Martin Luther King’s advice on avoiding violence – a reprise

The following post was written about nine years ago, but still resonates today.

Martin Luther King once said, “The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very things it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, it merely increases the hate. So it goes. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

These aspirational words ring true even today. A historian made a comment on the news the other day, saying the only thing man has been very good at since the beginning is killing people. To many people have died when leaders say I want what you have or you are different from us or you worship the wrong way. On this latter point, one of the keys to our founding father’s separation of church and state in the US constitution and bill of rights was a comment made by Thomas Jefferson who noted that Europe had been awash in blood due to religious zeal and he did not want religious zeal doing the same in our country. This runs counter to self-proclaimed constitutionalists who want a national or state religion and don’t realize they are advocating against the constitution.

My blogging friend George Dowdell has written a thought-provoking post about “No More Us and Them.” A link to his post is below.* When religious leaders exclude, they create this kind of divide. Yet, when religious leaders are inclusive, religion is at its finest. Just witness the actions of the people’s Pope Francis to see what one leader can do. We should follow his lead. We must do our best to be bridge builders. We must do our best to condemn intolerant thinking and action. We must do our best to not condone violence. We must do our best to control the proliferation of violent tools to people who should not have them and govern all owners of them well, as these tools are designed to kill. We must do our best to work toward civil discourse when disagreements occur. And, we must not tolerate treating women as second class citizens or even assets, which is even further demeaning.

I recognize we all cannot be like Atticus Finch (see Emily J’s post on “The Perfect Book: To Kill a Mockingbird” with the link below **) and wipe the spit away borne from someone looking for a fight, but he shows us what real courage looks like. It takes more courage not to fight back when it would have been so easy to do so. I recognize we cannot all be like Gandhi whose example was studied, admired and copied by Martin Luther King showing that civil disobedience is far more powerful than violence. I recognize we call cannot be like Mother Teresa who just went around helping people and praying with them not caring how they worshiped. And, I realize we cannot all be like Jesus who uttered the words we should all live by and can be found in other religious texts – treat others like you want to be treated.

We must treat others like we want in return. We must elevate women in a world to equal footing with men. We must challenge our historical texts which were written by imperfect men to diminish women. We must be the ones who lift others up. If we don’t then we will continue to be our own worst enemy and do what we are good at – violence and killing.

http://georgedowdell.org/2014/06/10/no-more-us-and-them/

** http://thebookshelfofemilyj.com/2014/06/09/the-perfect-book-to-kill-a-mockingbird/

Blackbird singing in the dead of night – a reprise

I wrote the following post six years ago after watching an old interview with Paul McCartney. Its lyrics and context still resonate today.

The title is from a line of The Beatles song “Blackbird” which is a tribute to the struggle for African-Americans for their civil rights. The song was sung by Paul McCartney with writing credits to both him and John Lennon, although McCartney was the lead.

Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise

Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these sunken eyes and learn to see
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to be free

Blackbird fly, blackbird fly
Into the light of the dark black night

Blackbird fly, blackbird fly
Into the light of the dark black night

Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise
You were only waiting for this moment to arise
You were only waiting for this moment to arise

Here is what McCartney said about the origin of the song in an interview in 2002.

“I’ve got a poetry book out called Blackbird Singing…..I was in Scotland playing on my guitar, and I remembered this whole idea of ‘you were only waiting for this moment to arise’ was about, you know, the black people’s struggle in the southern states, and I was using the symbolism of a blackbird. It’s not really about a blackbird whose wings are broken, you know, it’s a bit more symbolic.”

I added McCartney’s quote as I wanted the clarity around what the song means. African-Americans are still fighting an uphill struggle for their civil rights. What has happened in Ferguson, Cleveland, New Jersey, Charleston, Charlotte and Baltimore is tragic, but evidence of the disenfranchisement of African-Americans. The lack of opportunity, the malaise, the maltreatment, the deterioration of the neighborhood, the lack of respect given to people of color in our country continues.

