I Am A Racist

In this national moment of Black Lives Matter awareness, as I am forced to stop, and think, about how people of color have been treated as less than human in this country – a fact I have been cognizant of and from time to time commented on, but done way too little about – I keep coming back to my own personal history.

My mother tried to instill in me what she called Brutal Honesty. What she meant was I must diligently strive to not lie to myself. It’s an impossible task, but the idea became so ingrained, I’ve tried to make it a habit.

Here’s a comment I’ve often made: I hit the lottery; I was born white male in mid-twentieth-century USA.
The point is, it was easier for me to be successful than if I had been born anything but white and male: my nod to the advantages the USA conferred on me for not being a woman, person of color, a recent immigrant, or LGBTQ.
In the USA, I am the not-other.

Another thing I think about, and have done way too little about, is my own inner racism.

I have been hesitant to use that word – racism – instead, softening it in my mind to historical bias, conditioning, soft-determinism, or even something more inexcusable: habit.

Here’s the gut-wrenching truth: Deep down, I am a racist.

I’ve never been accused of being a racist. Most people think of me as a bastion of liberal tolerance.

Here’s how I know: When I walk down the street and a group of young black men walk by me, anxiety curdles the recesses of my stomach.
I smile and say “hey”, or “whatsup?”
It’s that easy to convince myself I am not really afraid.
Yet what if the young men see fear in my eyes?
Don’t they sense inauthenticity in my welcoming manner?
Honesty is not enough; it must be Brutal.

I’ve always maintained – and had many discussions with my son about this – that racism and misogyny (any fear of the-other) – cannot be overcome in one generation, by passing a law, or insisting on political correctness alone.

My father was less racist than his father, but he was a racist. I am less racist than my father. My son, by all measures, is not a racist. Yet his children are less biased and racist than he. My son agrees.

This is how political correctness works; I was brought up in a world where my grandfather, born in 1892, used the n-word more descriptively than derogatorily (can I even say that? Or is that the whitewashing of a child’s memory?) And my father used it in front of me only in anger or when his political correctness lapsed.
My mother did not allow it in our home. I never use it, but have always been bewildered why it was OK for black people to use it in contexts I would be condemned for. My son understands its use as historical and moral ignorance, and both he and his children, my beautiful grandchildren, understand it’s petty hatefulness better than I.

Our current national BLM moment is an overdue reckoning. It will mean something only if it is also a personal reckoning. I must free myself. And the path to that freedom is Brutal Honesty.

I am a racist.

Next Post: Personal Experiences With Race

Avalanche

Four skiiers die in avalanches. Is the issue freedom? Let’s talk about Hesus, protagonists in my first novel, The Age of Certainty.

Hesus believed each to his own, as long as you’re not hurting someone else, you should be able to do whatever you want. Sounds like classic Libertarianism. But, like all human beings and any good literary character, Hesus is complicated, even if he doesn’t always think in those terms.

Hesus attempts to maintain emotional distance, like a scientist, naively observing his subject(s). Naively, because he acts as if he’s never contemplated the phonomenological effect, most prominent in exactly the situation Hesus puts himself in, whereby the observer influences the behavior of his observed subjects. Hesus comes to understand this as the novel progresses, this lesson spurs him to open up, allowing his love for Emil to manifest itself, allowing, however tragically late, Hesus to become a real person, if you will.

Hesus freely places himself in the path of a possible avalanche, his technical confidence overriding his rational judgement- for a purpose, for meaning, in an attempt to transcend his status as an observer- and he pays the price. The price could have been his life, like the confident adventurers who lost their lives at Stevens Pass and Alpental Ski Resort in Washington state yesterday, but instead it was the price that the survivors of that tragic avalanche suffered: pushed to be human, given the opportunity to feel what makes us all human; empathy, loss, contemplation of one’s place in this vast, complicated world we find ourselves.

This price is a gift, hard one and tragic, and it may be that our bodies try to guard us against it, shock us into forgetting, forgetting being also a useful artifice. But a gift it is. How tragic again it would be if we didn’t use the gift, like a book of Nietzchean aphorisms forgotten in a drawer, some think them horrific ravings, others garnering such understanding.

