I’m sick of Trump.

I’m sick of talking about, thinking about and hearing about Donald-fucking-Trump. I know I’m not alone in this sentiment. The more I hear about him, the more I lose faith in humanity. He is a walking, talking shit show. Just when you think it can’t get any worse, somehow, he fucks around and does the seemingly impossible. So, I’m done. I quit. No more. Uncle. Whatever. I’m just so sick of Donald Trump.

I’m also sick of this lack of civility and empathy which has become so rampant in our society. I’m sick of people going out of their way to be rude. I’m sick of feeling anger from people who have no real justifiable reason to be angry. I’m sick of people being afraid of change. It’s exhausting, really. I feel as though our society is being held back or that we’re regressing. It is maddening and depressing.

I’ll be honest, I’m having a hard time seeing the proverbial glass as half full today (if you couldn’t already tell). And in the interests of continued honesty, I’m having a hard time writing this blog post.

I’m especially done with people who make excuses for the orange buffoon. If these people can’t tell they have been played, and badly at that, then what hope do we have of convincing them? Perhaps there is a sliver of hope, perhaps.

You’ll forgive me if I don’t hold my breath, cause you know, I’ll suffocate and DIE.

High School History and Obliviousness

Long title, eh? So, the other day I thought about my high school history teacher whose name I shall not mention here for two reasons. The first is that I don’t remember her name, which as you’ll soon see is a good thing. The second reason is that even if I did remember her name, I wouldn’t sully my tongue or fingertips, in this case, using it. She was one ditzy lady though, so we’ll call her Ditz.

I forgot when the event in question happened exactly. High school was over 20 years ago, mind you. But I remember being in world history and a conversation we had in class veered into race relations, and I distinctly remember Ditz speaking about a student who once asked her what it was like to be white. Her response?

“I’m not white, I’m pink and beige.”

Yeah, I still remember the headache from rolling my eyes too hard. Yes, Ditz said that. What the student meant was, “what’s it like to have privilege?” or “what’s it like to be a part of the dominant culture?” The thing about being in a dominant culture is that one isn’t supposed to know it or be aware of their place in it. With that in mind, I wasn’t at all surprised by what Ditz said. Remember, she’s ditzy as fuck (assuming she’s still alive. She was pretty old then.)

What I also remember was speaking out at that moment by telling her his question carried more weight than she thought. I told her his question meant, what is it like to be the dominant culture? What does it mean to go into a store and not suffer the indignity of the sales associate bringing up the store’s layaway program–assuming they don’t stare at you as if you’ll spontaneously combust or rob them of every valuable item they have (and let’s face it, these examples are quite mundane compared to other more lethal instances)? The most insulting part was that on some primordial level, I think she knew that, felt uncomfortable about the question and deflected. I have no proof, but I think that’s what happened.

For the rest of the day, a friend (whose name I forget) and I spent our last period making fun of her. It was a fun diversion from the boring computer programming class we had as an elective. But what depressed me then and now is that there are plenty of Ditzes running around then and now. Most people don’t even think about their privileges. I’m a man, and with that gender and sex (yes, there is a difference) designation, I have certain advantages that my female counterparts simply do not have. The government isn’t telling me what to do with my dick. I don’t have to worry about earning less than my male contemporaries (cause I am male, duh). I don’t worry about some lunatic jumping from the shadows to rape me on my way to my car at night. I have no worries about not being taken seriously if I’m angry. And being called a bitch is no worry if I’m ever ambitious or persistent in what I want.

I’ve got a penis, and because of that, I’ve got it made. I would be dishonest if I did not acknowledge that.  And, I’d be a fucked up person if I did nothing to rectify this inequity.

Ditz is (or was, remember, she might be dead by now) white and with that comes its own advantages. I’ve already mentioned two, so I won’t recount more. What I will say is this, no one wants to admit they are privileged. No one wants to acknowledge that one’s achievements might have been possible not because of one’s hard work and dedication, but because of what one looks like. The idea of privilege destroys any hope of a meritocracy.

I doubt very seriously if Ditz learned or made an effort to understand. She didn’t that day and she probably hasn’t now or didn’t before she died, assuming she’s dead. Remember, she was old–OLD.

Now in this current political climate, and with virtually everyone at each other’s throats, we need to contend with the vice of privilege more than ever. The fear of losing it is why we have Cheetolini in charge now. C’mon, you know who Cheetolini is, don’t make me say it.

