Tuesday’s truths

Tuesday will arrive shortly Greenwich time, so let me borrow tomorrow for a few truths of the day.

An interesting dichotomy occurred courtesy of the US Supreme Court which ruled discrimation on the basis of sex in employment includes sexual orientation. This is a huge win for the LGBTQ community and allows the US to join 74 other countries who have a similar law. The dichotomy is only last week, the Trump administration rolled back equal treatment for LGBTQ people under the Affordable Care Act. The SCOTUS ruling could very well be argued that it should apply to the Trump change finding it discriminatory.

One would think the police would be a little more careful with detaining African-American civilians, with the active protests going on. Yet, in Atlanta the police shot and killed Rayshard Brooks, a black man running away with a taser. Now, I realize the man had a taser he took off an officer, but why shoot at all and why shoot to kill? Did an intoxicated man doing something stupid need to die?

COVID-19 cases and deaths are on the rise in the US and elsewhere. As of today, the US has around 118,000 deaths about 27% of the global total, with only 5% of the global population. Yet, the US president is in desperate need of his ego being stroked, so he will risk people’s health and lives, just so he can hear applause. We know about his tone deafness to scheduling it on Juneteenth, which has now been moved, but Tulsa has its own horrific racial history.

On top of all of that, anyone attending a Trump pep rally, must sign a hold-harmless statement should they catch COVID-19, meaning they cannot sue the Trump campaign. Think about that. Trump wants your money, your applause and your vote, but if you get sick, you are on your own. And, that is a good metaphor for the US president.

Strange Fruit – why that flag means hate to so many

This post was written after South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley had the Confederate flag removed from the state capitol following the Charleston AME Zion shooting that killed nine African-Americans, who had invited their killer in to worship with them. It remains pertinent today with the police and vigilante killings of young African-Americans. We cannot go back to this time of horrible racial injustice.

I applaud the state of South Carolina for making a long overdue, but nonetheless courageous decision to take down the Confederate battle flag. What many fail to realize its heritage has two meanings, neither good. It was the initial symbol of rebellion that wanted to keep the right to slavery and not be dictated by people in Washington. Do not let people try to rewrite history using the terms we southerners liked to call it “the War of Northern Aggression” or a war over “states’ rights.” That was propaganda then to get poor whites to fight for white landowners so the latter could keep the slaves they owned. And, it remains propaganda today.

Yet, it also carries the meaning of Jim Crow, a period which allowed the reinforced condemnation and control of Blacks in the south, in spite of their rights on paper. This condemnation included the purposeful killing, often by hanging, of Blacks who were deemed guilty of contrived crimes or because they tried to exercise their paper rights in practice. I would ask you to watch “To Kill a Mockingbird” or “Mississippi Burning” to get a sense of what Jim Crow was all about.

Or, we could heed the words of Billie Holiday, who sang the impactful song “Strange Fruit.”

Southern trees bear strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees
Pastoral scene of the gallant south
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh
Here is fruit for the crows to pluck
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop
Here is a strange and bitter crop

Songwriters
WIGGINS, DWAYNE P./PEARL, MAURICE/ALLAN, LEWIS

If you want to listen to the words, please go to the attached link. http://www.metrolyrics.com/strange-fruit-lyrics-billie-holiday.html

Taking down the battle flag is a great, symbolic step, but it has to be more than that. We need to treat everyone like we want to be treated. Jesus made no caveats with his words as to who should not be so treated. Neither should we, especially with our history that includes “a strange and bitter crop” of people who did not come close to such treatment. This is also why we should not whitewash history, as we should never allow such treatment again on our soil.

The reason Black Lives Matter is such a huge rallying cry is because for so long and still today, we have to remind everyone, that All Lives must include Black Lives.

Oh, Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood

“Don’t Let be Misunderstood” is a song written by Bennie Benjamin, Horace Ott and Sol Marcus for the singer and pianist Nina Simone, who first recorded it in 1964. The song has been covered by many artists, most notably by The Animals, whose blues rock version of the song became a transatlantic hit in 1965. (Per Wikipedia). Cat Stevens does a meaningful interpretation as well, as he tempers the sound so the words seep through.

The song has an important message, but first here are the lyrics.