I have noted before that Warren Buffett has said he was born lucky. He was born a white male in America. All three components of that phrase are important – white, male and America. Yes, he worked hard, but he was afforded opportunities that African-Americans do not get.  Not only do many whites like me have a hard time knowing the challenges of being black, but we also do not fully realize the advantages of being white. As I wrote recently, as a white man, there are not too many places I cannot go no matter how I am dressed. But, there are far too many stories of how a black man can be dressed in his Sunday best, yet still be stopped by the police and think “be careful as this may be the last thing I do on earth.”

I would encourage three things. First, please do not look at those committing violence and rioting as indicative of the African-American community. The community knows this is not the path forward. Second, people who look like me need to do our best to understand the challenges we have in America for people of color, but also for all people in poverty. Third, as always, talk is cheap. These issues are complex and solutions have to address many underlying concerns. There are no sound byte answers as some politicians have espoused.

I mention this last point as we must address the wide disparity in American between the “haves” and “have-nots.” This is not just an African-American issue. It is an American issue, as most people on food stamps are white. Please re-read this previous sentence. Poverty exists in urban areas, in rural areas and even in the suburbs. We have to stop the “war on poor people” and make this a “war on poverty.”

We must invest in our infrastructure and deteriorated assets repurposing them. This will spawn jobs as well in places where it is needed. We must revise our minimum wage to be consistent with a living wage for one person, which varies, but is just over $10 an hour. We must invest in education at all levels. We must embrace the Affordable Care Act as it is helping so many people and fully implement it through Medicaid expansion in the remaining 20 odd states. For some politicians to say we have a poverty problem and be against the ACA is hypocritical and shortsighted, especially when it is working pretty well.

Remember McCartney’s words and lets help these folks with broken wings learn to fly. To do otherwise, goes against what our country is all about and any of the teachings found in religious texts.

A visit to the Civil Rights Museum at the Greensboro sit-in site (a reprise in honor of brave young people)

Yesterday, I had some free time in the Greensboro, North Carolina area and decided to revisit the International Civil Rights Center and Museum. Why Greensboro? For those of you are old enough to remember or know your history, the museum incorporates and builds off the actual Woolworth’s lunch counter where four African-Americans started a movement of non-violent sit-ins. The story of this daily sit-in helped bring about change along with many other efforts. Our tour guide whose mother used to bring her to Woolworth’s to shop, said the operative word they had to overcome was “separatism.”

In an attempt to protect the whites from the significant misconceptions about African-American citizens, “separate, but equal” laws were passed to allow discrimination to continue under the guise of the law. These Jim Crow laws, as they were called, came about to show that society need not have to integrate to give rights to its African-American citizens. The ugly truth is separatism was not very equal and continued to put down and discriminate against African-Americans in perceived legal and moral ways. There were some whites who spoke out before the overt discrimination became more apparent, but we had far too many leaders in business, government and faith communities who perpetuated this maltreatment.

The list of examples in the museum of discrimination and the fight to alleviate it are significant in number and impact. It makes you feel ashamed, disillusioned and angry that our fellow citizens were treated this way. The bombings, the lynchings, and the beatings are well documented and illustrated. The separate, but very unequal, train station terminals where whites had bigger waiting rooms, restrooms and easements are eye-opening. The separate, but unequal restrooms in stores, where our guide said her mother would tell her to go at home before they went to the store, are indicative. Sitting in the back of the bus, yielding your seat to white person and even the leather straps for standers in the back of the bus versus cushioned straps in the front showed the lack of equality. The Coke machine with two sides, one for whites at 5 cents with the opposite side for African-Americans at 10 cents is separate and very unequal. The voter laws that made it so very difficult for an African-American to register and vote were definitely not equal. And, so on and so on.

