Unpacking my baggage

I just finished listening to Macklemore's new song "White Privilege II" after a week of raw processing about race with multiple people.   I about died, cried with a cacophony of emotions with the line "white supremacy isn't just a white dude in Idaho" for I grew up in Idaho around many white supremacists.   Growing up there I learned subtle and not so subtle messages that were not true about myself.  In the end, it would take me half my life to begin healing those early childhood wounds, wounds that have quietly continued to haunt me as I became a young adult, a father, and soon to be a husband. 

When I turned 18, I could not wait to get out of Idaho and left for the grey skies and liberal views of Seattle.  However, even in liberal Seattle I learned to still be vigilant, the world does not see me as my friends see me.  Seattle has been good to me.  I never had a problem with the police there, a welcome relief from the time in Idaho when I had been pulled over five times in one month and never ticketed.  That does not mean that there were no problems with Seattle PD, but from 18 to 33 I had zero altercations with officers.  Moving to California was a return to reality and a return to vigilance.

I landed in Seattle in 1998 where that November Proposition 200 passed in Washington. This proposition remove any preferences on the basis of race, sex, national origin, color or ethnicity for the goal of creating a diverse student body among other things.  As debates about it ensued over the next few years, I felt all eyes on me.  At the time Seattle University was not a diverse student body.  I became the poster boy for diversity.  I had to answer for the minority view in every class in a private school with a predominantly wealthy white student body.   People wondered if I got in on the quota.  I wondered if I got in on the quota... I had to prove that I belonged there academically, a stress I would never wish on anyone, but in a weird way it worked out for me, I am now a doctor.

I am vigilant about how I am SEEN.  I spend an inordinate amount of time and energy worrying about: being pulled over, about getting shot while I am on my run, being perceived as a sex object, being perceived as a sexual predator, being seen as unintelligent, being seen as a thief, being snubbed in the surf lineup, being a perfect father so I don't loose my daughter, being seen as an Uncle Tom, being seen as militant, what people think about my hair, my daughter getting in trouble in school, explaining my races, getting searched at airports and boarders, being seen as cheap, being an oreo, being a coconut, being seen as abusive to partners, and never ever show ANGER.  Angry men of color are scary.  I wish I could express it the way he did, but will not.  Be cool and unemotional.  I am Spock. I have not gotten to BE.  Hold your tongue, cope with the ache in your jaw from not saying what needs to be said in the moment.  Take a white pill for my growing hypertension, not for me, I am treating it's cause...

This my friends is White Privilege.  If you don't have to worry about the things in the above paragraph, then you have White Privilege.  For those who are still in denial of this concept please watch this scene from "The Color of Fear".  If you still don't get it, you never will.  For those that want to go a little deeper watch the film "Traces of the Trade". 

I am tired of being a second class citizen.  I am unpacking my baggage, someone else will have to carry that shit now.

Explaining Slavery to a Six Year Old...

Kids pick up everything.  I was listening to an interview with Ta-Nehisi Coates on his new book "Between the World and Me" on Democracy now when they went to break playing the song "Slavery Days" by Burning Spear.  Penelope my daughter turns to me and says "Dad... Do you remember the days of slavery"? (Which happens to be the chorus of the song.)

I answered "No, I wasn't alive back then, but my great grandparents were slaves and indentured laborers". 

"Dad, what's a slave?"

"A slave is someone who is forced to work for others but is not paid for the work they do"

"That's not right".....    "Dad, If I had slaves I would pay them!"

"Then they would not be slaves, they would be workers"


Our little dialogue tonight, brought up a lot of pain as I thought of all the Black people killed at the hands of our society recently.  I say society rather than police, because we as society sanction this.  We sanction it with our subliminal messages in media, we sanction it by ignoring the news stories, we sanction it with our silence.  Most tellingly we sanction it by paying the police with the collective's money.   This is the legacy of slavery of African Americans.   It will continue until we as a society own it.  Look it square in the face and say what is.  We must confront our shadow.

Slavery has not ended.  It has merely changed form.  It looks like predatory lending by Bank of America. It looks like higher rates of school loans for minorities. It looks like the millions of women and children trafficked for the sex and pornography trades.  It looks like those picking my organic strawberries.  It even looks like my beloved iGadgets that I am writing this blog on.   The legacy of slavery lives on in all the recent deaths.  God rest their souls, they have took on too great of a burden in this life.

Chances are pretty good that my daughter will become a slave.   Struggling with paper shackles that are quickly becoming digital ones.   Unless of course, we act.  Unless we conquer our thoughts of complacency.  Unless we "Emancipate ourselves from mental slavery" we shall not be free of the burden of enslavement.

I think the Lakota concept of "Wasichu" explains the mindset of slave holders. (Takers of the Fat, the nickname the Lakota gave to Whites because of their propensity to take the best cuts of the buffalo rather than giving it to the women and children as is the norm in traditional Lakota Culture)  It is this constant taking of the fat that leads one to the mentality that their life has greater value over others.  Once I elevate myself (or my people) any number of things may be justified.

I just got back from spending time on the Pine Ridge Reservation with my Lakota family participating in the Sun Dance.  It is hard to miss the remnants of the unspoken genocide that has occurred on this soil.  You are not forgotten by me.  I see you.  I hear you.  I bleed with you. The medicine to heal fat taking lives on in the Dance.  Maybe the prophecy will be true, people from all corners of the earth will come together and learn Lakota medicine and it will save the world.

For it is this fat taking consciousness that is destroying the world.  It lies behind global climate change.  It lies behind white collar crime.  It lies behind empire.  We have a sickness, a mental disease.  We take for ourselves with no thought of what the future of our children will be as a result of our actions.  We must stop taking the fat of the land.  We must stop consuming our children.

I hope to see the real promise of America in my lifetime by seeing appropriate cultural recognition of the legacy of the genocide of indigenous peoples, slavery and the grinding generational poverty it has produced, and the rectification of these wrongs.  I hope to see global healing of our mental disease.  I am actually crazy enough to think it can happen and that we can and will reach that tipping point in my lifetime.  I believe we can heal, there is no pill for this.  We have to work and work together.   We have no other choice.  So let's have these conversations that are hard.  We will become closer, more intimate as a result.  Let's learn to love one another and our differences.  Let's celebrate the global wealth of human knowledge that lies in other cultural practices.  Let us stop being Wasichu's.