The Ties That Bind

By the time you read this, Unity Day 2018, celebrated on the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King will be in the past. As I contemplate the meaning of “unity” in this time of strident discord, a few thoughts emerge. Here is what Unity Day means to me.

 

A friend of mine who is a biologist has a t-shirt that reads “99% Chimp.” While the number is somewhat dated and the reality more complex than what can fit on a shirt, the point remains valid. We certainly share a great deal of similar DNA with our distant cousins. If that’s the case, imagine what the percentage must be if we compare two humans. 99.999%?

Which two humans? Any two of the 7.5 billion on Earth. Regardless of “race” or “ethnicity” or virtually any other variable. In fact, Scientific American argues that there is so much commonality across all humans that, for example, two people of European ancestry (where my ancestors come from) may be more genetically similar to an Asian person that they are to each other. “Race” is pretty much meaningless, at least to biologists.

This certainly isn’t a new idea. Scientific American also writes that “more than 100 years ago, American sociologist W.E.B. Du Bois was concerned that race was being used as a biological explanation for what he understood to be social and cultural differences between different populations of people. He spoke out against the idea of “white” and “black” as discrete groups, claiming that these distinctions ignored the scope of human diversity.”

Modern science clearly leans toward Du Bois, with the mainstream scientific belief being that race is a social construct without biological meaning. In other words, it has less to do with biology and more to do with perception. But historically, we have certainly made a big deal about the 0.001% that separates us.

It is no wonder why. Politicians constantly highlight and exaggerate our differences for political gain. Differences then become a cause for concern, fear, and even anger. Look at what we’ve managed to politicize at one point or another: race, religion, gender, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, where you live, and so on. The politics of “the other” is a constant refrain in our political history. Our leaders should unite us, not divide us. But divide us they do.

I, and those like me, certainly am not without blame. My columns can sometimes be polarizing. While they come from the heart, and promote an agenda I honestly believe is worth considering, my critiques of the beliefs and actions of others certainly do not serve to unite. They certainly do not highlight our areas of agreement. Certainly, it is a legitimate use of the power of the pen to point out strengths and weaknesses of various political proposals. It is certainly within the realm of responsible action to advocate for the betterment of society. But it is not acceptable or responsible to write or speak with the sole purpose to divide us for the sake of political expediency or electoral gain. We should step up to the line, but not over it.

All this is to say that it seems to me that politicians, columnists and many others exaggerate our differences and tend to minimize our similarities. So, to me Unity Day serves as a reminder to not do that. After all, it was Dr, King who said we must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.

As we move into yet another election season, I certainly hope we can all take to heart the message of Unity Day: Pay more attention to the 99.999% and less to the 0.001%. We tend to forget we are all brothers and sisters. Our differences are trivial, our similarities great. Let’s not forget that either.

Comfortable Lies

 

“I am tired of comfortable lies,” writes Roxane Gay for the New York Times after the person who should represent the United States of America to the world referred to certain countries–countries inhabited by mostly black and brown people–”shithole nations.”

And reading Roxane Gay’s article, that phrase jumped out at me. Fellow white folks, let me talk to you all for a second. It’s time we all become tired of comfortable lies. It’s time we stopped whitewashing Martin Luther King Jr., stopped holding him up as a darling of the white moderate when the same complaints you hear (and perhaps have made) about the NFL protests and the Black Lives Matter marches were leveled against Dr. King and his followers just one generation ago.

We have made progress, but to say we are living in a post-racial nation is a comfortable lie. The progress we have made is small compared to what it could have been if at key moments in our history we had turned toward the right thing, toward honoring the promises we made as a nation, toward honoring the amendments we passed for our constitution. But time and time again, with red-lining, with gerrymandering, with “law and order” candidates, we have broken our promises and turned toward injustice time and time again. The coded language allows active systemic racism to be hidden from “nice” white people who don’t have to look deeper because it doesn’t immediately affect us.

But make no mistake, it does affect us. King wrote in his iconic and powerful “Letter from a Birmingham Jail:”

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.”

We cannot be the United States of America, we cannot claim the moral high-ground, we cannot in good conscience interfere with another nation until we have faced the reality that so many within our shores do not breathe the free air equally.

The idea that the problem of systemic racism is too big a problem for any one person to tackle is a comfortable lie, one I told myself for many years until the death of Trayvon Martin and the miscarriage of justice that allowed his murderer to walk free shook me to my core and sent me on a journey to figure out why in a country that makes so many claims of morality and justice and superiority could allow a child to be shot to death walking home and not do something to bring justice. And in the years that have followed, there were so many more. Tamir Rice. Jordan Davis. Michael Brown. Jordan Edwards. And then there are those who were adults but still snuffed out. Like Eric Garner and Sandra Bland. And there are so many–so, so many–more, and there has been no justice.

With each of these incidents, I was driven deeper, to learn more, to understand why this happens in our country. And it’s not that it started happening, it has been this way all along, the only thing that has changed are the video cameras and social media.

So what can we do?

We start by educating ourselves. There is much out there available just by googling, reading, and listening. Let questions lead to action. One of the biggest things we as while folks can do on a daily basis is to talk to other white people about racism. We can learn together, we can change us, because we are the system. We change ourselves, we help each other change, and then we send better candidates to office on all levels from our school boards to the White House.

And if we truly want to honor Dr. King and his legacy today, we can commit to being the allies that all too often white people haven’t been in the struggle for true equality. The idea that it’s enough to just be kind, to just be not personally racist is a comfortable lie. We as white people need to be actively anti-racist, or we are complicit in and contributing to the problem.

As King put it:

“We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.”

