Tag Archives: racism

HUMANITY

Racism and Bigotry: A Conversation

Southern trees bear strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees – Billie Holiday

What Happened to Us?

Growing up in a small town in the Southwest had its advantages I suppose. We were a small community, not terribly diverse by today’s standards, as the people were mostly the same. Kids could play in the cul-de-sac, ride their bikes down to the local pharmacy for candy and baseball card packs or comic books without fear of a drive-by or child predator in a “rape van” grabbing us to never be seen again or even worse to be found dead or broken. I often wonder what happened to us, where did we go wrong? How did we lose that hope, that fire? My generation was so close, right there in inclusion, we were joining hands across America and singing we are the world then something happened, and I honestly don’t know what it was. I have no intention of pointing fingers but maybe, just maybe I have an understanding of a history, and it is all in perception.

My Friend

A new friend of mine who is black or African American (or simply just an honest, smart, human being who has more pigmentation than me) were drinking margaritas, and he made a comment. We had been discussing race relations in the U.S., as it has been a conversation that has never come to a conclusion or that any one party has been able to come to consensus about.   He looked at me with sadness, yet with a withheld anger, and said, “I don’t think you will ever understand what it is like to be a black man sitting in a bar full of people who don’t look like you. I am always going to be different.” I pondered this, as I had no answer but then it hit me, I said “Judging a book by its cover never lets you get to read the story. There are lots of great books out there man, and I want to read them.” He smiled, raised his glass for a toast and we moved on to other conversations telling me, “Man, you are the whitest black man I have ever known.” I have to say it was one of the best compliments I have ever received.

A Story

We continued on with conversations less disheartening then a memory popped into my head from my childhood that only a handful of people ever knew outside of my family, it was a harsh memory to bring up, sadly, I have many of those. I turned to Malik and extolled upon him the story of when I was eleven years old and went to visit my cousins in Rochester, NY on one of our yearly family trips for Rosh Hashanah. My cousins lived in a small house near a canal in a more rural part of the town but within walking distance to the local mall and, more importantly, the toy store: a Toys R Us store, to be more exact. Other than FAO Schwartz, this was the holy grail of toy stores and since Star Wars had come out, it was my mission to get all of the action figures for my collection.

I begged my mom to let me go with the older kids because they were going to walk down and knowing  I could possibly find the missing pieces to my set, I really wanted to go. My mother was very protective of me, but she felt since I was with my cousins, I would be safe. She was right to be nervous about my safety, as I came to find out.

So, let me paint the picture for you. We arrived at the mall and I was overjoyed at finding two action figures that I had never seen before. It was well worth sitting around while my two older female cousins shopped for clothes. At one point, Charla realized it was getting late and we needed to head back for it would soon be dark and that would be unsafe for us. I remember wondering why it would be unsafe; the town seemed just like where I was from and that was safe.

We started walking home and on the other side of the canal that we had walked down heading to the house was a group of kids: one girl and three boys. They were shouting at us, I couldn’t quite make out what they were saying as they were on the other side and further down from us. Sasha, my other cousin, said, “We have to go, now!” She was panicked and kept yelling at me to walk faster than we sort of started to jog, which is tough when you have little legs trying to keep up with a teenager. I looked over, and the group that had been well behind us had now caught up on the other side, and I could now hear the jeers. “What are you doing outside, Jew?!?! Where are you going, you Christ killer!?!?! We want to talk to you!!!”

They crossed a bridge ahead and caught up with us just as we thought we could make it to the house. The girl grabbed Sasha’s hair and threw her to the ground. I yelled and rushed her only to find myself on the ground with one of the boy’s knees in my chest. He looked at me strangely and asked, “What are you doing with these two Jews??” You see I was a blond-haired, blue eyed boy that did not resemble an immigrant from the Middle East or Europe like my family that my mother married into. I told him that I was Jewish and these were my cousins and to get off me or he would be in trouble. I remember the hatred he had in his eyes as I finished my statement, they were burning. I had done nothing to this person yet here I was, on the ground, wondering what had made him so angry toward me and my kin.

