Wednesday, December 26, 2018

#TwoSentenceHorrorStory: A Genre

In honor of Jordan Peele's newest film "Us". I wanted to venture into the realm of horror. I'm not a particularly good fiction writer, but I've liked the two-sentence horror story format since it burst on the social media scene in early 2013. Most of my early “stories” weren’t very scary or good, but these were worth sharing.

1) After six hours of trying, all he accomplished was getting his leg stuck further in the trap. The temperature was falling, the wolves were howling and he only had one bullet left.

2) Lisa was terrified by the soft sounds coming from her grandparents’ Victrola. The electric company shut the power off two days ago and her brother had claimed all of the records for himself.

3) Connor convinced himself the Homecoming pep rally was his best chance to make them finally leave him alone. As soon as the band stopped playing, he reached in his backpack.

4) She was everything he dreamed of: drop dead gorgeous, rich, intelligent and caring. He didn’t want to kill her husband, but how else could they be together?

5) They read all of articles and watched all of the videos; they sought counseling. None of it stopped their daughter from hanging another cat.

6) He didn’t know he was a cutter until he ran out of people to torture. Down two fingers and holding the knife against his pinky, he knew he had to go hunting.

7) She arrogantly yelled, "Let me speak to the manager." LaQuisha responded, "I'm the owner Susan."

8) They no longer trusted the universities, the media or their own instincts. Reality was changing right before our eyes and we powerless to do anything about it.

9) Holding his breath until he passed out no longer worked. He would wake up and they would be standing over him.

10) They raised their glasses high into the air before the toast. Everyone was so optimistic about 2019, but deep down they knew it would be another year like the others.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Kevin Hart Flexed On The Oscars

Kevin Hart decided to step down as host of the 91st annual Academy Awards. He was announced as the host on Wednesday (12/05/18) and was out by Friday (12/07/18). He informed his fans via an Instagram post of his decision to walk away: 

"I have made the choice to step down from hosting this year's Oscar’s... I do not want to be a distraction on a night that should be celebrated by so many amazing talented artists. I sincerely apologize to the LGBTQ community for my insensitive words from my past. I'm sorry that I hurt people... I am evolving and want to continue to do so. My goal is to bring people together not tear us apart. Much love & appreciation to the Academy. I hope we can meet again."

According to his IG post he was given an ultimatum by the Academy. He could make a formal public apology for his homophobic tweets and stay on as the host or he would be replaced. Kevin chose to walk away. In his response he highlighted the fact that he had indeed apologized for his past statements and those apologies would be just as easy to find as his controversial tweets were.

Social media is the judge, jury, and executioner for those living in the public’s eye. Twitter and Facebook are great tools for gauging what people are thinking at any given moment, but the often-caustic environment found on social media makes civil discussions almost impossible. Kevin Hart apologized for his past tweets, but those apologies didn’t trend like this controversy has; in the world of social media that’s the equivalent of them not existing. 

This isn’t an attempt to delegitimize the criticisms he’s faced for his tweets. Kevin Hart isn’t above reproach, but its’s disingenuous not to acknowledge the roll group think plays in social media controversies. Once a topic trends, it becomes popular to have an opinion about said topic. There are people tweeting about this who have never made one public statement of solidarity with the LGBTQIA+ community. Some of have never watched the Academy Awards, and others have never seen Kevin Hart perform. This doesn’t mean their opinions are null and void, but all opinions aren’t equal. There are people participating in this conversation for narcissistic reasons.

This isn't my soapbox. I’ve made a ton of inappropriate statements I wish I could have back, but there are three things about this situation that make me very uncomfortable:

1) The Virtue Signaling: A lot of people weigh in on hot button issues in an attempt to absolve themselves of their own past problematic behavior. I have news for them: it doesn’t work that way. If you’ve laughed, or even snickered a little, at Bernie Mac's "milk and cookies" routine you are the fertilizer that helped grow Kevin Hart’s troubling tweets. 

2) The Doxing: There are people who sit around and scour other people's social media accounts looking for anything that could hurt them. These aren’t private investigators, they aren’t vetting people for important jobs. These people have too much free time on their hands. They would rather use their time tearing someone else apart than building themselves up. 

3) The Accountability: Social media has found a way to hold everyone accountable for what they say or do but the President of the United States. Donald Trump made hundreds of statements just as offensive as Kevin Hart’s tweets. We live in a society that holds comedians to higher ethical standards than politicians. 

Kevin Hart is out as the host of the Oscar’s. This won’t make one person affected by homophobia any safer. This doesn’t make the Academy Awards an institution with integrity. We haven’t solved any of the underlying issues that led to him thinking the way he did about the gay and lesbian community. We put a band aid on a bullet wound. Sadly, there are people on social media hailing this as some great victory for LGBTQIA+ rights.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Why Are We So Depressed?