“People, do you understand me now,
If sometimes I feel a little mad
Don’t you know no one alive can
Always be an angel
When things go wrong I seem a little sad
But I’m just a soul whose intentions are good
Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood

You know sometimes, I’m so carefree
With a joy that’s hard to hide
Sometimes seems that all I have is worry
And then you’re bound to see my other side
But I’m just a soul whose intentions are good
Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood

If I seem edgy, I want you to know
That I never mean to take it out on you
Life has its problems and I get more
Than my share
But that’s one thing I never mean to do
I don’t mean it
People, don’t you know I’m only human
Don’t you know I have faults like any one
But sometimes I find myself alone regretting
Some little thing; some foolish thing
That I have done,
But I’m just a soul whose intentions are good
Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood

Don’t let me be misunderstood
I’m just someone whose intentions are good
Don’t let me be misunderstood,
Don’t let me be misunderstood”

My wife suggested I include this song in a post. She feels people are being misunderstood as others are not taking the time to listen. If we listen to each other, the context of a comment will finds its way in. Once you listen, you then have earned the right to be heard in return. A key part of the song is to start out with assuming the intentions are good. That may be giving too much credit, but if we listen first, we can ask better questions.

I have often written about Daryl Davis, an African-American man who has convinced more than 200 white men to leave the Ku Klux Klan. He said he did it by listening. Then, he would ask a few questions and listen some more. He observed that people, even with strong opinions he disagreed with, just want to be heard. By listening, he would ask probing, thoughtful questions that made the person think.

I truly admire this man, his courage and his approach. If we emulate him, we can have better conversations.

Different, not less

I spoke recently of a movie that caught my eye the other day which is well worth the watch – “Temple Grandin” starring Claire Danes as the title character with Julia Ormand, David Strathairn and Catherine O’Hara in key roles. It is a true story of Grandin who overcame her autism to get a Ph.D and become one of the foremost designers of cattle management systems. It is well worth the watch, but please pull out the Kleenex, especially when she first speaks up for autistic kids with her mother beside her.

A key moment in the movie is when her mother, played by Ormond is trying to find a high school that will help her daughter navigate a world with autism. To her credit, her mother defied those who said she needed to institutionalize her daughter back in the 1960s. A science teacher at the prospective school, played by Strathairn, hurried out to convince Ormond to stay as she was leaving with her daughter. He said, Temple is “different, not less.” Grandin had a brilliant mind, but understood better through visualization. She could see things we could not.

“Different, not less.” The line is so powerful, Grandin uses it later as she speaks to searching-for-answers parents of autistic kids. It reminds me of a similar line in a movie about a fictitious band from the 1960s, “Eddie and the Cruisers.” Michael Pare plays Eddie, the lead singer and driving force behind the band. He looks like a “cruiser,” but is well-read and intelligent. He drafts into the band an English major played by Tom Berenger, whom they call “Wordman” because of his profound lyrics.

During the movie as they are playing a college campus, Eddie tells Wordman these people are not like them. They are different. Wordman innocently replies, “they are no better than we are.” Eddie corrected him saying “I said different, not better.” Given the reference, this comment is the same as the above title and equally powerful.

We are different. It would be rather boring if we all thought, learned and said the same things. While we may be different, we are no better or worse than the next person. Grandin designed a system that is now used in over 50% of the cattle business, but she was laughed at because she was a woman and autistic. Her simple questions were pertinent, yet ignored. Her autism allowed her to see what the cattle sees and she factored that in her designs.

As for Eddie, we should always be careful with our first impressions. People dress differently, look differently, and act differently. Yet, Eddie was a deep thinker and knew literature. We are all different, but we have the same rights, responsibilities and need to be heard. My rights are no more important than yours and vice versa.

Both of these movies are worth the watch. They each will help us appreciate what others go through. Different, not less. And, not better either.

Unity is not uniformity

I saw this title on a Presbyterian church sign last week. I thought it speaks volumes, especially given that it is a church sign. “Unity is not uniformity.” So true.

I am a huge fan of diversity in people, thoughts, and perspectives. It makes life colorful and interesting. It makes our food choices better, our music better, our relationships interesting and opens are eyes. I firmly believe diversity makes our country far greater.