Before things escalated, some of the neighbors must have heard the raucousness and came out to yell at our attackers and just like the cowards they were, they ran away. We were safe, but I often wonder what would have happened had those people not come out to disrupt our being attacked. Malik looked at me and said, “Book covers man, yeah book covers, I hear that. I feel that now man, damn.” He placed his hand on my shoulder, and we both just sat there in silence, each pondering the world.

Racism isn’t born, folks, it’s taught. I have a two-year-old son.
You know what he hates? Naps! End of list. – Denis Leary

I Never Understood It…

I have never understood racism, bigotry, and out-and-out hatred but it has made me confused for most of my adult life. I have written about perception and quick judgment before like The Music That Binds or Living Within Our Own Mythos, for example, trying to point out how inane it all is, hate is a wasted emotion. Hate is taught, it’s not anger, love, empathy, sadness, or kindness – we are born with those. We need to rise together to begin to teach each other that we are not ok with it and apparently we are failing at it right now; the anger is boiling over. Educated people are not teaching each other what we, as a society, are about. Instead of conformity, we need to embrace how diverse we as people all are we have one great thing in common: we are human. I will leave you with this last verse by one of the greatest poets of our time, Walt Whitman:

Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring,

Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,

Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)

Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects, mean, of the struggle ever renew’d,

Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds, I see around me,

Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,

The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?

 

Answer.

That you are here—that life exists and identity,

That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.

 

Can I get an amen?

#truestory #life #peace

BUSINESS, HUMANITY

Share Your Strength

You don’t know what you don’t know.

Shedding Light

I once spoke at a Women’s Conference called “Business in Heels,” a well-attended one-day event in a beautiful setting. I felt fortunate to be included in their agenda. Not only did I make several new friends, but I learned a bit more about women in business locally and what they are achieving.

The program cover featured slender beautiful legs donned by a pair of hot pink pumps – not exactly my attire, and at the top of my presentation, I told the audience that I hoped next year’s event would be titled “Business in Flip-Flops” – this warranted a low chuckle from the nearly all-female crowd but got me thinking about expectations and how business and life has changed over the last ten to fifteen years. Many women, like myself, and men are fortunate enough to work from home, for a company or running a small business.

Not one morning of my adult, working life have I awakened thinking, “Oh damn, I am a woman, therefore – my day in the world of business will be tougher than if I were a man. How can I fight this injustice?” I simply thought, “Oh damn, the price of Lucky Charms and gas went up again — I need to work even harder so I can afford to be a mom.”  Much of my struggles are no different than other single moms or dads, as well as multiple two-income homes.

Life is expensive, whether or not you have a family.

I Made Choices

Life as a single mom is not easy, but I never had time to dwell on those difficulties. Fifteen years ago, it was normal for me to fall asleep at my computer, writing and working until 1 to 2 am, only to rise by 6 am to get four kids out the door. The end of a couple marriages, surviving a couple controlling relationships that included all kinds of often unspoken abuse, returning to college to get my biz degree, getting a great job then losing my home to foreclosure, being fired from a job I thought was great, unemployment or underemployment for extended periods of time, being drugged but escaping sexual assault while on a business trip, and yet another broken heart….

It’s been tough and I have not been shy about writing and sharing these tough times. The best part? Others have let me know that I am not alone – men and women who have have similar experiences have messaged or connected with me to share their own stories. We all have our individual paths paved with thorns. I readily recognize the responsibility I bear when it comes to my lot in life and the cards I have been dealt. Some of my choices have added to my struggle, there is no denying.

I Am Becoming More and More Aware

With the continued fights against racism and bias, as well as other injustices like LGBTQ prejudices, domestic abuse, and un-equal pay, a resounding personal awareness has come to light.

The fight must be fought by ALL,
not just those who suffer from injustice.

No one who hears my story can believe that I was once an abused wife. “You are such a strong woman, how did you ever let that happen?”