Sometimes we want what we want even if we know it’s going to kill us.
Donna Tartt

Sigmund Freud believed most people channeled their death instinct outwardly. The "Death Drive" or that tendency towards self destructive behavior is real. I don't care if you subscribe to Eastern orthodoxies, Western religious dogmatism, or postmodern psychoanalytic theory, we can't deny the fact that there are some people hell bent on destroying themselves.

Self destruction takes on many forms. For some it's alcohol and drug abuse; for others it's engaging in extremely dangerous or risky behavior. No matter the symptom(s) the underlying cause tends to be some form of depression. What has changed in society? Are we more depressed now than before? Why do so many people feel like they are trapped in lives they can't escape?

This isn't a frivolous rhetorical exercise. I'm asking broad, open ended questions for a reason: maybe we need to spend more time thinking, with an open mind, about what's happening around us? How can we possibly help anyone if we haven't asked ourselves tough questions, or examined our own self destructive behaviors? 

I'm not Monday morning quarterbacking depression or any mental health issue. This isn't amateur psychology hour. I'm asking anyone still reading to think about the big questions, and some of the seemingly small questions that have big answers. Who are you? Who am I? How much influence does society, class, culture, and economics play in determining the answers we find? Why are we so depressed?

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Overcoming Racists Imagery: A Trip Inside The Mind

Who else is tired of their social media feeds being flooded with viral videos of Black people being harassed and/or questioned by overly concerned white people? I’m not saying we shouldn’t watch and share these videos. Ignoring this issue won’t make it go away. These videos serve a purpose, but I’m tired of seeing them. I’m tired of anti-Blackness. I’m tired of people deputizing themselves to police us. I’m tired of people assuming our presence needs to be explained.

This kind of harassment is the child of ignorance and hatred. Unnecessarily following, questioning, or calling the cops on anyone can create a potentially dangerous situation. Not everyone is going to pull out a phone and start recording. There are people capable of going from calm to pissed off before their antagonist can dial 911, but even if the person being harassed keeps their cool they are put in the ominous position of having to explain themselves to law enforcement.

These videos are new, but this behavior isn’t. Black bodies have been monitored and surveilled since the first slave ships dropped anchor. The moment Black bodies are “out of place” our patriotic friends spring into action. Their fear and unarticulated assumptions create drama where none exists.
I know Black people who are policing themselves. I know people who have decided that eating at certain restaurants or shopping in some malls isn’t worth risking a potential confrontation. This is psychologically exhausting and emotionally damaging.

We don’t have to be prisoners to this madness. Self-exploration, self-awareness, and ultimately, self-knowledge is our way out. Finding yourself doesn’t mean you won’t be victimized by racism, but it can keep you from internalizing the experience. We should be upset by racist behavior, we should confront racists tropes, but we shouldn’t allow the mania of others to limit our freedom. We can train our minds and strengthen our spirits.

Plato thought there were three components to the soul: the logical, the spirited, and the appetite; Sigmund Freud lectured about the three parts of the personality: the id, the ego, and the superego; Frantz Fanon wrote extensively about decolonializing the mind; The Nation of Gods and Earths have been teaching about self-actualization since the 60’s. There’s a lot of information across a variety of disciplines readily available for anyone serious about overcoming the psychological effects of trauma.

What works for me (if it is working) may not work for you. I’ve found that fighting the urge to reject objectification helped me understand they way people look at me and how I react to their reactions. I think of myself as an object, a subject, and an agent. This allows me to focus on the things I can control. I define my personal trinity in the terms of me, myself, and I.

  • Me: (object) a canvas where society projects its understanding (and misunderstandings) about language, culture, gender, race, sex, and class.
  • Myself: (subject) The internal battleground where assumptions, prejudices, and preconceived notions are either internalized and accepted, or confronted and defeated.
  • I: (agent) The external being whose actions reflect the conscious and unconscious struggles I face.

We are constantly objectified: all of us. Every interaction we have starts with a look that attempts to understand us or place us in a category. At any given time, we have a number of character traits projected onto us. Those initial judgments are part of life; they will always be there, but we don't define us. We will never know freedom if we don’t find a way around social stigma. One can be bound without physical shackles.

Our challenge is to diminish the power judgment holds over us while simultaneously elevating our self-worth. The phobias and “isms” plaguing our society flourish because of intellectual laziness. Ignorance and hatred aren’t going anywhere, but we have to remember that the hateful and ignorant aren’t the majority. We can’t fall into the trap of trying to refute every negative stereotype about Blackness. Ultimately, the most important judgment we face lives on the other side of a mirror.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

The Flag and Willful Distortions of History

Editor, The Recorder,

I would like to respectfully answer the challenge Mrs. Gum issued in her letter to the editor that ran in the Sept. 13 issue.

In her letter, she laid out a few facts about Francis Scott Key, but she didn’t give readers enough historical background about him or the poem he wrote (which was later turned into the national anthem) to paint a complete picture.

I’m certain The Recorder won’t give me enough space to thoroughly discuss Francis Scott Key’s bigotry, protests against police brutality, and the fissures in America today, but I will try. To do this, I will enlist the help of another famous Francis Scott Key — Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald.