If Ditz had children or grandchildren, here’s hoping they woke up or at least they are waking up; and isn’t that where everyone is? We’re all in the process of waking up.

Expectations

I feel the need to get some things off my chest. Please excuse the cliché, but I’m in no mood for verbosity at the moment. Also, please do not call out the ironic hypocrisy of claiming to not be in the mood for verbosity while using a word like verbosity in the same sentence. As you’ll read onwards, my friends, I make it a point to be “wordy.”

Before beginning in earnest, let me get the obvious out of the way right away. This is a post about race. If this bothers you, please click that X button at the top right-hand corner of your web browser. Thanks. Now that I’ve vacated the bigots let’s begin.

As a person of color, as a black man, I make it a point to have a full and capacious vocabulary. This is part of a neurosis that I have about speech. See, I am the unfortunate recipient of a stereotype unfairly attributed to a genetic mutation for which I did not ask, but nonetheless of which I am proud. Or to be frank, people think black folks are incapable of speaking English correctly.

I cannot begin to tell you how this affected me throughout college. But since that is the purpose of this post, let’s attempt the impossible.

I graduated from Cal State University Long Beach with a degree in English with an emphasis in creative writing. I double majored in film with a focus on critical theory. In nearly all of my classes, with the notable and obvious exception for a black studies course, I took in my first year, I have been the ONLY BLACK STUDENT, or if the fates were kind, one of two. This was nerve-wracking because in many ways I felt out of my element. I went from a setting where most of the students looked like me (I’m talking high school, here) to a setting where I was a distinct minority. I attended Leuzinger High School. This school was mainly Latinx and black. White people were the minority, perhaps not as small as I remember, but there weren’t many of them in direct contrast to black and brown students. Before going forward, I want to stress that in no way am I saying, insinuating or inferring that Long Beach State wasn’t or isn’t diverse. It is, but it is also largely a white campus. In my time attending, it was just as racially tumultuous as the country seems now. But that’s another topic for another occasion. The point that I make here is that I always felt as if I was put on the spot. I suffered racist jokes that shielded themselves from criticism because they were jokes. I had people ask me stupid fucking questions about Compton, I’m from Hawthorne. But the worst was always having to speak with diction and articulation. The worst was always having to write that way, too. If I ended a sentence with a preposition, I was toast.

See, I am the unfortunate recipient of a stereotype unfairly attributed to a genetic mutation for which I did not ask, but nonetheless of which I am proud. Or to be frank, people think black folks are incapable of speaking English correctly.

I entrusted this information to a friend of mine a while back. I expressed to him how the pressure of ALWAYS WRITING AND SPEAKING IN A STATELY MANNER felt like I was putting on a show, a different face. I also felt like a fraud, because it was in college where I learned the most about English. I felt as though I should have learned this in high school. This isn’t to say I wasn’t taught. In my teachers’ defense, I ditched A LOT. No, I mean a lot! I was completely unprepared for college. My friend told me that everyone felt that way and my experience isn’t a unique one. As an aside, the beautiful thing about being white (my friend is white) is that one tends to have a singular consciousness or this uncanny ability to see the world in one way and the precious (yes, I’m catty) assumption that everyone else feels the same as you do! But the point my friend missed is that it is different. He admitted he’s never felt stupid or uneducated if he did not speak with absolute coherence. He’s admitted that he does not know what it is like to be the only white person anywhere. But even now, my white friend won’t acknowledge that he has the liberty of individuality, and I am burdened with representation. If he speaks in an uneven manner, he can rest assured that the world will only judge him. If I take the floor in an unintelligible manner, I can rest assured it will be affixed to my entire group.

Truth be told, I’ve been editing this post as I write it. It might read in an entirely batshit way, but there it is.

I learned in college that America rewards white mediocrity and harbors unrealistic expectations of people of color. This isn’t to say that all white students attending college now, or ever, are or were mediocre. In fact, I would say I shouldn’t have to express what should be obvious by implication, but because of whiteness’ demand for individuality, one must preface any critique against whiteness, with “not all white people.” People of color are rarely given such courtesy, and when it happens, it is often begrudgingly, as if someone has to rip it out of them.

As an aside, the beautiful thing about being white (my friend is white) is that one tends to have a singular consciousness or this uncanny ability to see the world in one way and the precious (yes, I’m catty) assumption that everyone else feels the same as you do!

