election is a gamble — that is, if you let everybody vote. The whole point of voter suppression and gerrymandering is make the gamble almost negligible as a gamble. If less Democratic voters turn out because they 1) couldn’t register or 2) registered but couldn’t spend ten hours in line to vote, that’s as good as a vote against whatever the Democrats wanted. This is not a new game. And though it’s wrong to shame the victim — and the Democrats have always been the Republicans’ victim — the Democrats have known since Nixon (and before) how Republicans ticked. After a while, one has to stand up for oneself because no one else is going to.
On the day he resigned from office because of Watergate, Nixon’s approval rating sat around 29%. His guilt was so undeniable that a delegation of Republicans (including Barry Goldwater — the conservative’s conservative) went to Nixon to tell him he had to resign. That’s how bad it was then. The 30% is still there. They’ve filled out a bit but they’re still very much there.
So, a third of the country couldn’t care less if America sinks into authoritarianism. In fact, they’d celebrate if it happened. With a (theoretical) 70% majority, you’d think the rest of us would have long ago figured out how to keep the crazies in check. But half that 70% doesn’t care about politics (or didn’t). In America, we think 50% – 60% of the voters showing up at election time is success. Hopefully the days of disengagement are over. But, for now, all we can point at is our history.
Ben Franklin saw us coming. As he observed 240 years ago — Republic’s are wonderful things — if you can keep them. They don’t get kept by accident.
Keeping a republic alive and well is damned hard work. Of all Americans, the people who’ve worked hardest to keep our republic alive are African Americans. They should have bailed on us eons ago. But they understood how important liberty was because they didn’t have it. It wasn’t just a word to them or an abstraction. It was something they wanted above all else. Nothing fancy — just the equal treatment before the law that the Constitution theoretically guarantees.
We kinda screwed the pooch right at the beginning. “All men are created equal” and slavery are mutually exclusive propositions. You can’t hold those two ideas in your head and not lose your mind. And look how hard we made it for women to vote. Where’s the “democratic” in that?
The truth is, we’ve always talked a better game about democracy than we’ve ever delivered. Good thing that’s fixable. First thing we need to do is shut up. That is, white men need to shut up. We need to step back from the controls and let others have a go at it. After they finish fixing the mess we made of it, who knows? America might finally live up to its own ideals.
If we followed the lead of African American women especially — they will have been the true saviors of American democracy — we might even get good at democracy eventually. That’s not guaranteed. But, if white men listen — if we let the genius of E Pluribus Unum (that’s what makes America exceptional — diversity, not white guys and their money) wash over us — we might could learn how to be better.
The downside to this technology — in the episode — was that the skill set couldn’t be in two places at once. If it was being implanted into someone else, it’s because it no longer existed in its original host. In the episode, the character “Mad” Joe Dell’s legendary jazz chops could be removed from Joe Dell and given to someone who’d bought them — from the company that took them from Joe Dell.
Joe Dell (and most of his family), thought Joe was moving into a retirement community. There was no explanation for his rapid decline into total dementia — and then his death. But Joe hadn’t actually died. He’d been warehoused — until every last drop of his jazz chops could be squeezed from him.
The episode ended happily. Joe’s teenaged grandson Ronnie catches on to the monstrous scam being pulled and gets his grandfather back — legendary jazz chops mostly complete. So, here’s my storyteller’s sighed “What if…?”
What if we could transplant John Lewis’ legendary humanity, his empathy and humility into the heads of every single Republican?
But the “skill set” we’re talking about isn’t like jazz talent. It doesn’t require all the micro-skills being a jazz legend demands. All this skill set requires is that we care about other people at least as much as we care about ourselves. Ya know — “Do unto others” and all that.
What if we could get Republicans to “Do unto others” like it was a super power? Or a normal human capacity…
Imagine if Mitch McConnell forgot how to be a cynical treason turtle and, instead, cared about America and every human living within its borders.
Imagine if Bill Barr put down his perverse Dominionism and, instead took up Jesus’ message.
Imagine if Mike Pence’s sanctimony suddenly morphed into love of something other than Donald Trump’s ass.
Imagine if every single Republican who thought Jesus wanted them to be rich vs decent suddenly realized, “NO! HE WANTS US TO BE DECENT!”