We are always free, like adventuresome Hesus, like brave young athletes, to libertine choices. Sometimes the price of that freedom, human as it is, is high.

You can read the first chapter of The Age of Certainty in Uncategorized>Writings

Assassination

I understand the emotions evoked upon hearing that Osama Bin Laden has been killed. I understand the logical argument for justice. What is lost is any rational discussion of the fact that a government, a government that portrays itself as a moral beacon for humanity, sactions state-sponsored assassination. Anyway you frame it, the USA approves of assassination as a means to attaining state purposes: Bin Laden, Hussein, Al Qaeda leaders, taliban leaders, Gadaffi, etc. Assassination used to be illegal. It was a moral stance that meant ‘we know that real power lies in the moral worth of a people and have faith that moral power will bring justice to our lives.’
I am not advocating that force is never justified. But the policy of pre-emptive war is never justified- the war in Iraq was wrong and the war in Afghanistan, in its current form, is wrong.
Look at the Arab Spring. No amount of US armed intervention could accomplish what people power partnered with social media is accomplishing. Libya is at least a better model that Iraq.
The problems of apprehending Bin Laden, then figuring out how to try him safely, to bring real justice to our lives, are immense. I do not want to diminish these problems- most of which, we need to recognize, are problems of logistics, and not moral problems. We must not shirk the mirror here, if we believe in our own principles, that democracy is inherently superior to non-democratic forms of governemnt, means that we accept the that there are a lot of inconvenient consequences involved with living up to our principles: We choose to err on the side of presumed innocent until proven guilty so we won’t punish someone unfairly; we choose to give criminals another chance, knowing that most of them are extremely difficult to rehabilitate, because our humanity insists we try, insists we rehabilitate those that have the moral fortitude to take advantage of another chance; we choose to believe that human shortcomings can be overcome, that often unjust deeds are mistakes; we choose to not let our enemies drag us down to their simplistic level of what it means to be a human being, what it means to live in a civil society, messy as it might be.
This last point is what we really loose when our youth take to the street in celebration of a human death, because their intire life of political consciousness has spanned a time of war, a time of demnizing others, a time when our government is portrayed as the problem, instead of a vehicle for justice, a time when everyone’s memory is so short they forget that without our benevolent government we lynched human beings for the color of their skin, looked the other way when people were dispossessed and killed because of their religion, allowed robber barons to use workers like tools to be replaced when broken.
I am no longer living in the American that I grew up in, the America that progressed socially and politically, through the codification of human rights, the sanctioning of freedom, of behavior that didn’t conform to societal norms, that took the side of the underdog when it was just to do so, an American that recognized that the majority can easily become a tyranny.
In current discussions of our populations health, our environment’s health, our working conditions, I no longer hear the question: What is the right thing to do? All I hear is: Freedom must trump human rights, because the rich has a right to become richer the less fortunate must sacrifice their right to health care, to a home, to a decent living.
When one human life is de-valued, we are all lesser for it. There is a true sense in which today, Osama Bin Laden won.

Ars Poetica

I think maybe what I need most is more poetry. Tensions rise with blood pressure, money is outsized, our humanity is diminished, but it’s my own fault; what fault may be, what is freedom and responsibility, is impossible to say, without memory, that fourth dimension, not past as most presume, as much present and certainly future, memory intimate with time, essential like time, more so than the past I think, memory, more so.

So poetry it is, my anti-coagulant, my garlic, mystery and magic, propelling me into day that I wish was dawn or dusk at any moment, my own world, but the one I have and must live in, my memory, my own fault tension, my physical life more dependent now, on poetry, than not eating junk food, or newspapers

PETE’S PRIVATE WORLD

You can now read the first chapter of my novel, THE AGE OF CERTAINTY,

Just click on the Fiction tab

I can’t garantee the final version won’t be tweaked a bit from this but you get the idea.

Any comments are greatly appreciated.

I will soon be posting the first chapter of my novel THE AGE OF CERTAINTY, as well as other writings and bloggings. Please check back frequently and leave any comments you like.

My idea is to learn as much as possible, which means taking everyone’s thoughts seriously. Learning is now my raison d’etre, the only thing that really turns me on and keeps me going.