So now, at the age of 39, I am constantly ensuring that everything I write or say is grammatically correct, stylistically salient (whatever the fuck that means) and most importantly, coherent. This is a pressure marginalized groups go through daily. Some adapt to it better than others, but it’s there. If you’re the first black person to do anything, win a world series, win an Oscar, cure cancer, create an all-cure panacea that wipes out disease as we know it, there is tremendous pressure on you to NOT SCREW UP. This is impossible because like everyone else, black folks are human. Humans screw up, it’s what we’re good at. Fuck, I ended a sentence with a preposition.

I am working on not having such an outlook. A proper criticism of such an outlook is that I should get over myself. People aren’t that hung up on language. We live in an era of the word, bae. BAE! But it isn’t that easy. A downside to de facto segregation is that we don’t know each other. We have these ideas and these beliefs which are born from ignorance about each other which are rarely steeped in any truth. So when one of us is the only one of us in a group, we become the quintessential minority and a representative of our people. Anything we say or do can be used to excuse poor behavior, “Well my black friend doesn’t care if I say the N-word” or “I’ve dated a black woman in college, so I can’t be racist.”  This is how the burden of representation works. It’s like Atlus holding the world on his back. It is a burden that white people never go through, at least not to the extent that it can affect their lives in a profound manner that it does for people of color. My chances of getting a job rest on how well I communicate, but I must be ten times better than my white counterpart just to be considered.

I expressed in prior posts how the concept of race is killing us. 19 Arabs with box cutters and sticks up each of their asses later and America thinks every Muslim is a secret ISIS member. When Timothy McVeigh blew up the Oklahoma federal building, the band played on. Nothing to see here, folks. Just white folks being crazy is all. Wait, is that a Muslim going to that airport? Get him!

This double standard is pathological and sick. But it is a double standard woven into the tapestry of America, it is the thread, it is the needle. It is the ink, dried on the Constitution. It is a shield that protects whiteness from criticism. It must end.

My fear is that if and when it does, and I’m still alive to see it, I will still carry the knee-jerk expectation that people really are that attuned to my speech. I fear that if I speak incomprehensibly or don’t place a comma where one should be placed, any chances of anyone else who looks as I do to be taken half as seriously as I wish to be considered in situations such as those will be ruined. Sorry for the wordiness. You know what, I’m not. Deal with it. Brevity was never a high point anyway.

 

Resistance

While attending Cal State Long Beach for my undergrad, I joined an interactive theater troupe specializing in improvisational performance confronting social issues such as sexual assault prevention and anti-racism. At the risk of sounding like an arrogant ass, one could argue that I helped create this theater/peer-education troupe conveniently named, InterACT (yes, it’s spelled that way on purpose). It was in 2000, and I was a junior in college. I had recently transferred to Long Beach State from El Camino, and I met the man responsible for creating the troupe, Dr. Marc D. Rich. We had humble beginnings as we weren’t even a class yet. We were just dedicated students and a professor, who wanted to change the world–as cliché as that sounds. I think we did.

The point of InterACT was to be less of a traditional theater troupe and more of an interactive peer education troupe. Our work was inspired by Augusto Boal. Our performances were unique in that we treated our audience not as spectators, but spec-actors. This meant that after a performance, we would ask the audience if they approved of the resolution. When the answer was no, and inevitably it was–more on that in a minute–we would invite people from the audience to join the stage and try a different approach or go for a different ending.

An example of this requires that I give you a brief (brevity ain’t my strong point) explanation of how our performances played out. During my time, we had two major shows. One dealt with sexual assault prevention and the other dealt with racism. The sexual assault prevention performance was always interactive, whereas the racism one wasn’t so much (there were parts of it which were interactive, but nothing on the scale of our sexual assault prevention performance). We never reenacted any violence on stage, but it was always hinted that the protagonist was sexually assaulted by her boyfriend. There were two parts to the performance. One with three guys, all drunk; two of which are ragging on one because that one’s girlfriend is out late without him. This leads to a scary encounter when she arrives home with her friends. The lead antagonist, as he is called among us troupe members is angry and takes his anger out on his girlfriend, who later confides in her friends what he did to her in the second scene. Each scene ends with our story’s protagonist either being assaulted or retraumatized by her friends who berate her for not calling them when it happened.

To touch on my earlier point, whenever we asked the audience if they approved of the original ending to both scenes, the answer was always a resounding, “NO!” So we gave audience members brave enough chances to come onstage and change the ending. This meant stepping into the shoes of one of the characters. This meant coming up with strategies to prevent sexual assault.