We won’t bother imagining any scenario where Donald Trump suddenly acquires humanity. Mary Trump’s book spelled it out clearly and emphatically: Trump has no capacity for humanity and probably never did. He’s a sociopath just like his daddy. Indecency is hard-wired into Trump’s corrupt DNA.
But, if everyone else suddenly acquired John Lewis’ innate decency — if every Republican who’s enabled Trump (in other words, every Republican who still proudly calls themselves “Republican”) — then we wouldn’t have a problem with Trump. Our collective decency would not tolerate his presence.
He’d be gone already and no longer a clear & present danger.
I know — that’s why stories are stories and reality is reality.
America’s dirtiest secret is out: we have never lived up to the ideals on which our country was founded. In part, that’s because the European men who founded America couldn’t themselves live up to the ideals. Some compromises should never be made. After all, how can you compromise with evil? What’s the outcome — semi-evil?
We “compromised” with slavery. But slavery never compromised with us. Evil never does.
Another compromise at the start — women were not granted equal rights. I guess the founders were being literal by “All MEN are created equal”.
Getting great ideas to the finish line in one piece is tough. And, democracy, as we’ve learned, has a lot of “sausage-making” to it. That’s compromise for you. And that’s making compromises with ideas that deserve to be compromised with. They’re not evil like, say, slavery.
We’ve now come face to face with our most original sin — the racism that compromises all men being created equal. Equal people cannot own each other.
But it’s not just racism that’s bedeviled us. Greed has had a go at us too. Greed and racism rut like demonic weasels. Here in America it’s produced a value system that’s completely ass backwards. We pay social influencers a ton while paying teachers so little that some have to take second jobs to pay their bills.
We think a high school “education” is so essential that we automatically pay for it. But try to add four more years — where we begin to refine those minds so as to make them genuinely useful? Suddenly it’s “socialism”. I guess it’s just a coincidence that — to pay for that part of our childrens’ educations — we’ve set up a whole for-profit business of lending kids money to pay for those educations. Corporate socialism is okey-dokey, as always. That’s greed talking.
Blue sky here. We don’t need to sledgehammer our system, we need to re-focus it — away from “me” and toward “we”.
That means we need to completely and forever disabuse ourselves of the notion that any one person can fix anything by themselves. To fix anything — or raise a child — it DOES take a village. And that village needs to be well-funded and well-organized. We want everyone to be the best and most individual “they” that they can be. But never, ever at the expense of the “we”. No “me” can ever have more weight before the law than any other “me” or the whole collection of “me’s” that produce “we”.
We need to win every argument with me. If we start from there, it’s almost assured that we’ll get it right because our focus and framing will be correct. Part of my blue sky here takes into consideration the fact that more and more women (and women of color) are pouring into American politics. If there’s any salvation to be had — that’s where it will come from. It would not be a terrible thing if just about every white male got out of politics for an election cycle or two.
We would do the following things: we would value education and educators over just about anyone and anything.
We would value health CARE over health INSURANCE (they are not the same thing).
We would teach our young people not how to memorize (so as to pass tests) but how to think analytically. We’d teach them how to write and express themselves articulately. We would teach them how to communicate — both directly and honestly. We would teach them to be respectful of everyone.
We would teach them how America works and that freedom is not “free” — it comes with huge responsibilities and obligations. Voting, for example.
We would give every single child the same benefits and advantages, the same access to health care and opportunity. We need to be almost maniacal about this — getting every kid the same chances. America has a remarkable brain trust that no other nation has because no other country is the product of every other country on earth creating it, in essence.
America isn’t a perfect melting pot. Parts of the pot never get the same heat as other parts do. And the different elements don’t melt together into a homogenized end product of indeterminate origin. America and Americans are a hybrid. Nothing like us has ever existed before.
That really should be our goal — to recognize 1) that America IS exceptional though 2) not for the reasons we’ve told ourselves but 3) now that we understand what makes us exceptional, we intend to do everything we can to nurture every last drop of our exceptionalism.
First things first: racism, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. It’s not up to the racist or the person who might be racist to decide whether or not they’re racist. They’re a little too close to the subject to judge.
So — no white person can say “I’m not a racist”. It’s not up to you. I know — that makes it tricky. “How do I know I’m not being racist at any given moment then?”
