Little Pitchers have Big Ears

I’ll tell you a little story while we wait for the polls to close and election returns to come in.

If you’ve started following this blog recently, you might not know that I have an elementary-aged grandson who I spend copious amounts of time with. He’s truly precocious when it comes to analyzing things. That’s because he’s one of those mechanically-inclined little dudes who prefers math to language arts. And because I’ve been teaching him to pull complex ideas apart and look at their constituent pieces as a way of finding their meaning since before he could speak in grammatically-correct sentences.

Photo by Gene'O, 2015.

Photo by Gene’O, 2015.

The little fella is aware there’s an election on. We’ve done our best not to talk about it in too much detail with him. My approach has been to not bring it up, but when he does, to give him honest, age-appropriate answers. So he knows I’m voting for the Dem in November, but we’ve not talked in any detail about  the various candidates.

The sort of political talk you’ve been seeing here and on my Facebook timeline these last few weeks is not the sort of stuff you’ll hear in my house if the kid is awake. And we do our best to minimize his exposure to the news, because most nights, it’s full of horrors. I don’t think I’m doing him a disservice by waiting until he’s 9 to let him watch the full news every night.

The reason we do things this way is because while we want him to grow up to be a tolerant, engaged citizen who understands his rights and sees the inequalities all around him, we don’t want to just put our politics in his head until he’s old enough to think about politics critically. I’ll be happy if he grows up to agree with my politics 100%. But I don’t want that to happen because I told him to, or because we have such a strong emotional bond. I want him to form his own political views rationally and to know why he takes the positions he eventually takes.

He knows I write and publish things on the internet for anyone in the world to see if I can grab their attention, and he’s fascinated by the whole thing. If I allow him, he’ll stand and read over my shoulder as I write. (I’ve had to explain to him recently that writers find this annoying.) So, yesterday he saw me editing a post I’m working on which includes this image:

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He decided, since I was obviously writing about the election, to give me his opinion on Donald Trump. So of course I had to shut my editing session down and interrogate him about where he got his information and how he formed his opinion. What follows is a lightly-edited transcript of our conversation.

Kid: I HATE Trump.

Me: You know we don’t hate people. Not even people we dislike. Because there’s a little good in even the worst people, and hating folks makes us want to fight instead of talking and listening.

Kid: Well, I really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, REALLY dislike him. I dislike him all the way to Pluto and back. (He seriously uses this many “reallys” to express strong emotion. If anything, I’m understating. I sometimes have to interrupt the “reallys” and tell him I understand to get him to continue with his thought.)

Me: Okay. Tell me why you feel that way.

Kid: Trump wants to be one of them president-kings and he will command us all to use the n-word.

Me: *Shocked and alarmed, but proud of the racial sensitivity there* Where are you getting this? Are you talking to other grownups about this that I don’t know about?

Kid: No. That’s just what I think.

Me: Talking about it with your friends at school?

Kid: *Shakes head unconvincingly and stands up from his chair so he can march around the room while he delivers this next bit.* He will make us all sing “Trump! Trump! Trump! He is the greatest! Trump! Trump! Trump! He is the greatest!”

Me: You MUST tell me why you think these things. If you’re getting them from someone else, that’s a thing your Paw needs to know about.

Kid: I can just see it in his eyes.

I interrogated him a bit more, but he insisted these opinions are his own, formed from overhearing snippets of network news and seeing the occasional photo of Trump while eaves-watching my blogging and Facebooking.fblike

I believe he came up with this on his own, or else got it from other kids just based on the language he used. He has good recall when it comes to remembering exactly what others say, and I can generally tell when he’s repeating something he’s gotten from adults.

Just for example, when he asked me who I was voting for several weeks ago. I told him either Clinton or Sanders. His response: “I like Bernie Sanders. He is an intelligent man.” And when I asked him how he felt about Hillary Clinton he said “She is untrustworthy.” I knew, based on the language, not only that he was repeating something he’d heard a grownup say. I even knew which grownup.

This Trump thing is different. It’s either an honest, original assessment from a very perceptive little boy, or a pastiche of things he’s heard on the playground. I have extremely mixed feelings about this. I’m proud of the overall awareness the little dude’s showing here and pleased he’s come to the same conclusion as me without my direct intervention.