America is as imperfect as they come, especially with the people in leadership. Yet, I have witnessed reporters who have said America integrates other cultures better than other places. That sounds so strange with such an unwelcoming president. The point is other people will reach beyond their boundaries in America moreso than in other places.

So, whether people believe that premise or not, it holds up the theme of the church sign – unity is not uniformity. Unfortunately with the good comes the bad, so we do have some people who do not like diversity. They hold close to their vest the idea that purity of culture is more important than overall diversity.

Yet, when I see folks who espouse this, I think of the many and significant contributions by people of different cultures to our country. Our country has benefitted from the contributions of many cultures both from within our boundaries and from far away. Away from our shores, a number of higher mathematic disciplines are traceable to the Middle East. Democracy itself traces its roots to Greece. Genghis Khan let multiple houses of worship function in his capitol city to learn from all.

Within our shores, the inventor of a key cellphone communication technology is an immigrant Austrian woman, the inventor of a flexible heart surgical implant that helped blue babies is an African-American, one of two minds behind Apple is a Syrian immigrant, some of the best legal merger minds are the children of European immigrants who did piece goods work in New York city, the best golfer in recent memory is the son of an African-American man and Vietnamese-American immigrant, a viable presidential candidate is a gay man and the mayor of Chicago is a lesbian woman to name just a few examples.

United we stand (and flourish). Yet, unity is not uniformity. Isn’t it great?

A true lesson in correcting racist action

I heard this story yesterday while visiting with friends dating back to grade school. One of my friends was a catcher on a good college baseball team.

As they played an arch rival, my friend was catching an African-American pitcher, whom I have met as he was a good friend of my catching friend. That day, an opposing player got a single off the pitcher and, while standing on first base told my friend’s first baseman, “Tell that ‘N-word’ I will own him all day!”

The next time up at bat, the African-American pitcher dusted him back with two pitches (meaning he threw pitches closer to him than homeplate). The opposing coach came out to complain and the Black pitcher’s coach told him what was happening. The offensive batter’s coach told the pitcher’s coach “to throw at him two more times.” After the batter walked to first base after four balls, his coach removed him from the game and told him why. He told the pitcher’s coach after learning of the racial slur, “We are not going to put up with that s–t.”

While I am not condoning a pitcher throwing toward a batter, I repeat this story as it is an exemplar for people in leadership – a coach, minister, teacher, boss, mentor, representative, governor, senator, or president – they can make a huge difference in condemning racism. His quote is priceless, “we are not going to put up with that s–t.”

Just think if these people in leadership positions or, even the rest of us, said “that is not right” or “I do not agree with your saying that.” Or, just by actions, to show support to a target of racism. We need our leaders to be among our better angels. Yet, we must also walk the talk. If our so-called leaders fail to lead, we need to share our disappointment and ask them to do better.

You have to be carefully taught

On the news today, I saw the UK Labor Party has been accused of having a few anti-Semites. Not to be outdone, the UK Conservative Party has been accused of Islamophobia. And, as I wrote last week, hate crimes are on the rise in the US largely due to a rise in white nationalists who feel more empowered these days.

People are not born hating. They have to be taught. Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein wrote a key song in the musical play and movie “South Pacific” called “You have to be carefully taught.” The lyrics are noted below, but I wanted to mention the context of the play first.

“South Pacific” is a play about the idiocy and harm of bigotry. It was written in the 1949 as a clever metaphor to address the Jim Crow period in the US. Rodgers and Hammerstein knew they had to use a different setting to get their point heeded.

These lyrics are powerful. Please let them sink in as we all need to counter bigotry and racism we see and understand some of our own prejudices.

“You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear,
You’ve got to be taught from year to year,
It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade,
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You’ve got to be carefully taught!”

Let’s use this Thanksgiving to be thankful for and embrace our diversity. In fact, the first Thanksgiving brought two different groups together.

Echoes of past blogposts

If you have been blogging for a few years, you likely witness some of your older blogposts resurfacing with more interest. In my case, it is not uncommon for some older posts to be more widely read than at the time they were written.