The fact is, we’re all “racist” in that we differentiate between ourselves and our immediate tribe with everyone else. It’s hardwired into our DNA. Other social animals do it too. Survival instinct, ya know?
But, being intelligent animals (or, at least, fancying ourselves intelligent), we have the ability to check our impulses and native instincts. It’s a little like not shitting the moment the urge hits you like, say, a horse might. Humans have learned — go elsewhere to do that — may we suggest the bathroom? Just like with moving our bowels, sometimes it’s just not convenient to do it. So we hold it in for as long as we need to.
Because we can.
It’s not a matter of denying our racism, it’s a matter of keeping it in check at all times. The goal is, in time (with personal experience), eliminate those feelings altogether. It’s a little like changing one’s bowel habits — to extend the metaphor. A bad diet produces bad bowel habits with plenty of bloating and discomfort and difficulty that only gets worse over time. If you change your diet though — voila!
I was having prostate issues. I cut back on caffeine. Now I don’t have prostate issues.
And we all know how important it is having adequate roughage in your diet to help clean everything out. Maintaining a diet instead of eating whatever you like is hard work.
So’s not being a racist — and you have to do it every single day.
I know the moment I realized I was an “institutional racist”. Now, I grew up an “other”. I’m Jewish. I was told by my culture that I was a “Chosen People”. Considering the cruelty visited upon my tribe, perhaps it would have been better for us if this god creature had chosen someone else. I grew up in the shadow of the Holocaust where institutional racism became industrial racism.
I am old enough, sadly, to remember knowing there were quotas — unspoken but understood: a certain number of Jews or Blacks or Latinos or Chinese or Japanese or Indian (if any) to be invited into “the club” — a private school, a country club, a college.
I do know the sting of not having privilege.
But I don’t know it — personally — on the scale my black and brown brothers and sisters have been forced to endure. Having white skin, there was always the chance for me to “pass” for a bit — until the real white people heard my last name or stopped to reconsider the shape and cut of my nose. White Europeans are bullies — cultural and otherwise. But certain tribes were always excluded from Christian privilege. Romani people were one. Armenians were another. And, of course, there was always the Jews.
Still — white European culture and bullying are pervasive enough — and, by the time I was born American Jews had begun assimilating enough — so that I was afforded a significant amount of white privilege even though lots of that privilege was denied me. I still had some white privilege where others had none.
It’s just a fact.
I grew up outside of Baltimore, Maryland in the 70’s. My parents were ardent theater-goers. There was a big theater downtown called “The Mechanic” (after one of it’s big donors — last name Mechanic) where big touring productions of Broadway shows played. A few blocks away was Center Stage, an Equity LORT theater that staged original productions using Equity actors. Real quality stuff. Great plays with lots of great actors — known, unknown, about to be known.
It was 1982. The year after I graduated from college. I was visiting from New York. My parents had subscriptions to both the Mechanic and Center Stage but couldn’t make that night’s Center Stage performance and didn’t want to waste the tickets. They gave them to me. I was able to use one of them.
The show was James Baldwin’s “The Amen Corner”.
Right off the bat — though I loved theater, though I’d just graduated from Vassar College as a DRAMA major — I hemmed and hawed. “That,” I told myself, “Is going to be a boring couple of hours.” That was my fear. How could a show about black people possibly be interesting to me?
Assuming that other peoples’ cultures are uninteresting is… if not exactly racist, it’s stupid. Let’s call it racist adjacent. In my defense, I went. I was lost but not a lost cause.
“The Amen Corner‘ is about Margaret Alexander, the pastor of a storefront church in Harlem. Margaret is fiercely protective of her teenage son David — especially when her estranged husband (David’s father) Luke (a jazz musician) returns to them because he’s dying. Margaret has always painted Luke as a weak man who left his family because he loved playing music more than supporting them. To Margaret’s growing unease, her son David is showing a similar passion for music over a passion for, say, God.
But Margaret, it turns out, hasn’t been entirely honest or faithful to the truth. Luke didn’t leave her — causing her to find God for salvation — she found God first. Her single-minded devotion to God — to her own religious impulses — caused her marriage to break up. Luke didn’t leave her, she left Luke — who still loves her.
The play asks a lot of hard questions about faith and culture and religion and community and love, and, of course, racism. Racism sits beneath everything.