Fifty years ago, President Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ) pushed through the Civil Rights Act in the United States. The next year he followed up with the Voters Rights Act. These key pieces of legislation changed the long term and horrible course of inequality America was on. Forced busing to allow for fair and equal education was passed in 1970 sixteen years following the Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court decision. LBJ helped change the future in response to the efforts of many from Martin Luther King to John Lewis to Rosa Parks. It was critical that LBJ, a white southerner working with a coalition across political parties was able to shame leaders into doing something for America.

We are much further along than before, but our work is not done. We each need to be mindful of our biases and prejudices we have to various groups of people. We need to be active to voice our concerns over recent state actions by conservatively led states (ironically and sadly like the one in NC) to limit the voting rights of people who are primarily African-American, under the disguise of doing something against voter fraud. Rampant voter fraud has been proven not to exist, even as recently as last week with touted data in an attempt to show it does. Some of these laws have been ruled unconstitutional and others are being sued for such as of the time of this post. Make no mistake, these laws are designed to suppress voters who tend not to vote with the conservative side of the ledger. This is masked cheating, which is straight out of Jim Crow book.

What makes this further disturbing is our Supreme Court ruled that parts of the Voters Rights Act are no longer needed. This is one of several decisions made by this court which puzzle and frustrate me. What country do they live in? I see or hear examples of discrimination almost every day. It often is masked with code words or followed by words like “but, I am not a racist.” It would surprise these folks to learn most food stamp recipients are white. Even Senator Paul Ryan parlayed that misconception in some of recent speeches and interviews. The bottom line is it should not matter, as poverty knows no color. I use this as an example of unstated racism in America. It is those people who are in need of aid, so it is OK to cut benefits.

There are Civil Rights museums in several cities. Please frequent them with your children and friends. If you’re near Greensboro, please stop by and tour this well crafted museum. I was pleased to see two bus loads of school children of all stripes leaving the museum when I arrived. This stuff really did happen and discrimination still exists today. Use these occasions as opportunities to discuss what is happening today with others. Per the play and movie “South Pacific” bigotry has to be carefully taught. The converse of this is also true. Let’s carefully teach that discrimination is not right.

Here is a link to the Greensboro Civil Rights Museum. http://sitinmovement.org/

Hank Aaron – quiet dignity, quiet strength

A great baseball player passed away yesterday. His name was Henry Aaron, but he went by Hank. He was a very quiet man growing up in the south in the middle of the Jim Crow era. But, arguably he is on a very short list of the greatest baseball players ever.

Rather than bore non-baseball fans with endless statistics indicating how great he was, let me focus on how poorly this African-American was treated as he chased records set by white ball players. He received multiple death threats and family kidnapping threats and was openly called the N word both aloud and within the many letters of vicious hate mail.

Like Jackie Robinson before him, he took all of this with quiet dignity and a heavy dose of quiet strength. Racism and bigotry was dumped on this man like garbage. But, he stood strong.

When he chased the greatest of records for home runs held by the legendary Babe Ruth, the threats were at their worst. Yet, when he broke the record on national TV, he quietly ran the bases. Then, he tipped his cap to the home crowd. Ironically, a teen came out of the stands to circle the bases with him, but he was all about touching all the bases first.

When we think of the white supremacists and nationalists who have crawled out from under the rocks, I think of all the great Black ball players who came before Robinson and Aaron that did not get the chance to play in the Major Leagues. When they were allowed to join, the Major Leagues got better.

To show how racism impacts results, the National League integrated faster than the American League, so when All Star games were played in the late 1950s and 1960s, the National League had an impressive win streak against its annual opponent. Taking this one step further, the Boston Red Sox had an opportunity to sign both Aaron and Willie Mays, arguably the two best ball players, and signed neither because they were Black. The Red Sox had a long dry spell of winning championships.

Hank Aaron received the Medal of Freedom for his success, but also for the manner in which he carried himself. Quiet dignity and strength. He did not boast. He just succeeded when too many did not want him to.

