Rising Tide

I’ve spent the last few days in quite a bubble of privilege.  I have had the opportunity to move across country (3000+ miles) with an animal, in comfort and ease only being required to do the last 419 miles of actual driving myself; and even that was a sentimental choice based on wanting to see my father before I start my ministerial journey.  I have been able to rent and outfit an apartment in one of the most prime locations in the world for someone with my career and personal goals and I am now within 10 – 25 miles of some of my most cherished family and longtime friends.  I am healthy, I have a personal vehicle, total and easy personal mobility and an entire community of people eager to meet me.  If this is not privilege, I don’t know what is.

At the same time, I know some people think of moving as an incredible burden.  They get frustrated by the idea of packing and things maybe getting lost or broken.  They get angry at airplane schedules or deliveries that don’t happen on time.  They are confused by cable vs internet or bundle, cel phone carriers, utilities and how to register to vote.  In the end, they stand there looking at all of their belongings once they are unloaded and think “it will never happen.”

Here in Cambridge, MA I am surrounded by a mix of these different energies.  August and September are times in the United States when people move and transition.  It is the beginning of school for many people.  I have several friends who are with their children as they begin college in other parts of the country.  I have others who are experiencing that very first and sometimes tearful day of school as the small being who was only a couple of years ago too young to use the bathroom themselves, waves goodbye for the first time.  But all of these, the ability to move, to change jobs, to begin new learning…the actual day to day manifestations of freedom…these are the principle privileges in which we live in the United States.  This is why some people still risk everything to get here from abroad and why others risk everything to stay here despite a history that continues to leave them behind or erase them altogether.

Right now in Texas, people are suffering.  Rising water (the very element we need to survive) is threatening life and property and will change people’s lives for years to come.  What is more, too many of these people survived the horrors of Hurricane Katrina as well.  But the real disaster is not just in the rising water.  The real disaster is that it took Mother Nature to wake the rest of us up (again) to those people who don’t have insurance, or ways to escape, or healthcare to heal the injuries and illnesses and their every day suffering.  Why do we only justify providing help to people in need when the help meter reaches our distress threshold?  Why aren’t we listening to these communities in the first place?

I’m sick of rehashing the election, but Trump didn’t win Harris County, Texas for a reason.  The city is 67% non-white with a median household income of $56k.  If he was really interested in making a difference in this “disaster”, he wouldn’t have done what amounted to a campaign stop before the worst of the impact was known or had even hit. Instead, he would wait until the water recedes and then go to the places where people who had the most to lose by having the least to begin with actually are.  In the meantime, he’s much better off making sure his government is functional enough and listening closely enough to people on the ground to actually mobilize useful rescue and medical teams to make a difference.  No tragedy is about baseball caps and stilettos, it is about real life and real death.

As I sit here enjoying a last few days of my privilege bubble giving deep gratitude before embarking on the most difficult and rewarding career of my already wonderful and blessed life, I’m making a list of strategies and priorities that I hope to publicly hold our elected officials to.  Top of the list is demanding that government be aware and accountable to the most vulnerable before that vulnerability has a chance to be fatal.  The number is not yet as high as Katrina, but even one life lost due to the bare vulnerability of poverty in the path of increasingly extreme weather, is too many.  It is our great shame to dishonor any of the people who die from neglect or politicized agendas by simply showing up for a photo op and then turning away once the sun comes out.  We need to address the problems of poverty and housing as the disasters that they are before a hurricane or earthquake makes them catastrophes.  We have the tools in our legislative process and we must use them.

The closing words of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address seem a fitting reminder for the principles we as a nation are called to defend:

“It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.  It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that the government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.” – Gettysburg Address, November 19, 1863

Slogan to the Right

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Lincoln Inauguration (incomplete Capitol) 1861

Four words that are
Not for all
Cast a pall
Build a wall
Straight and tall
Where only one side is right.

Four words that
Conjure an era
Make nostalgia dearer
Allay misplaced fear
Make it clear
There is only one way to be right.

These same four words
Erase black authority
Deny brown integrity
Evade gender autonomy
Remove migrant empathy
Define only one kind of right.

Four words,
one man,
300 million dreams,
An unending struggle to be “right”
That in the end will leave us all
Alone and afraid in a dark and starless night.