References and resources:

“Letter from a Birmingham Jail” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

No One is Coming to Save Us from Trump’s Racism, Roxane Gay

Artist Creates “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” Memes to Stop People from Whitewashing MLK

I was invited to give a TED Talk and then asked to cut “Black Lives Matter” from it

 

Saving the DREAM

The vast majority of us that claim the title “American” trace our origins to some other country, and usually, another continent.

Since the birth of our nation, we have grown and become stronger because of those who have sought to join all the things we have said we stand for, even though we often fall far short of the goals and standards we claim we believe.

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” It’s a beautiful sentiment and yet I wonder if it skews our idea of what it looks like when people immigrate to this country. Often because of what they escaped or left behind, they are the highest achievers, the hardest workers, the ones who start with the least and achieve great things. Immigrants are not permanent refugees of some sort taking up space and resources, they are new citizens, bursting with possibility and ideas.

Obviously what has this on my mind is all the news today surrounding DACA. DACA was always meant to be a stop-gap, a temporary solution to an urgent need. Repealing it with no replacement leaves hundreds of thousands of our fellow residents in a terrible and terrifying position. The DREAM Act is a solid idea, a way to transition people into citizenship, something we need more–not less–of. Ninety-one percent of dreamers are currently employed. Over 15,000 of them live in Tennessee. This is not some abstract population, these are your neighbors. Their kids might go to school with your kids.

The implications of letting DACA lapse are far reaching. Some states will see major economic impacts from the Dreamers losing their status and possibly their jobs. It has implications for schools as children of Dreamers are enrolled in K-12 programs around the country and parents may fear sending their children to school if they are facing the threat of deportation.

Which brings me to the specifics of why we need a clean DREAM Act. This Act is a stabilizing force for our society. This allows the residents in our communities to take that breath of freedom we promised, to live without the stress of their statuses being up in the air, subject to the whims of whoever is in the executive branch. It lets them continue their lives, their jobs, their business, and continue with their schooling so they can build lives for themselves. They literally ask nothing of their neighbors except the right to stay and call themselves “citizen.” Congress must work together and actually make a clean DREAM Act this time. 

These are our neighbors, fellow Americans in all but a technicality of law, a technicality that needs to be fixed.

Put yourselves in their shoes for a moment. Feel their courage, their fear, the stress, the uncertainty. Feel all that and then reach out to your members of congress in both the House and Senate and tell them why you think it’s vital to the future of our country that they work on making a clean DREAM act a reality.

The main people who have been fighting this fight to date are the young people affected by  the decisions. Last night’s ruling may have caused a mess, but overall, I think it was a victory for those young people who have fought so hard–harder than most who call themselves Americans–just for the right to live here. It’s time America started making good on it’s promises.

 

References and more reading:

Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition

DACA injunction: What a federal judges ruling means for ‘Dreamers’

DACA Recipients by State

MAP: How Ending DACA Could Play out across States

Shutdown/DACA state of play: A ‘mess’ with a major twist

Republicans can’t avoid Trump’s wall promises in DACA talks

US Immigration: DACA and the Dreamers explained

What is DACA and why is it ending?

If Trump wants a ‘Bill of Love,’ he should pass a clean Dream Act

Are we refreshed? Are we rejuvenated? Are we together?

Now the holidays are over and it’s time for the new year of activism, phone calls, planning sessions, knocking on doors and revitalizing each other.  I hope everyone has a had a chance to recoup accordingly.

2018 is a pivotal year for turning TN blue and we need all hands on deck. Look how close we came with Mary Alice Carfi in TN-7; a flawless grassroots level working together at it’s best! But with success comes areas of improvement.

Recently, I posted a comment to an opponent of Diane Black’s uncontested TN-6 House seat. Not that I expected much commentary. However, suffice it to say how surprised I was when the majority comments I received was from BLUE supporters commenting on my font use!  And frankly, my feelings were hurt.  Folks, come on! Doesn’t anyone remember that awful day in November, 2016 when we all wandered around, wondering “what do we do next?” For me, it was getting plugged into Indivisible Sumner where citizens of Sumner County came together organizing and advocating for the values of diversity, social justice, and environmental conservation. Together, We stand INDIVISIBLE. Nowhere does it say “divide”. Everyone in our grassroots effort of Sumner Indivisible comes with an important skill set. And every opportunity to use these is not only welcome but very appreciated in an appropriate non-condemning way. But let’s not use these skill sets in the minutia of public social media. Come to meetings, share your expertise with the group so we can all benefit, not just rely on the keyboard hijacking that can easily offend a like-minded person while adding fodder for the opponent. Correcting one’s font choice on a public Facebook page is not a great example of advancing a message of unity and professionalism.  In order to be attractive to our mission, we all have to change to be inclusive and inviting.

We have so much to do to prepare for the 2018 midterm elections. We must be prepared to fight for Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. We must find Democrats for House TN-6 and get the support out again for Mary Alice Carifi for TN-7 (which she almost won!). We must keep our eye on the attack to continue to erode the ACA mandates, Planned Parenthood. We must get CHIP fully funded for our children.  We must be prepared for voter registration and to get out the vote. Also, we must hold our own Tennessee Statehouse’s feet to the fire as they always attempt to send some zingers of ridiculous legislation to keep us on our toes. We must do this TOGETHER and ORGANIZED, not singularly, tearing each other down.

If you haven’t already, get involved with the Tennessee Justice Center where they will be holding a Bring It Home rally on January 9th for opening day of our State legislature (see their Facebook page for more info.)

Join an Indivisible group like ours at www.indivisiblesumner.org.

I guess what I’m asking is: let’s use use our talents that are in our wheelhouse , together, in a constructive way, a way that will truly flip Tennessee blue.  We are organized, We are mighty. Together,  WE can  get things done!