This is a big effing deal

The swearing in of Joe Biden as the 46th president is a huge deal. We can return to more normalcy in governance as he tries to unite us. But, let me set that aside and say the inauguration of Kamala Harris as vice-president is a big effing deal.

Seeing a woman sworn in as vice president is a long time over due for a country that touts democracy. Other democracies have preceded us with a woman being president, prime minister or chancellor. Angela Merkel, Jacinda Arden, Indira Ghandi, Golda Meir, Margaret Thatcher and Theresa May all come to mind.

Harris is not just breaking the ceiling as a woman, which is a big effing deal by itself. She is the first African-American, the first Asian-American, and part of the first multiracial couple and family to occupy the home of the vice-president. She is uniquely American, as representative of our melting pot as one can get.

But, as a man, let me attempt to address this walk-in-the-shoes moment and what it means. My wife wore pearl earrings to honor Harris’ alma mater as she watched. And, she was crying after Harris was sworn in. A man does not realize how a woman feels to be treated in an overbearing way. Or, to be condescended to. Or to be belittled. Or, to be sexually harassed or even assaulted.

Sheryl Sandberg wrote the excellent book “Lean in,” which tells women to lean into opportunity or push back. It was and is a great title in that men are very skilled at leaning in. There is a line, I think from this book, that says a man with lesser skill sets will often feel more qualified for a job than a woman with more skill sets.

Then, we must layer into Harris’ make-up the fact she is a multiracial woman of color. In an interview on CBS Sunday Morning, she noted she has been told “no” at every step of the ladder. Then, she smiled and said “I eat ‘no’ for breakfast.” That embodies Sandberg’s theme. Just think of all of the young women and young women of color she will influence going forward. Be a leader, be a scientist, be an engineer, be a doctor….don’t accept no as a reason you cannot.

This is a big effing deal. I wish her, Joe Biden and their families and staffs the greatest of success. We need them to succeed in uniting us.

Movies that kindle (or rekindle) a song

While watching a re-run of the movie “Ghost” with Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze, I was reminded of how a song can be kindled, or in this case, rekindled into pop culture. The Righteous Brothers had a huge hit that has been covered by many called “Unchained Melody.” But, one very seductive scene between the two leads elevated interest in both pottery making and this old classis from years before.

This got me thinking of other songs which were a key part of the movie. Note, I am not considering musicals which have several songs (“The Sound of Music” or “Saturday Night Fever,” eg) or movies that have marvelous soundtracks like “The Last of the Mohicans” or “Out of Africa.” The purpose is to note dramatic movies that include a key song.

In no particular order, here are ten songs and the movies that created them. This is not a Top Ten list, so please share ones I overlooked. I know I missed many.

“Ghost” and “Unchained Melody” by the Righteous Brothers – see above

“The Breakfast Club” and “Don’t you forget about me” by Simple Minds – in my view, this was the best of the Brat Pack movies, but the song became an anthem to rebellious youth.

“To Sir with Love” and “To Sir with Love” by Lulu – This is a brilliant movie with Sidney Poitier. Lulu accentuates the student’s feelings for their teacher with this marvelous song.

“The Graduate” and “Mrs. Robinson” by Simon and Garfunkel – Anne Bancroft, Katharine Ross and Dustin Hoffman star in this unusual film of seduction. An instrumental song is part of the movie soundtrack, until it is sung in full.

“Live and Let Die” and “Live and Let Die” by Paul McCartney and Wings – there are many James Bond songs to choose from, but this one was one of the more rock and roll ones.

“Billy Jack” and “One Tin Soldier” by Coven – Billy Jack was a cult hero in a cult movie as he took on big money as they unseated Native American rights. This is very powerful song of rebellion that has been used for protests.

“The Princess Bride” and “Storybook Love” by Mark Knopfler – Knopfler and his wonderful guitar and deep and raspy voice lend themselves to this charming and well done tale of adventure.

“Titanic” and “My Heart will go on” by Celine Dion – this is arguably one of Dion’s greatest songs, as it tells the story of love, love lost and living on after loss, the theme of the movie..

“Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid” and “Knock, knock, knocking on heaven’s door” by Bob Dylan – Dylan had a bit part in this movie with Kris Kristofferson and James Coburn.

“Top Gun” and “You’ve lost that lovin’ feeling” by the Righteous Brothers – I give this duo a second song because of the importance the song had in Tom Cruise’s character wooing Nicole Kidman’s.

Let me know what you think. Do you like these choices? Which ones did I miss? I would love to hear from you.

Racial inequality has deteriorated further with COVID-19

In an article in The Charlotte Observer a few days ago by Gene Nichol called “What the pandemic has done to racial inequality in North Carolina,” racial inequality has become even worse. Nichol is a contributing columnist and professor at the University of North Carolina School of Law, with a focus on poverty. The article can be linked to below, but here are a few key paragraphs:

“It doesn’t happen as often as one might wish. But, on occasion, you can still be surprised by what someone says. For example, earlier this month, the Donald Trump-appointed Chair of the Federal Reserve, Jerome Powell, explained to the Senate Banking Committee:

‘Disparate economic outcomes on the basis of race, have been with us for a very long time, they are a long-standing aspect of our economy, and there is a great risk that the pandemic is making them worse. Because the people who are most affected by the job losses are people in relatively low-paying parts of the service industries that happen to skew more to minorities and women, there is a real concern that if we don’t act as quickly as possible to support these people then we’ll leave behind an even more unequal situation. We need to do as much as we can to avoid exacerbating inequality.’

The traditional patterns of racial economic subordination Powell referenced have long dominated every component of life in North Carolina. Today, for example, twice as many African-American Tar Heels live in poverty as whites. The numbers are even worse for Black kids – nearly three times as many are poor as whites.

Racial income disparity is huge. But racial wealth disparity astonishes. Black households, on average, claim less than a tenth of the economic assets of white Tar Heel families. Racial minorities are dramatically more likely, in North Carolina, to be unemployed, uninsured, food insecure, housing insecure, and trapped in low wage work. Such defining disparities have existed throughout the entirety of our state’s history. Radical, systemic, disproportional racial economic impact, as Chairman Powell put it, has ‘been with us for a very long time.’

And then came the tragic, terrifying COVID-19 pandemic. Hundreds of thousands of Tar Heels were cast, anew, into poverty. No Kid Hungry estimates that, this year, one in four Tar Heel children won’t be able to get enough to eat. State food pantries report a 38% increase in demand over recent months. Since March, over half of Black families, and 43% of Latinx households, lost significant employment income sources. Over a third of Latinx renters have been forced to miss monthly payments, jeopardizing their housing. Eighteen percent of all North Carolina adults aged 18-65 are now without any health care coverage whatsoever. Nearly 40 percent of N.C. Latinos now have no medical insurance. As Fed Chair Powell put it, Covid ‘will leave behind an even greater’ landscape of inequality.”

Rather than add my own two cents, I encourage you to re-read the testimony above from Chairman Powell, along with Nichol’s commentary. What is happening in North Carolina is an example of what is going on in other places. People with low income jobs do not have the luxury of working from home, so they must go in or get fired. So, the COVID risks are much greater to a group already at financial risk.

What COVID-19 has done to racial inequality in NC | Charlotte Observer

A unifying person – walking the talk with Carlos Santana

The following post was written a few years ago, but I felt the words and actions of Carlos Santana are more needed than ever. Santana is one of the greatest guitarists and is known for his collaborations. And, let me add that collaborations must be nurtured and cultivated.

I was watching an excellent documentary film on HBO about Carlos Santana, which included the lead up to and concert in his birth country of Mexico at the Festival of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The music is terrific, but the stories from Santana and his fellow performers, friends and family are enlightening and confirming. Santana received a Kennedy Center Honor from President Obama in December, 2013 for his life’s work and devotion to making great music and sharing it with us and his fellow performers.