– ALD

75 Years

b2fccd81-8508-45a1-b523-9482647e4895-983-00000647e60f3850_tmpAs a Black person,  I have my own cultural nightmares, yet every time I think of the era that descended on this country after December 7, 1941, I am physically ill.  A president like no other before or since, responded to attack with a rhetoric and acts based on unsubstantiated racialized fear, suppression and hatred aimed at innocent citizens.

75 years later, on the day that set those events in motion a man who has claimed the presidency based on racialized fear, suppression and hatred aimed at innocent citizens was named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year.

Apparently, America does not want to change.

Today I honor the men and women who lost their lives as civilians and as service members, and all of those who served during WWII before and after the United States entered that global conflict.  But most of all, I honor the Japanese Americans who suffered in this country…their country, under the tyranny of targeted oppression.  That period and our recent election both lay bare the perverse failing that still plagues this nation. Racism.

It’s Not About Race…

“It’s not about race” they say.
…my stomach turns
The sight of those self satisfied faces
Spinning politics on parade
…my heart burns
Not because they are white
But because they use the power of white
To turn me inside out always telling me,
“Its not about race”.
Yet race is always their final solution
To every problem or conflict.
It’s not about race…
It was a war between the states
It’s not about race…
It was about properly cultivating the land
It’s not about race…
It was about national security
It’s not about race…
It was about jobs and feeding families.
No, it’s never about race,
And its always about race.
So I rock in silence, too spent to weep
Too chilled to push back
Holding myself
Convulsing
From the poison I’ve been force fed
Over and over again
“It’s not about race”
It’s not about race
It’s not about race.

– ALD

Resist and Redefine

img_1026Below is a list of slaves held by Elijah Ratliff (1787 – 1865) in 1861. Among them is my great great grandfather Graham. I hold on to this history because my grandmother told me stories about him.  He is real for me.  This is also the farthest back I can go in my black family tree. Although I can link my “Dyer” family name directly to white settlers on the Mayflower and slave owners in the Caribbean, I cannot connect my maternal African roots to anything so lofty…an epic journey, a fledgling nation, kings or other empires or a specific region or tribe. Instead, the most concrete proof of my black ancestors involves me living as the legacy of this country’s deepest shame.

It is easy for the liberal consciousness to wrap its head and resources around the fact that the people at Standing Rock, the Sacred Stones Camp, Red Warrior Camp and the Oceti Sakowin Camp, are protecting water. Water is life.  Yet we cannot forget or ignore that they are also fighting for the right to remain connected to their past as well as their living heritage moving forward. Since the beginning of the organized European nation on this continent, the greed inherent in capitalism has fed itself on the erasure of non-white people’s ethnic history. This is an ongoing battle between culture and commerce. It is the real face of the American experiment.  It is wholly repugnant.

When I look at this list of names as property connected to my own family, I am reminded how sacred and powerful ancestral memory is and how often it has been the target of the American commercial machine. Tracing family trees has become big business and can be a thrilling way to learn history through a personal lens for some.  But for people of color in today’s America, these tenuous connections to ancestors and traditions are even more important.  They give a tangible context to the dominant culture’s relentless effort to deny us the status of basic humanity. Ancestral memory is in part what ignites our desire to resist and redefine.  Maybe this is what scares some people about “identity”.  If the American Indian and native people are any example, the fuel of cultural identity remains more viscous, volatile, alive and more permanent after 500 years of attack than anything that can ever be shaken loose from the ground…and it is already on fire.

