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



Some thought it cheeky, but others endearing, two women wearing the same thing, with one arm pulling close a shoulder, the sides of their touching hips swooshing as they walk barefoot along the beach, ponytails skipping behind like ecstatic puppies. Soft as a cool summer pillow, or grating like the canvas of a palm used to work, the sensuousness of Raw Linen.


People let too many little things ruin their day, their week, their relationships.

A perceived tone of voice, reading unknown thoughts instead of what is said, believing the worst case scenario, about someone’s intentions, motives, love or lack thereof.

How many special moments together are lost because a mother and daughter aren’t speaking; how much love left unexpressed.

Why do so many people prefer conflict, bearing a grudge, exaggeration in place of forgiveness?

One life to live, such a short time to take advantage of time with loved ones.

If I think someone is not considering my feelings, it probably says more about me than the someone. I can remove myself any exposure to that person, or forgive (see, it was about me all along,) and enjoy what that someone brings to my life.

I am never going to agree one-hundred percent with anyone, we are all free, unique individuals. Not even my spouse and I will always agree, and to take offense at a disagreement is but destructive.



Fingerprints of You

Reading Kristen-Paige Madonia’s Fingerprints of You, and certain passages strike home.

p.38: Inner voice of Lemon, a 17 year old pregnant girl who has never known her father, who resents her mother for moving her around so much as a child;

I remember our shitty little house with the stained carpet and the worn-out couch waiting for us on the other side of town, and I realized I’d spent most of my childhood being angry at her (Mom) for making us live like that, for not having enough money for us to rent a nicer home, and for refusing to pick a place to settle in. (End of Quote)

I have a similar situation in my family now, adult kids struggling with their resentment of moving a lot when they were young, of Mom being married multiple times and having boyfriends, of feeling when they were kids they didn’t have all the fancy stuff their peers had, because Mom bought thrift store Polos, cut the little guy on his horse off and sewed him onto their cheap shirts, because Mom pursued her art instead of a steady job. Mom’s hashed this out with them many times, but somehow it hasn’t been enough, though the kids have their own kids now, beautiful kids, like their parents, who are responsible and capable and articulate and are good people in large part because Mom has always provided for them, still provides for them, is committed to her children and grandchildren as if they were still her vulnerable little tots, which in many ways they are.

Lemon again, on p. 93, talking to her friend Emmy as they ride on a Greyhound bus across the country, to San Francisco to find her father;

“I wanted to believe she made the right choice for us,” I told her, “but I just couldn’t help being pissed off. It’s like sometimes I blame her for not making a family out of us, but then sometimes I know it was probably better that way,” I said. “He never came for me, so I figured he was a loser, the kind of guy who couldn’t handle being a real dad.” (End of Quote)

My wife’s son told me he’d reconciled with his father for not being there, that they’d never be friends, but they’d been able to talk about things in a way he couldn’t get his Mom to talk about things, and they’d come to terms. Yet I’ve been there more than once when the kids ganged up on their Mom, telling her how bad she was to them, how awful it was to live in a funky house full of art and artists, in the wrong part of town, how embarrassed they were that their mother made a living cleaning other people’s houses and traveling to art shows to sell her paintings, how she abandoned them when they were teenagers when she got an apartment close by and let her daughter’s boyfriend’s Aunt move into their house for a short while, and Mom apologizing and defending herself, until all any of us were doing was repeating ourselves. It’s hard for me to imagine what else could be said, what words from her could dig up and dissipate feelings that have been shunted aside since childhood. 

I haven”t finished Fingerprints of You yet, but I last night I read these passages to my wife, and I told her that I’m guessing Lemon comes to terms with her mother by the end of the novel, that she comes to realize that even her mother’s mistakes were the best she could do, and that part of becoming an adult means accepting responsibility for who you are, giving up the impulse to blame others for your emotions.

My parents always felt guilty for breaking up our home, for the protracted nastiness of the custody battle, for using us kids against the other parent. My sister and I dealt with the divorce in different, often unhealthy ways. My not blaming my parents may be the best thing I ever did for myself.

I hope to finish Fingerprints of You this evening, am anxious to see how Lemon grows up.

Forgotten Letter

For ten and one half years, a vision has haunted me: your stepdad on his deathbed at St Francis Hospital, I sitting at his side; your sister and her husband standing over him, placing their hands on him and praying aloud and speaking in tongues as they pressesd their convictions on my defenseless husband… while I wept but did not prevent or stop it. He writhed and moaned, the only method available to him to protest and defend himself. I know I should not have allowed it, should have stopped it, but…. Well, you know that, until his lung surgery and my brother’s call to her, your sister and I had not spoken for months. I was weak when he needed my strength most.
I do not want you or my brother or anyone else to have to protect me in a similar situation. It would be nearly impossible for you to do. My fear of alienationg my daughter now is exceeded only by my fear of being stripped of my last vestige of dignity while dying. I addresssed this letter to both of you in order to assure her that you, too, have been apprised of my wished in this matter.
‘Nuff said.

Two pages later.