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I’m also sad that a second-grader is looking at the Presidential election and this is what he’s seeing. My first real political awakening was at about his age, during the Carter-Reagan race in 1980 (I wanted Carter to win). So on balance, I can’t say whether all this is a good thing, or a bad thing. But it sure is interesting.

An hour after we were done with our conversation, it came to my attention that the owner of Humans of New York has published a withering critique of Donald Trump and vowed to work against him. Aside from the part where Humans of N.Y. is warning us not to let Trump off the hook when he inevitably tacks to the center, the statement pretty much says what the kid said, only in the language of a sophisticated East Coast journalist. I was struck by it.

And today I found this. If you need further confirmation that yes, what’s going on at these Trump rallies is not only corrosive, but dangerous, here’s your sign. It’s about a guy who went undercover to a Trump rally to try and figure out why his followers are acting the way they are and better see them as humans, so as not to just demonize them because he disagrees with what they’re doing. A long read and it will make you a little sick to your stomach. But worthy of your time.

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I’ll have stuff to say on Facebook once the polls close tonight, and a post here about it tomorrow or the day after. Everything I’m posting about this election on Facebook is public. You can find me here if you just want to follow along. And I have a fairly open policy for accepting friend requests.

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Thank You, Oregon, for Taking Down the Mississippi Flag

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Argue with me about this on the thread if you want, but fair warning: I have a zero tolerance policy for bigotry and meanness. And my threshold for that bullshit is even lower today than normal.

Oregon has removed the Mississippi flag from a public area of their capitol where they display state and tribal flags. The Oregon legislature agreed to take the flag down last year during the outcry after a shooting at a Charleston, SC church was linked to the Confederate Flag.

The objectionable symbol everyone is angry about appears in the top left corner.

The objectionable symbol everyone is angry about appears in the top left corner.

Oregon held off removing the flag to see if maybe we’d change our state flag, but after 12 different bills to change the flag were all allowed to die in committees last month, protests were renewed and Oregon pulled it down. (There are actually 19 different bills listed in this Jackson Free Press article; not sure what the discrepancy in the numbers over at Think Progress is about.)

I’ve written about this before, but your guess is as good as mine as to whether I posted it on a blog or on Facebook. Here’s my position on the issue, and keep in mind that lots of Mississippians want this symbol gone for various reasons. Several public bodies here refuse to fly it above municipal buildings, including the city government of our own state capitol.

People have the right to tattoo Confederate symbols on their own bodies, wear it on clothing, fly it in their yards, and otherwise display it on private property. The fact that so many of us find that an ignorant or hateful thing to do is beside the point.

We don’t ban the use of political symbols as personal expression in this country. Not even the swastika. Regulating the symbols we use to represent government institutions is another matter, and we have every right to object to government symbols when we find their use as such to be hateful and ignorant.

I want a better state flag. I’m glad Oregon took it down, and I hope more government entities, both in Mississippi and across the country, refuse to display it. I don’t think of this move as Oregonians thumbing their noses at Mississippi and looking down on us. I choose to see it as an expression of solidarity with Mississippians who want Confederate symbols relegated to museums and history books where they belong. So thank you, Oregon, for your support.

State flags don’t just fly in front of public buildings. They also find their way onto uniforms and into official documents. They get incorporated into the service marks of government agencies. And Mississippi has a long history of racist public policies we still haven’t shaken entirely.

Given the racial composition of our prison system, sending law enforcement officers out to do their jobs with a Confederate symbol on their uniforms is a terrible idea because that symbol has to inspire resentment and ramp up the tension any time a police officer interacts with a Mississippian who has strong feelings about the way we’ve historically oppressed people of color. (Note the careful wording there — there are plenty of white, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, Indian, and people of many other races or ethnicities living in this state who are angry about racial oppression, too.)

All that does is increase the already-way-too-high probability that whomever is being questioned will lose their temper and get arrested. It also makes the officers’ jobs more difficult and more dangerous. We already don’t pay them enough. At this point, given where we are with everything, sending a law enforcement officer out with a Confederate symbol on his or her shoulder is adding insult to injury.

It’s also stupid branding. Mississippi has an even worse image among the general population and around the world than it deserves. Mississippians are not inbred, barefoot, illiterate subsistence farmers. We even have people here who work for racial reconciliation every day of the damn week.