Names taken from the will of Elijah Ratliff, Anson County, North Carolina, 1861

1. Big Ellick
2. Wesley
3. Laury
4. Graham
5. Bukugan
6. Anthony
7. Julyan
8. Dina
9. Lucy
10. Caroline
11. Wallis
12. Bone
13. Sallie
14. Washington
15. Tom
16. Harry
17. Martha-Jane
18. Bill
19. Johanna
20. Rose
21. Warren
22. Betty
23. Anna
24. Isaac
25. Mary
26. Anderson
27. Stephen
28. Harriett
29. Zacy
30. Willy
31. Silva
32. Anderson
33. Lize
34. Elbert
35. Tommy
36. Sass
37. Little Ellick
38. Ann
39. Frank
40. Peter
41. Stephen
42. John
43. Nealy
44. Nance
45. Sam
46. Hannah
47. Buck
48. Lane
49. Lewis
50. Luke
51. Abram
52. Henry
53. Jim
54. Peter
55. Peg
56. Robin
57. Jesse
58. Perry
59. Katherine
60. Peter
61. Jesse
62. Carolina
63. Reubin
64. Jacob
65. Jon
66. Tilla
67. Big Frank
68. Mary
69. Peter
70. Richmond
71. Poll
72. Alph
73. Jam
74. Riley
75. Alice
76. Riley
77. Ellen
78. Mary
79. Mike
80. Tempy
81. Molinda
82. Patience
83. King
84. Sam
85. Ellen
86. Ben
87. Sis
88. Riley
89. Harriett
90. (child)
91. Charity
92. (child)
93. George
94. Allen
95. Sarah
96. Vina
97. (child)
98. Isaac
99. Mitchell
100. Margaritt
101. Charles
102. Lisa
103. (child)
104. Vina
105. Ephraim
106. Matt
107. Frank
108. Harriett
109. (child)
110. Lizzie
111. Jane
112. Cindie
113. (child)
114. Emaline
115. Anderson
116. May
117. Jefferson

Hillary For President Because…Diahann Carroll

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Diahann Carroll in “Julia” (1968)

In the summer of 1995, I was standing back stage on board the cruise ship Legend of the Seas. It was my first week as Production Manager and the guest star for this cruise was about to go on stage. The phone rang and with less than five minutes to curtain, I was inclined to ignore the call, but I answered anyhow.

“Hello, this is Vic Damone…may I speak with Diahann?”

It was a reality check that I will never forget. At that moment, I had a legendary Hollywood star waiting in a dressing room and another legendary star (her ex husband) on the telephone calling shore to ship from Los Angeles to wish her well. What’s more, the star in the dressing room below was a groundbreaking actress on stage, film and television. And even more than that, she had been a symbol of black pride, beauty and the future of blackness throughout my youth. She was part of why I became who I am. I was about to introduce, Miss Diahann Carroll.

I asked our stage assistant to bring Miss Carroll up from the dressing room to receive her call. We would hold the curtain for as long as it took.

My time on board that week with Miss Carroll was not idyllic. I was new in the position and still trying to understand my authority; the ship was new and still technically under construction; Miss Carroll was nervous about appearing in her first live performance in several years plus being in preparation for taking on the role of Norma Desmond in the musical Sunset Boulevard. Ironically, the only thing that was flawless that cruise was the Alaska weather. Still, despite all of the potential and actual angst, I came away from my interaction with Diahann Carroll completely besotted and with a greater understanding of just how important someone like her has been to the world. She was a game changer. We need more game changers.

When Diahann Carroll appeared in the title role of the television show Julia in 1968, she was the first black woman to lead a national network television show that was not variety or one where she played a maid.

The question is what kind of game changers do we need in the world? This election cycle, there has been a lot of talk about how Bernie Sanders and The Dump represent “out of the box” thinking. They are both painting themselves as non/anti-establishment candidates who are presenting alternatives to political business as usual. But are they really game changers? The Dump talks a very aggressive game. He says things that politicians don’t say; he does things that politicians don’t do. His unorthodox campaign is successful in terms of garnering him people’s votes as well as media presence as well as stirring up xenophobia and racism (even if he is by political standards financially broke). But I would argue that he is not a game changer; he is putting on a show. He is simply applying to politics the same dreadful histrionics he has used in business (one could call them theatrical robber baron or huckster tactics). As he always has, he is leveraging both his whiteness and his maleness to be given a pass as a “bad boy” where any non-white non-male would have been submerged (or put in prison) a long time ago. That is definitely business as usual.

Sanders is a bit different. He is talking an innovative game. Sanders brings vision and inspiration and soaring aspiration to the campaign that is desperately needed. He voices the real goals and concerns of “the people” and does not lose touch with that crucial connection. He is authentic and extremely wise. This is exactly what he has done for 25 years in Congress. He has not been afraid to present radical ideas and independent thinking. He has been a vocal opponent of the establishment, big business government, hawkish politics and he has been a consistent and dedicated voice for his highly independent constituents. But with all that, he has played entirely by the rules. Many people forget that the rules of the United States Government allow for dissent…radical dissent even. He has been vocal and sounded the rallying cry, but Sanders has not dismantled any systems or successfully blocked any of the usual way things are done in our government. Bernie Sanders may be using radically different colors, but he is still very much so drawing within the lines.