As one of the best guitarists around, Santana has a gift of working well with other performers and using their talents to make beautiful music. In the documentary, he was described as a “unifying person” which may be one of the nicest compliments you could pay to someone. The story-teller said Santana had a gift for unifying diverse music and musical talents to make a unique and wonderful sound. Three quick stories, two from Santana and one from his wife Cindy Blackman, will provide great glimpses into Santana’s make-up.

Someone asked Santana how he was able to collaborate so well with other musicians in recordings and in performances. He said, “I just show up with a smile on my face and a willingness to work together with others.” If we could bottle that and give it to everyone to drink, what a difference that would make. A simple example of this was when Santana was talking to his fellow musicians about “not playing too loudly, so as not to drown out the voice of the singers.” I had heard him earlier describe that you have to provide some space for people to listen to the various subtleties of the music. To me, this is giving of himself to make the whole sound better.

The last example comes from his relatively new bride, Cindy Blackman, whom he married in 2010. She was describing how at the Kennedy Center Honors banquet, Santana went back to the kitchen to thank all of the chefs and wait staff for their help that night. He noted later in the documentary, many of us immigrants came to America and took jobs to have a chance to live in a great country. They work hard and we should acknowledge them.

I purposefully did not make this about his wonderful repertoire of songs. His music will live on. I was so moved by this quote of him being a “unifying person” I felt the need to share his example for us all. Muchas gracias, amigo.

A Christmas wish – do our part to break down barriers

The following is an edited version of an earlier post that remains relevant today. In the spirit of the Christmas season, it is worth a revisit.

Last night, my wife and I attended one of a series of “talks” around improving racial relations. It is a weekly chat sponsored by a multi-faith group based in our city. In essence, it is facilitated small group and large group discussions on breaking down barriers and listening to others who do not look like you do. It was well done and very meaningful.

To hear stories about small and large examples of racism is very important. To hear about how assumptions can be made and, if not corrected, can be become more concrete in the eyes of the beholder. Children learn lessons whether you want them to or not, even when you try to do the right thing. So, it is imperative to have open conversations about treating people like you want to be treated and listening to comments, so that they can be reinforced or amended.

Yet, it is we adults that need to do better. A few themes we discussed include:

– do not indict a group for the actions of a few;

– recognize that small sleights can be hurtful, as well;

– try to walk in another person’s shoes; understand that a white person has more liberty to go anywhere, while a black man, even when dressed-up, faces more restrictions and risk;

– shine a light on hateful speech or behavior; tolerance must be viewed toward a greater good, so it is OK to be less tolerant of those who use words to demean and diminish;

– speak up and speak out to people who share your skin color, ethnicity, religion or politics who are indicting others who are different just because they don’t look, think or worship as you do;

– be the change you want to see and see people for whom they are; and

– recognize that racial injustice is also the result of a larger poverty issue, which affects people of all colors.

There are many more lessons that were conveyed during the session, but one of my takeaways is this is religion at its finest. Welcoming, including and helping. Let me end with one more tidbit on how religion can help provide solutions and create a welcoming dialogue. Walk the talk. Words are easy. The person who gets up out of his or her chair to help people is admirable.

Jesus said it so well in his Golden Rule. Treat others like you want to be treated. If we do this, we are way ahead in the game. So, welcome, include and help.

Two great speeches – words of unity, healing and working together

Whether Americans voted for the Joe Biden and Kamala Harris ticket this week, the two speeches given by Biden and Harris were powerful and unifying. Words of unity, healing and working together were emphasized. Seeing an African-American, immigrant woman in the Vice-President role offers hope to young girls of all colors. By itself, that is a big deal.

I was planning to write more on the topic, but my friend Jill wrote an excellent piece called “Hope, Unity and Patience.” I encourage you to read it with the link below. The only words I will leave you with is our nation must heal and must work together. The song lyric “united we stand, divided we fall,” has pertinent meaning.