Med don’t seem to do as well as women when widowed. I think it’s because they can’t let their guard down enought to form really intimate friendships. Women do. but men seem to feel they have to be tough and macho with each other, have to compete in everything. Women have since they were girls giggled together and exchanged secrets and wept on each other’s shoulders. Some of the saddest moments I can remember were those times when my husband literally wept tears over not having a close male friend. I tried to make him understand that a friendship cannot be based on on person being the ‘better’ or ‘higher’ than the other; that a freindship has to be based on mutual respect and love, not competition. There can be no ‘one-upmanship’ in a friendship. He heard me, but it just wasn’t in him. And he suffered for it. He loved my having deep friendships with women… and I think seeing those friendships made the contrast more poignant for him.

Tow more pages.

You know, my mother and I had a love-hate relationship that I’ve only tried to understand in the past several years from her viewpoint. While she was loving and there for us, and did a darned good job of raising and keeping her family (her and the kids, I mean) together, there was always a distance she maintained… with me, anyway. I remember when she was dying. I wished so much she could bring herself to tell me how she felt… not physically, but mentally and emotionally. But she couldn’t. I think, even in her dying, she felt compelled to protect us. She never acknowledged the word ‘cancer.’ I felt that, if she could just share her feelings with someone…me, of course… she might not feel so alone. Of course, I haven’t experienced what she was experiencing and realize that, no matter what, it was her experience. That no amount of ‘sharing’ it could ease it for her. We can’t share someone’s dying. Oh, I don’t know. But I do know that she seldom discussed with me her inner thoughts, beefore or during her last ordeal. Oh, there was one time I remember: she had come out to spend the evening with you and your sister and me. After you were in bed, she began to talk about me and my older brother’s father… for the first time in her life. “I’ve always loved him,” she said as she paced the family room floor. I was stunned to think that she carried that sad longing for thirty years and through three more (at the time) marriages.

Paragraph One- I had to walk out of the room after she died, after I told my relatives she didn’t want to be prayed over. They did it anyway.

Paragraph Two- The next sentence: “I’ve always admired your lifelong ability to form close friendships, honey. Of course, I’m not privy to your private moments with those friends, so I suppose I don’t really know how deep they are. I’ve always felt you and ____ had that sort of friendship.” She was right, but it’s the only one, except good friendships I’ve had with women. And the one close male friendship is possible because, despite my inner competitiveness, we don’t compete, never have. Just not what he does, and it allows space for a beautiful friendship.

Paragraph Three- Mom’s father abandoned the family when Mom was a few months old. They were living in a barn, Mom sleeping in the bottom drawer of a dresser. One time Mom and her brother located their Father and arranged a meeting. She didn’t show, and as far as I could ever tell, never regretted it.

Mom didn’t repeat my Grandmother’s mistake. Over three years of her failing health we spent countless hours and days together, stripping our feelings naked, without any fear of a question, without any hesitatiion to confront our frailties and mistakes. Death, love, hate, sexual abuse, abandonment, jealousy, nothing was off limits. I’ve never met anyone so brave. Thank you, Mom. You continue to teach and inspire me.


When we bought our old Victorian house, it was pretty run down; now, it is a showpiece in the neighborhood. I can buy any car I want, but I prefer to restore older models. My business affords me comforts I never imagined. My wife is not only beautiful, but extremely talented. My children and many grandchildren forgive my selfishness, and I am a failure.

We had a plan. In two years my wife quit working to pursue her art career full-time. In four years we saved enough money to last several years so I could pursue my dream. When I was thirteen I promised myself I would be a writer.

So in the middle of the night these words I scribble vie for space in my life. The familiar colors of spring turn to summer greens, the sunlight plays at my feet after navigating yellow leaves of poplars I planted in that season of promise. Their shade is pleasant now, but I hope for a lasting legacy, to arrest life and resist the vagaries of time.

My old friends ask: does someone misinterpreting your thoughts in a hundred years make up for the sleepless nights, the missed holidays, the loneliness? I am afraid to answer that my greatest moments of joy are shared with the page, that I have never experienced meaning that is not also metaphor.

A reader is a secret relation, like being able to pick your relatives instead of blind fate imposing its will. But what if no one is reading?

I have close friends, six brothers whose mother died.  She wrote a beautiful diary spanning forty years, and I am the only person who ever read it. Now I am her seventh son.

So I write, I think, I learn; and I answer the questions: How’s your book coming? When is it going to be published? I’d love to read it. Until no one knows whether to believe me anymore. Maybe all I am doing is watching old movies

A Funeral is a Family Reunion

A funeral is a family reunion
All the elements of love are there:
Deep Memories (Anger)
Surprise (Evolution)
Empathy (Emptiness)
Regret (Desire)
Sincerity (Latent Interpretation)
Ego (Agenda)
Forgiveness (Hierarchy)
Breaking Bread (Stirring the Pot)
Compliments (Envy)
Honesty (Novel Interpretation)

By now the sadness has passed, a half-life of reflection lingers, a posthumous friendship, mortality respected.
And a moment of joy may be as simple as forgetting the petty details, or waking up in the morning, not knowing why.