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Scenes from “Julia” (I’m Dreaming of a Black Christmas)

When Diahann Carroll appeared in the title role of the television show Julia in 1968, she was the first black woman to lead a national network television show that was not variety or one where she played a maid. Her role was a professional nurse, and she was the star. It was also a show that spoke upfront about race in the middle of the most violent years of the Civil Rights Movement. Take for example the episode “I’m Dreaming of a Black Christmas” that opens with her young son arguing with a little white boy about the whether Santa Claus is black or white (see clip here). Prior to this, Miss Carroll had appeared opposite white actor Richard Kiley as a fashion model in Richard Rodgers’ No Strings on Broadway where she was also his love interest, breaking the color barrier in musical comedy. Because of her other powerful performances (Porgy and Bess, Carmen Jones, House of Flowers, etc.) she was a highly sought after guest on musical television programs with Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Sammy Davis, Jr. and other major white stars. She was not a ‘sex kitten’ a ‘blues mama’ or a domestic. Diahann Carroll was presented as a legitimate, mature artist who’s stunning voice, acting chops and statuesque beauty could not be contained in the racist attitudes of the day and could easily rival Doris Day or Barbra Streisand. In the 1950’s she had married white producer Monte Kay who was also 14 years her senior. imageIn the late 1980’s she stood toe to talon with Joan Collins in Dynasty.  She was powerful without being a cliché of black womanhood. Diahann Carroll was always true to herself which meant that she never played by the rules of her era. She was a real game changer.

Hillary Clinton insisted that the role of First Lady (both of Arkansas and then of the United States) was not simply to play hostess. Building on her role model Eleanor Roosevelt, she saw herself as both an extension of the President’s political power and effectiveness and as an independent player with a clear political agenda. Clinton then went completely against the grain of former First Ladies and opted to run for and win a seat in the US Senate instead of devoting herself to her husband’s legacy. Following a highly volatile battle for the Presidency against Barack Obama, she then went on to serve as his Secretary of State. We can and should argue about her record in each of these roles and we can find fault and favor with her decisions and motivations in certain circumstances, but it is undeniable that she has rewritten the resume of qualifications for people seeking high political office, particularly women. She has actually changed the game.

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Diahann Carroll today

We need game changers. This is the rhetoric that The Dump and Sanders are using. Sometimes you have to play outside of the box, or draw outside of the lines. But there is only one candidate who has consistently done this throughout their career. In fact, she has drawn an entirely different picture of what it looks like to find a path to the White House. One could argue that she has performed no better than any other white male politician. But I think you would be hard pressed to find any other politician with her public service pedigree and I believe we are a little to quick to assume that the playing field is so level that her being a woman doesn’t matter.  No one seems willing to use gender to Clinton’s advantage, but all too many are willing to use it as a weakness (criticism of her hair, clothes, voice, etc.) We need to invest in her as a whole and uniquely qualified person…a woman, an international statesperson, a Senator, a First Lady and an attorney…a game changer…and more importantly we need to insist that she see herself this way as well. She is the true radical by raising the bar for qualifications of all Presidents who follow, male or female.

The 2016 presidential election will not be won by the status quo, but in our current climate of ethical volatility, most people are focused on lofty ideology. It would serve the voting public to shift that focus more toward actual skills, political caché and battle tested durability that will be necessary to move the immovable object of the US Congress to action. This election should be won by the person who opens up a completely new way of thinking about what it means to be President of the United States and what that means to the context and relationship between our three branches of government. This next administration may not be as much about policy as some would have it as it is about the person. Just as the producers of Julia must have realized they had a unique opportunity, Hillary Clinton can be our nation’s Diahann Carroll.  What’s wrong with a black Santa Claus anyhow?

A World of His Own

 

A map of the world, showing  the British Empire coloured  in red at the end of the  nineteenth century.      Date: late 19th century

A map of the world, showing the British Empire coloured in red at the end of the nineteenth century. Date: late 19th century

In the world he has built for himself, the presumptive Republican Nominee for President of the United States has never had to think about or navigate his own racial identity. Growing up in privilege, schooled in a regimented, segregated environment and being sent into the world with a blessing and bank account, there was never any need for that part of his education. He may know some of “the blacks” or “the gays” and be loved by “the hispanics” but I’m convinced that he hasn’t the slightest clue about how he actually exists as one of “the whites”. I’ve come to realize that the main reason “The Dump” (as he will be referred to from here on) is so absolutely dreadful on issues of race and class is because he suffers from a lethal case of racial amnesia. He is incapable of seeing his own social location.