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We have a pretty awesome great seal. Maybe we should incorporate it into our new flag. We can talk about that “In God We Trust” thing another day 😉

Once upon a time, my wife and several other family members  went to New York to sit in the hospital with one of her siblings. The New Yorkers in the waiting room loved, loved, loved her accent, but they assumed she was from Texas. When she told them she was from Mississippi, their jaws dropped and they said “But we’ve seen you reading! . . .?”

I have a cousin who went to college in the Midwest. She once told a new acquaintance she was from Mississippi and the first question that person asked was “What crops does your family grow?” This was in the last 10 or 15 years. Our flag isn’t helping that image one little bit.

I acknowledge my insurrectionist ancestors. Hell, I’ll even go so far as to admire their grit and their military prowess. If they’d had a more diverse economy, or a larger white population, or had managed to convince the great powers of Europe to recognize them as a state, they might have won that war.

I know all about the Civil War and I will tell you this. The Old South wasn’t fighting for the right to display symbols or properly acknowledge cultural heritage. Some number of southerners who fought in that war, mostly the elites, were fighting for the right to trade people like livestock. A few were supporting their states and taking a stand for (an unworkable) vision of federated government in a principled way. The rest were fighting a rich man’s war because their legislators and their employers and their preachers convinced them they were being oppressed by the federal government.

I think if we’re going to acknowledge our Confederate heritage, we need start by owning up to that last paragraph in its entirety with no arguments. We need to accept every single word of it.

I’m glad my ancestors lost that war. If they’d won, even if they had eventually abandoned slavery and re-joined the U.S., I would have inherited a meaner and more impoverished culture. So would the rest of us, including all you Yankees. The world would be a very different place.

I say working to preserve this symbol as an emblem of state power is a poor way to acknowledge my Confederate ancestors. At this point, it’s not just hateful and disrespectful to people of color. I’d be interested to see a question about the Confederate flag added to the General Social Survey because I suspect it’s actively offending better than 60% of the population by now.

If we could hold a seance right now and call up my Confederate ancestors, they’d be appalled at what we’ve become. And they’d be more appalled at the fact that we seem to be running downhill as fast as we can to a situation where we’re divided into two camps and willing to fight than they would be about all the diversity and civil rights.

The rich ones who understood such things would tell us to get over ourselves, to fix our shit at home, and to make every effort to help our government preserve our power in the international arena. And all of them would tell us we don’t want our descendants — including the ones so far removed into the future that we can’t see them as an actual possibility — to even contemplate another civil war.

If I know anything about my Confederate ancestors I know this: They did not take war lightly, and they suffered mightily for their decisions, as did the rest of the country.

I want the Confederate imagery gone from the official symbols of my state. Keeping it can only divide us even more than we already are. And we very much need to be finding ways to bring people together right now.

Mississippi Legislature: You are not the center of the goddamned universe. Oregon is telling you is this is not about you. It’s about the rest of the country too. They’ve been extremely polite about it, so please snap the fuck out of whatever haze you are in and do them the courtesy of listening.

Ed. – I’ve got a couple of substantial posts coming. One’s about how the meanness we’re seeing in these elections got into our public conversation. The other is a reaction/response/elaboration to Luther’s post on Michigan at Infinite Free Time. I hope to get both of those out before voting starts on Tuesday, and if you like this one, you’ll want to tune in for those. Also: Follow the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation on Facebook as a personal favor to me.

Weekend Coffee Share: Of Racism, Demagogues and Hope

If we were having coffee, I’d tell you it’s been a roller coaster of a week, both on and off the social media. My day job’s been intense lately, so I’ve not been able to hit the internet until late in the evenings for the past few days. I’ve spent most of my social media time on Facebook posting and commenting about the impending U.S. elections. And about racism.

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The two seem to be going hand-in-hand right now because one of our candidates has used a lot of racist language to whip up support. I’d planned to write a long, blistering post today about the horror show known as the Trump Presidential campaign, but Jeremy Nix already did that at HuffPo, so I’ll just link to his Open Letter to My Friends Who Support Donald Trump, give it a quick quote, and try to add something to the conversation.

Trump’s supporters are angry, and anger is infectious. I can tell you as a non-supporter of Trump I am just as angry. We need the kind of leader that seeks to bring us together, not tear us apart. Why do we have to fight against helping each other, against common sense, against a united Nation? The American Dream is a nightmare and we are feeding it, making it worse every day. Trump is a bully, a loud mouth, ignorant, sexist, racist, disgusting example of how horrible humans can potentially be.