Since my time with the troupe, InterACT has become nationally recognized. They have led workshops on sexual assault prevention in the military and in college campuses across the country. I’m proud to say I had a hand in that, however small.

This is resistance. I am reminded of what Jennifer Lopez said during the Grammys. She quoted Toni Morrison and stressed that now was the time for artists to speak out. She is right. Now IS the time for artists to speak out. Now is the time for writers to write and painters to paint. Now is the time for more conscious rap music and Rock and Roll. Now is the time for actors and athletes to speak out and keep speaking. Now is the time for dreamers to dream and lovers to love. The root and heart of this resistance must be love. It’s all for nothing otherwise.

Now InterACT is needed more than ever.

If you want to know more about InterACT, click the link which will take you to their webpage.  Keep resisting my friends. As I said in my last (and hastily written) post, we’ve got a long four years ahead of us.

 

The shape of things to come. 

So, it happened–the unthinkable. Trump is president. Trump. Is. President. Let that sink in. Take all the time you need. Done? Good, cause we’ve got work to do. 

If you peruse the current Whitehouse website, you’ll notice that climate change, human rights causes such as civil rights and LGBTQIA issues are conspicuously absent. But not to worry, Melania Trump has jewelry on offer from QVC – so there’s that. 

Oh, but one of the pressing issues for the newly minted orange overlord is to defend the honor of our men and women in blue. Yes, standing up for law enforcement is an issue. Because killing all those innocent black folks can really wear you down sometimes. 

And, his first act as overlord, he’s suspended the FHA premium cut that Obama set up to assist lower income families in affording a home. The man hasn’t been president for more than a day and he is already fucking you. You voted for it, Amerikkka. Bend over and enjoy it. 

Our country is now in the hands of a thin-skinned, megalomaniacal, authoritarian despot–who has access to the nuclear codes! 

Mourn if you must, but then pick yourself up and get busy fighting in anyway you can. Donate to Planned Parenthood, the NAACP’S legal defense fund, the National Resources Defense Fund. March and protest. Whatever you must do.

We have a long four years ahead of us, friends. 

In Defense of the Firebrand

Ideas don’t have feelings. Ideas aren’t people and should never take precedence over people. No one should ever die for having an idea, irrespective of however bad it is. Ideas can and must be critically eviscerated and viciously mocked if they are bad or even worse, deadly. Religion is an idea. It is a very bad idea. It is an idea which has held society back, celebrated willful ignorance and enables infantile wishful thinking. Religion should have been abandoned a long time ago.

I am vicious in my critique of religion. I will never relent in that endeavor. I understand that religion is deeply held for many people; it was once deeply held for me. I acknowledge for many, these ideas are sacred and must be respected, I once thought the same. But ideas won’t take umbrage when one such as I obliterates them with logic and reason. I don’t pretend to be an expert in logic and reason, but I like to think my newfound skepticism has sharpened my deadened critical thinking skills (I used to think 9/11 was an inside job–ugh).

In a prior post, I explained how I became an atheist.  It was a long, hard and frankly depressing process. I wouldn’t want it any other way, though, because it made me who I am now. The good and the bad were necessary to temper my thinking and engender within me the desire to be rational. That said, I believe there are two types of atheists. There are those who are empathetic and understanding of people’s beliefs. They go out of their way to show deference and respect to beliefs that are, frankly, barbaric.

I’m not one of those atheists.

I am the Firebrand. Currently, I am reading David Silverman’s Fighting God: An Atheist Manifesto for a Religious World. I find his take on atheist activism refreshing. He is brash, he is loud, he is brutally honest. He is a Firebrand.

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David Silverman, President of American Atheists. Photo Credit: American Atheist.

Firebrands don’t respect religion or any dogma that limits human ingenuity, compassion and progress. The three major religions of western society are Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. All three teach bigotry, hate and encourage scientific ignorance. You can probably imagine how well that goes over for me when I tell people this to their faces. No one likes an iconoclast, but some icons need to be destroyed. Remember, ideas don’t have feelings.

I honor people’s right to believe whatever they wish. When I say religion needs to die, I say this with the knowledge that this is simply my opinion and that as much as I wish for religion to take the long walk, I cannot and would not take away anyone’s rights to believe. But I never said I had to treat religion with kid gloves. Religion enjoys an unearned privilege in society. It demands respect where it would give none. It demands belief whereas it gives no proof. It demands absolution of criticism, whereas it criticizes everyone. Religion teaches us to rely on faith instead of reason. For this alone, religion is dangerous. So why is it that saying something like this in a public forum causes so much controversy? As I already stated, religion is fiercely defended against criticism because it is a deeply held belief. Humans are nothing if not creatures of habit. Much of what we do now are things we’ve done for centuries. We follow tradition because tradition is safe. We forget to learn from history, however, that tradition dictates that times always change.