Consider what James W. Perkinson says In his book White Theology: Outing Supremacy in Modernity:

Whiteness is, in fact, a very peculiar kind of opposite – a position, a privilege, a presumption, a pride, a propertied entitlement, a protected comportment, a way of walking, talking and “being” that operates not simply as an equal and inverse form of the thing it differs from, but rather precisely as its supreme judge. Whiteness here is not so much one term of a comparison, as the eye that compares in the first place. And like any eye, the one thing it cannot see is itself. It is rather, for itself, a strange form of invisibility.[1]

“The Dump” cannot see himself. He has built a world in which he has his own language, his own aesthetics, his own morality and ethics and where everything and everyone is designed to serve his dictates…or they are “fired”.  It is a world where he has no culpability, offers no apology and everything is justified because he owns it, or so he thinks.  The best examples of this are his statements about how much he “loves women” and then when they are not serving to bolster his fragile ego, he attacks and/or divorces them.  He must have Ivanka drugged.

Let me be clear, I am not in the least bit invested in condemning white people. I think, however it is crucial to understand that we are in the midst of watching a global re-evaluation of white identity and it is (to use British MP Chuka Umunna‘s term for the Brexit situation) seizmic. The United States is seeing the shift in both the growth of white supremacist groups right along side an explosion of white involvement in fighting issues of oppression against communities of color. But the convulsions are not just in the United States. With “Brexit”, we have just witnessed the implosion of the most significant historical expression of white domination, what was once the “Great Imperial Family” solely responsible for the largest global colonization in human history. The racial and ethnic power vacuum that has been growing over the last 60 years is unprecedented and was sealed with the Brexit vote. As a result, although I believe that the UK leaving the European Union is potentially disastrous for the global economy, it is most certainly catastrophic in terms of how it will now embolden the likes of extreme racialized nationalists (like “The Dump”) to point toward the UK and say, “look, they did it…why can’t we?” Let’s all just pick up our toys and run away, or build walls or reject refugees or ignore pandemic disease, because it doesn’t involve us. Although this is not done with quite the racial boldness of an Adolf Hitler, it is hard to miss the “us and them” parallels in the basic psychology.

“The Dump” has spent a lifetime building a world for himself. He and other “would be” leaders like him, want to see their narrow minded, mono-cultural world flourish and thrive. And the world they are working toward does not see “the blacks” or “the hispanics” or “the women” or “the poor” let alone “the gays”, “the Muslims” or “the Asians”. “The Dump” world only sees threat..from religion, skin color and language. It only sees anger and fear. Most tragically for everyone, this is all because The Dump world is utterly incapable of seeing itself.

God save us all.

[1] James E. Perkinson, White Theology: Outing Supremacy in Modernity (Palgrave MacMillan, New York, 2004), p. 153.

Pretty Eyes

Paul Ryan

 

Such pretty eyes
big, limpid pools that seem both vulnerable
and searching
I could actually stare at them forever.
Well….

Yes, pretty eyes…
and I wonder what the world looks like
looking out of those big baby blues?
looking past the black and brown people
who are all looking at him for a clue
as to how they will eat
protect their families
or just feel safe…
like one might while falling in love with
those pretty, pretty eyes.

Pretty eyes,
that see the world
as a battle between good and evil
…good that doesn’t see me
and would sell me down the river
rather than look in my eyes.

Oh, those eyes
look past me
they look past so many
they look past anyone they don’t want to see
they only cast their sky pale glow
toward places already so well lit.

Don’t be fooled by pretty eyes,
those glistening mirrors
are fringed with darkness
that sprouts from a heart of coal
…such pretty, pretty eyes.
Intoxicating.
Exhilarating.
Reflecting the real darkness of a soul.

Today, House Speaker, Paul Ryan released his party’s agenda for creating a better plan to fight poverty in the United States.  No mention of the systemic barriers of race, gender, country of origin (and certainly not anything about LGBTQ people.)  Check out the snapshot here: A Better Way: Snapshot (full text: HERE)

And now have a look at some real solutions and strategies: PolicyLink: Equitable Economy

Click here to read more about my new collection of poetry “Love Beyond God”