Whether or not “The Amen Corner” is a great play from a literary standpoint — I don’t know frankly. I’m amazed it hasn’t gotten more attention. If theater is meant to not only entertain but inform, “The Amen Corner” checked off every box there was and then some.
I walked in the door, figuring I’d get a little sleep and ended up so emotionally drained that I was literally the last person to leave the theater when the evening’s performance was finished.
The leads — Frances Foster and Bill Cobbs — as Margaret and Luke — were exceptional. The story grabbed me early and would not let go of me. But that wasn’t what left me drained and touched so deeply that — as I write this, I can feel the same awe I felt then. I was racist to think Black culture would bore me.
That night, James Baldwin, Frances Foster, Bill Cobbs, director Walter Dallas and the rest of the magnificent cast opened my eyes. Of course it’s not boring! It’s human! And all human drama is interesting. All human drama teaches us something. Only an idiot or a racist would turn up their nose at learning more about the other people with whom we share the planet and the present.
That Black culture was as rich as my culture wasn’t the point. That Black culture touched me as deeply as my own — that I understood its values and its struggles and could see myself in their place and care as deeply about their pain as about my own.
That’s what happens when you realize how much we all have in common.
Important point to make here: I do not deserve a medal for this. I don’t deserve a cookie or praise even.
I’m just meeting an obligation — the same obligation everyone has — to come clean. As the name of my blog says — I aspire to live Bullshit Free. It would be bullshit, for instance, for me to say I’ve never benefited from white privilege.
Now jump forward 39 years to 2001.
I’m in my second year as a Co-Executive Producer on Showtime’s sci-fi anthology “The Outer Limits“. I adapt in interesting idea that was pitched to the (all white) Outer Limits writers room about an invention that can “mine” the talents and skill sets from seniors so they can be “passed on” after they die. But those talents and skill sets can also be stolen — “mined” from these seniors before they’re fully ready to “surrender them”. It was, at heart, about warehousing old people.
We shot “The Outer Limits” up in Vancouver but the main production office was based in Los Angeles. While we cast most of the show in Vancouver, LA always cast the lead or leads. I never had any real say over who my main actors would be but I can’t think of a time when the actors cast for me let me down.
The episode — “Fathers & Sons” was about a black family. The dad (played by Anthony Sherwood) was a middle-of-the road guy with a middle-of-the-road job and approach to life. His very ordinary life was a kind of rebuke to his dad — an itinerant jazz musician — who lived with the family (because he was pretty much broke). The dad was especially fearful of the impact his father was having on his son — who aspired to be a jazz musician just like his grandpa.
Gee, it even sounds like “The Amen Corner“. The two leads LA cast were the grandson Ronnie Dell — they got Eugene Byrd — and the grandfather Joe Dell. For Joe, LA cast Bill Cobbs. I didn’t write the episode (borrowing heavily from “The Amen Corner“) expecting to get Bill Cobbs. I just got Bill Cobbs.
Sometimes you have to think the Universe is speaking to you. Or trying to.
I didn’t even make the Joe Cobbs — “Amen Corner” connection immediately. To be honest, I wasn’t that familiar with Joe’s work. Or, I didn’t think I was. Joe’s like a lot of great character actors: they work a lot but you don’t necessarily know their names (even when you cast a lot of actors).
When I looked up Joe’s credits out of curiosity, there it was: “Luke in ‘The Amen Corner’ at Center Stage”.
I won’t bore you with the long conversation Bill and I had about “The Amen Corner”. I’ve had the honor and pleasure of working with some huge actors (well, their names were “huge”) — Kirk Douglass, Tom Hanks, Daniel Craig, Brad Pitt, Whoopi Goldberg (just after she won her Oscar too), Steve Coogan, Joel Grey, Michael J. Fox, Christopher Reeve, Tim Curry, Ewan McGregor & Timothy Dalton to name but a few. Working with Bill Cobbs was right up there with those guys.
I hope like hell I didn’t creep poor Bill out, I became so reverential. It’s nice to be able to tell performers you like how much they mean to you. It’s even better when you can tell them that while you’re working with them.
Having an open mind means having an open mind — not a semi-open mind. Being legitimately too tired to go to a show is one thing. To not go because you’re a systemic, institutional racist?