Nix provides ample support in the form of Trump quotes, and later in the article says this: “If you’re not a racist, bigoted, misogynistic jerk, then voting for Trump simply because you don’t like Democrats is wrong.” I agree with that 100 percent, and I’ll add: Should Trump win the Republican nomination, it will also be wrong to vote for Trump simply because whichever Democrat you prefer lost the primary.

Moving right along. I’ve been using Facebook for the last couple of weeks to get back into the swing of writing about substantive things. I’ve been posting over there too frequently, the posts have tended to be long (for Facebook), and I’ve even written a couple of notes.fblike

I’ve also been using it to gauge the political mood and to figure out how to talk about these elections without setting people off to the point that things get ugly. For the most part, things have not gotten ugly and I’ve only had to block one person. I’ve had productive conversations with people I have strong disagreements with. I’ve learned things.

So good. Now it’s time for me to come back to the blog and write about what’s going on in the U.S. in a serious way as often as I can manage it.

I have a lot of assertively liberal Facebook friends. Many are creative types and a lot of them blog. During normal times, my Facebook feed is a confection of smartly-written articles about all manner of social issues ranging from LGBTQ equality to Feminsm to disability to mass incarceration and much more, mixed in with things about writing, publishing, and social media marketing. Much of the social commentary touches race in one way or another even when it isn’t focused exclusively on racism.

These last couple of weeks, Facebook has been a fever swamp of political chatter. Most of my friends have been talking about the Super Tuesday primaries, this week’s GOP debate, and above all, Trump. Most of what I’m seeing falls into a few easy categories.

  • Disbelief that this candidate who should have either been jeered off the stage the first time he opened his mouth or simply rejected by the powers that be as unfit to run on a major party ticket has a Presidential nomination within striking distance.
  • Stomach-churning dismay at the level of popular support we’re seeing for what has to be the most bigoted and mean-spirited nationwide political campaign in this country since the 19th Century.
  • Appeals to everyone to get out and vote, just this once, no matter how they feel about the political system or the value of voting.
  • Takedowns like the Nix article. It’s so easy to write stuff like that and to find hard factual evidence to support it, I could spend all day rounding up links for you.
  • Speculation and concern about what’s going to happen if Trump actually wins the primary. The smart money says Trump gets shredded by either Democratic candidate, but November is months away and I’ve been burned too many times by Democratic in-fighting, protest voting, and stolen swing states. So I think concern is warranted at least until we see how the Ohio and Florida primaries play out.
  • Concern about the way protesters and journalists are being handled at Trump rallies,  about the overall mood of the crowds who are supporting him, and about his flagrant disrespect for our Constitutional principles.

    Meme discovered at Eco-Style Life Beau Monde

    Meme discovered at Eco-Style Life Beau Monde

This election has crowded everything else out of my news feed, aside from things I’m set up to always see. At some point during all of this I became so disheartened by the number of people who seem to be ok supporting an overt racist for the Presidency I decided to run a short personal campaign to see how many new page likes I could generate for the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconcilation, a nonprofit organization based at the University of Mississippi.

I’ve been following the Winter Institute for a couple of years and I have them flagged so I see almost everything they post. The best description I can offer for them is that they’re an advocacy group which promotes equality and nonviolent conflict resolution. I urge you to give their page a look. If you appreciate what you see there, please like their Facebook page. I don’t make these appeals on the blog very often, but this is important.

Ten minutes after I posted a status update on my timeline asking people to support the Winter Institute, Facebook fed me a post from a friend who I met through 1000 Speak. The post was about a white supremacist group tossing plastic bags filled with hateful propaganda onto peoples’ porches.This is a well-developed tactic hate groups have been using for years.

1000speakLizziLast year it happened in the very county where I live. The friend who shared the post has in the past found similar stuff left under the windshield wiper of her car in a public parking lot. Sometimes included with the propaganda: a physical object which is intended to insult people of color but often reads like non-sequitur. In the case of the post I read on Facebook, the bags included rice. The bags distributed in my neck of the woods included two breath mints.