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Pope Francis. Photo Credit: The Telegraph

Firebrands are assholes. I admit this. I am an asshole. Assholes expel shit, they remove bodily wastes. In this graphic sense, we’re necessary. I try very hard to be an asshole to bad ideas and not to the people who believe them. I’m not always successful, but I try. I will remain an asshole to bad ideas because assholes make people think. And, as Silverman puts it in his book, the asshole makes the empath look good by comparison. It’s a win-win for the atheist community because bad ideas are condemned and those who are offended often take solace in the company of more empathetic skeptics who listen, offer nods of agreement and then ask questions which poke holes in the believer’s logic (the Socratic method).

I am often criticized for showing disrespect to religion. I simply do not believe it deserves respect. Remember, religion is an idea and ideas don’t have feelings. Do you respect the idea that homosexuals should be put to death, because the Bible and Qur’an certainly do? Do you respect the idea that one can own slaves or sell one’s daughter into marriage if she is raped and her rapist pays her father? The Bible and Qur’an were written when women were property. How can books written in a time of such barbarity offer any contemporary wisdom in the present? Sure, there are timeless anecdotes and lessons from the scriptures which are positive. But if either book gets anything factually right, it does so by mistake; or it speaks on things which would’ve already been universally known by most people within that time period.

Religion is why the state of Kentucky can use tax payer money to build a replica Ark and be treated as a museum and given non profit status, all while employing discriminatory hiring practices. Religion is why people can continually deny climate change, vote for measures which restrict a woman’s right to chose (Ohio did, punk ass Ohio), and even control who can and who cannot get married. Virtually every religion preaches that its right and the others are wrong. The only sensible conclusion is that they’re all wrong.

Imagine a world free of disease, a world of longevity. Imagine a world where technology allows us to explore the cosmos, live a life of leisure and pursue learning. Imagine a world where racism, sexism, homophobia and misogyny are relics of a bygone era, remembered only for the purposes of not allowing them again. This is the world religion has robbed from all of us.

Damn right, I’m a Firebrand.

Top 10 reasons why it’s hard to talk to some white people about race.

Talking about race, racism and the structure of white supremacy is always hard. It’s an uncomfortable subject to broach. It “rocks the boat” as it were; it’s a major buzzkill and can seriously destroy any good vibe. I get it. It is especially difficult to talk about racism with some white people. Feelings of resentment and bitterness bubble and rise to the surface of nearly all race debates. But as much as it is uncomfortable, it is necessary. As I have said in my previous posts, race is killing us. It isn’t enough to not be racist. One must do so much more than avoid using ethnic slurs or have friends of a different ethnicity. One must be an active ally if things will ever change. So please do not read this list as an indictment against white people in general. Rather this should be read as areas which could stand some improvement. So without further adieu, I present the top 10 reasons why it is hard to discuss race with some white people

10. Whenever racism is brought up, some white folks get defensive. It’s almost as if they think PoC (People of Color) are calling THEM racists whenever the subject is broached.
9. Some white people bring up their personal and individual problems when white privilege is discussed, as if those problems somehow mitigate their privilege or remove it altogether.
8. Since white folks don’t EVER have to think about race, they have a singular consciousness and often consider complaints against racism as hyperbolic.
7. Some white people compare the Black Lives Matter movement to the Nazis or the KKK (I’m looking at you, Tomi Lahren).
6. White supremacy LOVES to pathologize the black community. So whenever police brutality is discussed, a common counter argument is so-called, “black-on-black” crime.
5. (I can’t believe this one is still used) Some racist whites don’t believe they’re racists because they have one or two black friends.
4. Some white people have no regard for culture outside of their own, so Native American headdresses are prime real estate for Halloween costumes. Black face, too.
3. White fragility.
2. Broaching the uncomfortable subject of white supremacy usually leads to some white folks wanting to discuss “black supremacy” and if there is such a thing, how it’s just as bad, if not worse, than white supremacy.
1. Some white people think they are more oppressed than PoC and that PoC are bigger racists than they are.

Does your head hurt yet?