“Fair” is kind of like the Buddhist notion of “Bodhisattva”. A Bodhisattva is someone on the road to enlightenment. But they’re not there yet. If they think they’re there? They’re definitely not “there”. Enlightenment is as hard a goal to achieve as “fair” is. It’s more surreal than real, more abstract than plastic.
And it’s so personal. What’s fair to me might not be fair to you. Even when we compromise (the goal, really), if the compromise is “fair”? Neither of us will like it much; it’s not “fair”.
“Fair” gets harder when there are multiple competing interests whose concept of “fair” contradicts one another. Maybe the problem is we value “fair” to the individual over “fair” to the group. Assuming everyone’s rights are being respected (a big assumption), it’s hard to justify being fair to one person at the expense of a large chunk of everyone else.
When we say “All men are created equal”, we better mean “everyone” is created equal — before the law (which is what it means). If the Law treats everyone fairly — that is, “equally”, there’s a better chance we’ll feel that we’ve been treated fairly. That’s all we can ask. It’s the consistency that creates a basis for “fairness” in our minds. That’s why the Rule Of Law — as a concept — gives us the best possible chance to experience the most “fairness” for the most people.
Racism is inherently unfair. Ditto bigotry, misogyny and every other form of irrational, ignorant hatred.
But, just like “fair” is a human construct, so’s the Rule Of Law. We invented it. And though we want to think it’s “automatic” or autonomous, it isn’t. It does not self-perpetuate. It’s not some perpetual motion machine. We have to care for these ideas and nurture them. We have to renew both the ideas and our passion for them.
As the Trump years have taught us, if you start taking “fairness” for granted, you’re doomed to a life of perpetual unfairness. Minority rule — as an example? Not fair. Mitch McConnell hijacking the judiciary — to give hard core conservative judges power over an increasingly progressive majority? Not even remotely fair. Committing treason to win the presidency in 2016? Don’t get me started…
“Fair” is a muscle we have to exercise every single day. We have make sure we’re being fair — despite the unfairness around us. If we don’t exercise our own sense of fair — that is, fair for the group — our “fairness” muscle will atrophy, wither and die. Before long, we’ll become like every Trump supporter. Their idea of “fair” begins and ends with them.
You want fair? Be fair. Have receipts ready to demonstrate what real fairness looks like. Be prepared to persist. “Unfair” is the bully’s preference and there are plenty of bullies around.
I’ve spent the bulk of my career in show biz. I’ve run TV shows. Written & produced feature films. I’ve cast thousands of actors.
After hiring them, I wardrobed those actors.
It’s amazing what happens when an actor goes into their trailer, takes off their street clothes and dons the outer layer of a person sorta like them but not them. They change. If the wardrobe is unlike their street clothes? They change even more.
When you outfit a person for their work in a uniform, something changes inside that person when that uniform goes on. You belong to something bigger than yourself. Even if you’re working at McDonald’s and you hate it — the uniform changes you. At the very least, it tames your rebellious streak. You’re still there working, wearing the uniform.
Now add a gun to the uniform. Yeah, sure, we’ve “trained” this uniform-wearer into “best practices” for using that gun but let’s be real: a gun is a death machine. It’s been designed from the ground up to send a piece of hot metal flying very fast into a live target, killing it. It’s not designed to sit in a holster (or gun safe). The holster (and gun safe) were designed around them. To put them somewhere when not being used.
A gun’s safety vs unsafety has to be measured against zero gun while the gun is in someone’s hand. No gun = zero chance anyone will get killed, maimed, wounded or disabled by the gun. Gun = yeah, all those things could happen. It’s a roll of the dice whether they do or not. And let’s be really, really real: “responsible gun ownership” is a myth gun owners (who want to be responsible) tell themselves.
Nancy Lanza — mother of Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza — thought she was a “responsible gun owner” right up to the very moment her son blew her brains out with one of her guns. We know what he did afterwards. With those “responsibly owned guns”.
I’m not arguing second amendment yes or no. If we’d just abide by the amendment — the words AS WRITTEN say “gun control” (the militia gets to decide who gets to “keep and bear” — not own — those arms). I’m just saying guns are damned dangerous. I have receipts.