It didn’t happen overnight. It was years of conditioning – of guilt, regret, of “this is my lot”, and how could I possibly ever leave? No academic degree and four mouths to feed. I never thought I could leave until a man, actually several men who were family friends, told me I deserved better. None of my women friends told me to leave. Afraid to get involved? Afraid to break up a family, like I was?

The decision to leave became real when I finally realized it wouldn’t change, it wouldn’t get better, and that one of us would soon be dead. That is a frightening realization. One of us would be dead. 

I didn’t want that someone to be me. I needed to be here for my kids. I had more life to live. And I didn’t deserve it, no matter what I had done or not done – I didn’t deserve to be beaten on a regular basis or fear for my life during the next drinking binge. I deserved better.

Sharing the Strength

The strength of those not subjected to abuses, racism, or discrimination must be shared with those who do suffer, undeservedly or not. If you can be a voice, a hand, a lift – please be that voice and that hand. It is not our place, my place, to remain silent when your/my voice or strength can make a difference.

One more thing…

My fire or passion may not burn within you – and that is ok — we are all in the place or getting to the place where we need to be. It is a journey. My journey – my path – is different than yours.

And if I can share anything, please remember:

Just because you do not see or experience injustice
or inequality yourself doesn’t mean it does not exist.

I never had a bruise on my face, but there were plenty on the back of my head and in my heart.  Lift where you can. Shed light where it is dark. You may be saving the heart or life of your best friend, your brother or sister, your child.

You don’t know what you don’t know.

BUSINESS, HUMANITY

A Guy Walks Into a Bar: The Music That Binds

#StandTogether

“Those who have not lived in New Orleans have missed an incredible, glorious, vital city–a place with an energy unlike anywhere else in the world, a majority-African American city where resistance to white supremacy has cultivated and supported a generous, subversive, and unique culture of vivid beauty.
― 
Jordan Flaherty

So this guy walks into a bar, you’ve heard the joke, right? Well, if you haven’t you sure are missing out on, what usually becomes, a bad witticism. This post is not about a bad joke but about what could have been a choice, with truly extreme consequences, that should not be in place in the United States after all these years. This is not a post about recruiting, sourcing, or social media; it’s much more than that. I am penning a #truestory of a night not to be forgotten in a parish outside of New Orleans in a bar that forged an understanding of what racism is and how a genre of music, with the understanding of genuine respect, can bring people together.

So for a little personal history, my Grandfather was from New Orleans before he and his father headed west to San Diego for better fortunes during the Depression. I remember, as a kid, sitting at his feet listening to the stories of his childhood growing up there. He told me of the jazz and the blues music that would fill the streets with passion while the people would dance and sing along. It was a magical place, transformed into a dance hall on the streets at night with people drinking libations, mingling together enjoying the music and food. It all sounded like Nirvana to me, even at the tender age of twelve. I would listen to the music he played on the record player; Robert Johnson (King of the Delta Blues), Lead Belly, B.B. King, Bessie Smith (The Empress of the Blues), Howlin’ Wolf, and of course, Muddy Waters (father of modern Chicago blues). Over time, it became a passion for me to go to music halls, of any kind, to hear and feel the music live and in person. I grew up in the Southwest, and I only had a few opportunities to get to see a genre that I grew up listening to on my Grandad’s old Victrola. When I got the first chance to go to New Orleans, I planned my trip, accordingly, to listen to the music live in a city that was part of my heritage.

#StandTogether

Play That Funky Music White Boy

“And here’s to the blues, the real blues— where there’s a hint of hope in every cry of desperation.”
― 
David Mutti Clark

A friend of mine, Jimmy, was getting married, and we were doing a road trip from Phoenix to Connecticut where the wedding was being held. It was a Bachelor Party on wheels, and one of the destinations was going to be New Orleans. I looked forward to all that was packed into the City of Music and Home to Jazz and, of course, the Blues. The air was wet with perspiration, and you could smell the alcohol sweating out of the tourists walking around The Quarter, taking in the liquid hurricanes and feeling the music blasting from the bars. It was my first time in New Orleans, and this kid was going to take in every sight and sound he could.