Here is how Trump’s use of bigotry to score political points connects to white supremacist groups distributing propaganda. And why I am concerned about the Trump phenomenon whether he wins the Republican nomination or not. Leaving aside for the moment that he’s playing footsie with white nationalists who are known to support the Ku Klux Klan, this level of hate from a serious Presidential candidate has perilous consequences for our political culture, for our way of life, and for the way the rest of the world views the U.S. if we allow it to persist.

Racism is about attitudes, emotion, and education. Hate speech laws and legal protections for vulnerable groups are necessary and appropriate, but the laws have to be strictly written to avoid doing more harm than good. So racist people can always skate right up to the line because they have the same freedom of expression as the rest of us.

It is impossible to legislate racism out of existence. The only way to get at the root of racism is to make it so socially unacceptable that people teach their children not to be racist as a matter of course, to teach tolerance in schools, and to reform institutions (like the U.S. penal system) which perpetuate structural racism. We’re not as far along with that in this country as I’d like, but we’ve made some progress in the last 100 years.

Most of us want more and better progress. Those of us who understand that we are all bitten in one way or another by racism every day of our lives from the moment we open our eyes in this world whether we realize it or not are positively screaming for more and better progress.

mlk_justiceWhen Presidential candidates say racist things to whip up political support, that sends a message to their followers that it’s ok say and do racist things in public. Which makes people who actually have racist attitudes a little more comfortable with spreading bigotry and hate. It also emboldens the hardcore fringe who do things like toss propaganda onto peoples’ lawns. Whether he intends his words to have this effect or not, Donald Trump is giving political cover to racial supremacists. That’s unacceptable.

We fought a civil war over slavery. Even after the abolitionists won and the slaves were freed, we took another 100 years to agree that racial segregation should be illegal. When our government finally found the political will to criminalize segregation, the National Guard had to be called out to enforce the law in several states because both the state governments and the white populations were too intransigent to do the right thing.

Lynchings were once commonplace in this country. In the 1960s race relations were so bad we had black nationalist groups arming themselves and white people murdering civil rights workers. If Martin Luther King, Jr. and his allies hadn’t convinced so many people to assert their rights nonviolently, or if the federal government hadn’t acquiesced and enforced the law, we might have had chaos and bloodshed of cataclysmic proportions before it was done. I am not overstating this.

It is easy to look at the U.S. in 2016 and be discouraged by the state of race relations. I fall into that myself sometimes. But let’s not lose sight of the fact that we are light years ahead of where we were even 30 years ago. And let’s not forget that much of the progress we’re  benefiting from right now was paid for with the lives and blood of our citizens.

We can’t allow our country to slide back to the point where public hatred of people because of their race, sex, sexual orientation, disability, or any other category that ought to be protected is an acceptable thing to do in a political campaign. We’ve proven ourselves willing to fight and die, to offer ourselves up to be arrested and abused, over these principles time and again practically from the moment we won our independence.

We can’t allow Trump’s demagoguery nor his style of politics to go unchallenged. We don’t want his ideas to gain a larger foothold in the public consciousness than they already have, lest they persist and shape our public discourse. Trump is not just dogwhistling to play on white anger the way Republicans have been doing for the last 40 years. He’s openly scapegoating minorities, and he’s advocating racist public policies.

Trump is using a different sort of racism than we’re accustomed to seeing from our Presidential candidates. He’s escalating the hate. Senators and talk show hosts have been forced to resign from their jobs for saying things that weren’t as bad as some of Trump’s statements.

Even if you think he doesn’t have a chance in hell of winning the Presidency, you should be concerned about him. Even if your state or district is not in play, you should take the time to vote for a candidate who’s running against Trump just to lower his popular vote percentage.

When I was writing about the white supremacy on Facebook the other night, I said “just because a thing is legal doesn’t make it right.” That’s where I am with Trump. He has the right to run for President and the right to say what he wants as long as he doesn’t incite a riot or defame anyone. But that doesn’t mean one of our two major political parties has to give him the big stage.

If I were a Republican, I’d be so angry with my party establishment for allowing this situation to develop, I’d consider severing ties. But I’m not a Republican, so all I can do is speak my mind, watch, and wait.

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I’m upset and concerned about all this, but I’m not demoralized. A Trump Presidency — or even a nomination — is far from a foregone conclusion. I believe most Americans are smart enough to see Trump for what he is and are assertive enough to repudiate him.

I truly believe we’re better than this, ya’ll. So I have hope.