And if you put a dangerous object at the hip of even a very well-trained person (a “responsible gun owner” type), the dangerous object remains dangerous and unpredictable. Putting literal Live & Death into anyone’s hands invites them to play with Life & Death. Throw emotions into it and it’s hyper volatile. Consider how racist a lot of those emotions are — of course there’s a killing spree. We set everyone up for that exact failure.
If, inside your head, you’re a hammer, every problem becomes a nail.
Rayshard Brooks died because two Atlanta cops woke him (he was asleep, drunk, in his car outside a Wendy’s) then, when he ran, shot him. They shot him because he’d grabbed one of their tasers. He fired it — over his shoulder — as he ran at them. Tasers, even police have routinely argued in court, are not deadly weapons.
The Atlanta police returned a non-deadly (and wildly fired) taser shot with deadly fire. Into Rayshard’s BACK.
If you hand a racist a gun, the gun will find its way into the racist’s hand at the worst possible moment. And the racist — justified by his wardrobe — will use that gun to splatter another sidewalk with his racism’s result: more death, most of it black or brown.
Why on earth would the people being subjected to such horrific violence want to keep PAYING for it through their tax dollars? Why on earthy would anyone disgusted by such behavior be forced to pay for it — when it’s not the “policing” we want.
We need to (metaphorically) defund how we think about policing. That will cause us to de-fund the myriad ways we’ve militarized policing. That, in turn, will finally turn policing away from its racist roots in America and toward something genuinely fair, community-based and entirely productive. There are civilized countries where police walk among the people they’re policing without guns at their hips.
The people behind #DefundThePolice are guilty — of shitty sloganeering. The idea they’re trying to express isn’t bad. Hell even the people they’re fighting with right now agree with them: we need America’s police to stop beating and beating up the people who 1) they’re supposed to protect and serve and 2) who pay their salaries through their tax dollars.
Since reasoning with police departments has gotten the black community exactly nowhere, the only tool left to them is money. If they can find a way to cut off the money flowing to police departments who refuse to police themselves, maybe they’ll get the attention of those police departments.
Apparently, it works. Threatening to cut off peoples pay makes even cynical cops sit up and take notice.
It was never fair anyway to ask cops to fill so many different pairs of shoes — schoolyard intermediary, couples counselor, crime fighter, drug warrior, psychotherapist, bully-for-hire. Officially Sanctioned Racist.
Racism and policing have always had too tidy a relationship here in America. In “A Brief History of Slavery and the Origins of American Policing”, Victor Kappeler, PhD writes “Slave patrols and Night Watches, which later became modern police departments, were both designed to control the behaviors of minorities.” In the case of “slave patrols”, I bet we can guess which minority they were thinking of.
The American approach to policing — “Get The Other!” — just crashed to earth. Reacting to protests over a blatant “murder-by-cop” with violence toward peaceful protesters and the press was stupidity on steroids. It makes it imperative that we find different ways to do this.
I don’t know what percentage of policing is conflict resolution — a lot, I bet. If we took drug crimes off the table — and treated drug use & abuse as a public health issue rather than a police issue, right off the bat, we’d cut policing by a third. If we insisted that people policing a community live in that community, we would go a long way to losing the zookeeper mentality too many cops have adopted — unless their neighbors are all animals.
What if we saw policing like a three-tiered pyramid with the largest, bottom tier given over to “community policing”. Our current crop of cops would go nowhere near this tier. Disputes between neighbors, nuisance calls and everything below a certain level of marginal criminality would fall to this tier. Not only would a a group of people trained in psychotherapy and conflict resolution get hired, so would all the other social welfare folks.
Same token — we’d create a whole new justice system for this tier so that it never has anything to do with the tiers that deal with actual crime. Think of it as small claims court for the masses.
The next tier up would involve lower level criminality. Property crime, let’s say. Above that tier, atop our pyramid would be the “serious crimes” tier — homicide, violent crime and up. Each tier would have its own police, trained to do their specific area of policing, their own courts.
Punishments would be reserved mostly for crime tiers with local communities handling citizens unable to behave themselves. So long as the rules were enforced equally, citizens unable to behave could be considered for next-tier policing attention. One wouldn’t want that.
It’s disgusting to force people to pay the salaries of their abusers. Damn right, the police need to be unfunded. Those police. “Unfunding” police departments doesn’t mean we do without policing.
It means we police fairly. We police equally. We actually protect and (especially) serve as part of “policing”.