It turned out that a lack of sufficient hydration, while causing that dehydration to increase with alcohol, is not something that an individual used to dry heat, gets used to on their first night in NOLA. Needless to say, my man was down, my pal Jimmy was miserable the next day after our debauchery in The Quarter, bar hopping and being invincible. So, the next night I was left to my own devices, alone to find my next adventure, and I had an appetite for something a little different than wandering The Quarter.

I wanted to hear the Blues, the real Blues, not the kind abridged for tourists but in a REAL Blues bar. You know, the kind in the movies, filled with smoke and bourbon, hope and despair, happiness and hopelessness. I wanted the local experience; I wanted to see my heroes or legends who would find that back alley bar to try out new music with the only people listening already gone in their minds and who use the music to anchor them here one more day because they are just barely holding on.

I caught a cab and asked the driver where the best Blues club was in the city, and I am not talking the French Quarter. I got the most charming, wry smile and chuckle. He asked, “What you want to do that for?mThat’s what the Quarters are all about, blues and jazz for the tourists.” I politely told him I was looking for the real Blues, not the faux stuff, but a place where the locals would go to unwind and listen to the music. He laughed a laugh that only could be best described as Geoffery Holder from the 7-up commercials of the early 80’s commercials. “I know just the place,” he said. I introduced myself to my new friend and he said, “Name’s Cornelius, my man.” Then he told me “When we get there, it will be best that I walk you in, you know, just in case.” I, in fact, did not know what this meant, but I shrugged my shoulders and said, “Sounds good to me, let’s go!”

#StandTogether

A Guy Walks into a Bar and…

“Black, white, Latino, gay, straight – if any one of them came across a bear in the woods, they’d all taste like chicken.” 
― 
Jennifer Lane

We drove out of the city and, well, a little out of my comfort zone. We ended up in what could best be described as a shanty town-like building with yellow light coming through the makeshift windows and cracks in the aluminum siding that were meant for walls. Entering the bar, I was excited, there was a titillation I had not felt before in my life, a newness to the unknown, I guess. Then a sense of reality quickly set in, a slap in the face that so many minorities I am sure to have felt when going to a place that was not where they were used to. I was the only white person in the establishment, and being like an odd 80s teen angst movie from John Hughes, the eight or so patrons all turned and stared at me.

The whole bar was quiet as I sat down on the last stool at the bar, closest to the door, and asked Cornelius, who had just come in and sat one stool over from me what was going on. He said, “This ain’t exactly a white man’s bar, if you get my meaning” I, once again, had no idea what he was talking about, but I was about to find out.

Although Cornelius, was served right away the bartender only looked at me, with a stare and then flipped his bar towel over his shoulder and walked away. I asked Cornelius if this was this normal. He just reiterated his previous comment, then shrugged.  After a few minutes of uncomfortable silence, the bartender came over and leaned in, putting his rather large arms down on the bar, then leaned in even further, slowly and with purpose, to look me directly in the eye and said, “I think you are in the wrong bar, you looks to be more of a quarters type of cat, you understand me?” I was, at this moment, and with the entire bar now staring at me yet again confused, then the epiphany set in. I was white, in the south, in a predominantly African-American area, and I was, in a sense, trespassing. Having never been in a situation like this and not entirely knowing what to do, Cornelius jumped into my defense saying, “Carl, the kid just wants to listen to music, man – he don’t want no trouble, I know, I brought him here.” “You should know better than to bring a white boy into this bar,” said the now obviously annoyed bartender. “They have their bars, we have our bars!”