Now, I am not referring to those blogposts that have consistently drawn attention. The ones that pop-up in your most-viewed list after being long absent are to what I am referring. Here are a few late-blossomers that are getting more attention:

“Don’t laugh at me” written in September, 2013 – This one resurfacing is less a surprise as I think people are alarmed by the divisiveness in America and western democracies. The Peter, Paul and Mary songs resonates saying quietly and pleafully “we are all the same.” It’s message is place yourself in the shoes of the person who is being ridiculed. At some point, each of us has been ostracized. Here is a link.

https://musingsofanoldfart.wordpress.com/2013/09/30/dont-laugh-at-me/

“Who is Paul O’Neill and why should his opinions matter?” written in March, 2013 – This one is more of a surprise, given the relative anonymity of Paul O’Neill. Yet, I think people are craving leadership with the dearth of such in the two largest English speaking democracies. O’Neill is a quiet, studious and effective leader who deserves notoriety for his ability to observe what is wrong and how to arrive at solutions. Plus, it shows great leaders facilitate communications up and down organizations as the best ideas often come from those closest to the action. Here is a link.

https://musingsofanoldfart.wordpress.com/2013/03/20/who-is-paul-oneill-and-why-should-his-opinions-matter/

If you do not remember these posts or were not following my blog back in 2013, please check them out. I am delighted they are getting a little more interest given their subject matter. Also, please share a link to similar posts of yours. I would love to revisit them or read them for the first time.

Former Judge announces her departure from the GOP due to president’s racist remarks

From today’s The Washington Post, the following are some powerful words from a former Judge who is leaving the Republican Party. This is as succinct as it comes and should be a long overdue clarion call to Republicans regarding the person they continue to rationalize on a weekly basis:

“A former top Texas judge says she has left the Republican Party over President Trump, after his racist tweet telling four congresswomen to ‘go back’ to where they came from.

Elsa Alcala joins a small group of conservatives alienated by Trump’s remarks as most of the Republican Party sticks with the president — including through his latest attacks on Democratic representatives of color, three of whom were born in the United States.

‘Even accepting that Trump has had some successes (and I believe these are few), at his core, his ideology is racism,’ the 55-year-old retired judge wrote Monday in a Facebook post. ‘To me, nothing positive about him could absolve him of his rotten core.'” 

What will it take for others to come to the same conclusion? A poll said while 68% of all Americans do not approve of the president’s remarks toward the “squad,” only 47% disapprove in the Republican Party. Another poll had Trump’s GOP voter approval increase by 5 points, while it fell by 10 points among Independents and two points in Democrats from a lower starting point.

As I ask GOP Senators on a routine basis, “is this the person you want to spend your dear reputation on?” The defenders do not fully know what will come out of the woodwork nor what he might do or say. At some point, the rationalizing will be hard to come by. They should be well past that point by now.

Those Jesus words again

We Christians like the words so much we called them the golden rule. It is not one of ten rules, but one simple overarching rule espoused by that Jesus fellow. To me, if we do that one thing, we will better for it.

Paraphrasing it simply says treat others like you want to be treated. It is so simple and yet so profound. And, it is universal with variations findable in other religious texts. It is so universal, even atheists and agnostics can see its wisdom and adopt its governance.

Yet, the golden rule is not caveated. It does not say, treat all Christians like you want to be treated. It does not say treat fellow citizens like you want to be treated. It does not say treat people of the male gender like you want to be treated. Nor does it say treat only heterosexuals like you want to be treated.

And, just to state the obvious, it does not say treat people who look like you as you want to be treated. Let me say this plainly. As a 60-year-old white man, Jesus did not look like me. He did not look like Max von Sydow or Jeffrey Hunter who played him in the movies.

Jesus was of Middle Eastern Jewish descent and likely had a swarthy complexion. If Jesus walked into the wrong bar with white supremacists today, he would likely be harmed or showed the door. Jesus would not have ordained the US Constitution as some people believe, as he would be ashamed of our founders for tolerating slavery and that 3/5 a person wording in a document promoting freedom. Yet, he would see hope in the improvements made to the document over   the last 200 plus years.

Folks, I am an imperfect man. I guard against my biases, but like everyone, still have them. Yet, that golden rule has to be more than words. We must treat each other like we want to be treated. And, for Christ’s sake and our own morality, we cannot condone the killing of others because they are perceived to be different. It simply is not right nor is it justified, especially by some warped or myopic view of religion or patriotism.