#StandTogether

The Moment That Changed it All

My entire life can be described in one sentence: it didn’t go as planned, and that’s ok.
Rachel Wolchin

I was trembling and became reasonably concerned that this could escalate into a very unpleasant evening for me. Luckily, being from a family whose Grandfather sold liquor to bars and ran a few himself, I knew the industry pretty well – so I took a chance. I asked the bartender what was the most popular drink at the bar, “whiskey, of course! What’s wrong which you?” he asked. I pulled out a $50 bill and pushed it toward him and said with the strongest voice I could, “I would like to buy the bar a round then, and I would like a beer chaser with mine, please.” His eyes of steel resolve softened just a bit and he quietly said, “uhhh huhhh!” Cornelius turned slowly and stared at me with the same smile he had when he told me he was bringing me here. I think now he may have meant this trip as learning a lesson for me or possibly the patrons of that shanty bar; I suspect I’ll never know. Frankly, I don’t think I ever want to. The bartender poured a shot for everyone at the bar, even me, and put my change down next to my drink. I told him to keep it, in hopes of making him an ally for the moment. Just as a side note, that was all the money I had for the night, other than the emergency credit card, but it did not bother me, I figured I was done at this point, anyway.

One of the patrons, a regular I later found out, grabbed his glass and came down to where I was sitting and said, “I appreciate the drink an’ all my man, but I like to know who I am drinking with ‘fore I accept such an offering.” I told him of my appreciation of music, how the Blues spoke to me, how it made me feel, for the lack of better word, better. I spoke of how my Grandfather, being from New Orleans, grew up on the music and let me listen to the songs in the background while telling me stories of where the music came from. The greatest seat in the world is at the feet of your elders, and, yep, it always will be and as it should be.

I spoke that I honestly had no idea what I had done to cause the level of angst that was occurring and said, “As soon as I’m done with this shot and beer I’ll be on my way. I meant no disrespect and didn’t want any trouble.” The stranger that had sat down said, “The hell you will! The men in this bar pay their way, paid more than most, and we all will be buying you shots now. Welcome to the bar, son, and thank you for being real, and honest.” Heads shook, glasses were slammed to the bar, and everyone laughed, backs were slapped, and the clear fact that my pants were still waterless was a total win for me. I was escorted to the other end of the bar as I was told the acoustics were better closer to the stage as there were actual concrete walls and egg cartons to hold the music from escaping out into the night. Pretty soon, they were going to be proven right.

#StandTogether

A Guy Walks out of a Bar…

Racism isn’t born, folks, it’s taught. I have a two-year-old son. You know what he hates? Naps! End of list.Dennis Leary

The music and the whiskey flowed that night, and the power of the blues ran through our blood, , because that is what we are all are, human. That night, that very evening, I learned a lesson that, unfortunately, so many go through walking into a new place, any place, where there is a lack of representation of what their race exemplification is. This is sad folks, it is, and we, as humans, all should be ashamed of at this time, this moment, that we allow this in the world. Such a simple gesture of respect, from everyone, made for an unforgettable evening.

Say it out loud with me, WE ALL ARE HUMAN BEINGS!!!

Since that day, and everywhere I go, I take that night with me, not only to new places, but the places I frequent the most. I put out my hand to shake or open my arms to hug; I laugh a boisterous laugh to soften the fear of anyone of any race, creed, or religion to think that they are not wanted or in and unsafe place. You should try, it as well; it is a great feeling, and the people you learn from or the people you can teach spreads the virus of kindness and understanding. I have to tell you it is, now more than ever, needed.

I’ll leave you with this Dr. Kings speech, maybe you have read it, maybe you haven’t, but damn — it speaks the words, don’t it? This is ONE of my favorite passages:

The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.

We cannot walk alone.”

Here is a link to the whole speech I would recommend taking a listen or reading: I Have a Dream – Martin Luther King

I wrote this piece a few weeks ago, after a conversation with a number of friends about relations in this country and I told them this very story. They told me I should write it down for my next post and in light of recent events, I have chosen to post this, hoping to help heal and let all of us know, we choose how we are with each other and we need to start making better choices. I have a dream, as well; I am not a very religious man, but I will say that I pray. I pray that we as a society, can, in my lifetime, hold hands and build each other up for the betterment of all, not just because of what we look like but because of who we are, and that is one race, the human race.

#life #truestory