F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”

To fully understand protests in America, one has to be willing to hold two contradictory ideas in their head at the same time and get outside of themselves long enough to consider what America looks like through another’s eye.

Francis Scott Key was the son of a slave owner — he inherited wealth created by slave labor, he owned slaves, and he was enriched throughout his life by the institution of slavery. As a lawyer in Maryland and a District Attorney in Washington, D.C., he did everything in his legal authority to make life hell for Africans in America. He never prosecuted crimes committed against freed Blacks, and he fought several legal battles against abolitionists.

Key was in British custody because of a prisoner swap he was negotiating. The British feared he would turn over intelligence, so they kept him on a boat anchored several miles out to sea during the 20 to 24 hours of the attack on Fort “McHenry.”

Francis Scott Key and his poem are a part of American history. He is worthy of praise and blame for his actions. He was a horrible human being. In the third stanza of his poem he writes, “No refuge could save the hireling and slave, from the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave, and the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave, o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

That line was a direct reference to the freed Blacks and slaves who chose to fight for the British Army. He hated them so much that he cheered their deaths.

Key once said Africans were “a distinct and inferior race of people, which all experience proves to be the greatest evil that afflicts a community.” All of this is part of the same story!

America is complex. We have a history most would rather run from than confront. I’ve been at military funerals where loved ones are presented with the flag; this is a cathartic experience. Love of country is a powerful motivator for many people. I understand and respect the sacrifices some have made. With that said, it would be disingenuous to not admit the promises made in the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and the national anthem don’t apply to all of us.

There will never be a “popular” protest movement. This doesn’t mean reasonable people can’t disagree about what is or isn’t appropriate. Dr. King has been dead long enough to become a beloved figure in America, but he died a hated man. Muhammad Ali was much more popular as an older man dealing with Parkinson’s disease than a young man standing up for the dignity of Black people in the 60's and 70's. This will also be the fate of Colin Kaepernick. His protest was never about the flag or our troops.

Willfully distorting the reason players are protesting solves nothing. Saying racism is better doesn’t deal with the ways it has evolved. Changing the conversation guarantees another generation will have to talk about these issues.

Malcolm X once said, “You can’t stab a man in the back nine inches, pull the knife out six inches, and celebrate the progress.”

There are inequities in employment and educational opportunities that need to be addressed. The criminal justice system is a nightmare. Too many Americans have been systematically excluded from the dream.

What Is Your Legacy?

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

I'm (Part of) What's Wrong With Social Media: I Don't Apologize

Facebook was my gateway drug into the world of social media. I remember the day I opened my account. It was November 16, 2011: I had just gotten home from doing close to ten years in the Virginia Department of Corrections. I was surrounded by family and friends who worked as Sherpas guiding me through the nuisances of Facebook etiquette. 1) Don't post about politics. 2) Don't post about religion: unless you are posting about how awesome Jesus is. 3) Don't post about racism. Basically, I was advised to avoid posting about anything other than cats, babies, and food. 

I was so eager to get reacquainted with some of my old friends that I indiscriminately started sending and accepting friend requests. Within a few days I had over 500 "friends". This was awesome. What I didn't account for was how much some of us had changed over the years. After a while it was obvious some of our lives were in completely different places. This isn’t about being praise worthy or blame worthy. Life happened and we had different priorities. 

The overwhelming majority of my “friends” wanted Facebook to be a place where they could escape from the day to day grind of life. I didn’t know social media was supposed to be fun, and when I found out I didn’t care. All of this was happening so fast. 

I turned my Facebook into my public diary and started journaling. It was cathartic. I wrote what I felt and didn’t care about the consequences. There were days I felt incredibly blessed to be home and have a second chance at life; on those days, I wrote about my feelings. There were days when the world seemed like a flaming bag of crapsicles; on those days I wrote. I didn’t shy away from controversial issues. I was indifferent to the agreed upon rules that governed Facebook. This was seen, by some, as passive aggressive behavior. I lost a lot of those early "friends".

Our society conditions people to avoid “controversy”. We are taught to ignore bigotry, hatred, and incivility. Too many people have bought into the belief that society's ills can be fixed by ignoring them. There are people who believe their right to bliss shouldn’t be impeded by the raw nature of our world. They are wrong! They have every right to ingest or avoid any information they choose, but they don’t have a right to another’s silence. I don’t apologize for the (small) role I’ve played in ruining social media. I don’t apologize for writing about race, religion, class, culture, or politics. I don't apologize for my truth being abrasive against the thin skin of those who choose to run from the world around them. Maybe, If we hadn’t avoided talking about these issues for so long we might understand how they affect us?

Sunday, August 26, 2018

John McCain and The Divided States of America

We can respect John McCain and critique his policies without canonizing him or ripping him to shreds. 

It's true, he sacrificed in ways 99% of us never have or will, and it's true he supported some very problematic domestic and foreign policy decisions. John McCain was every bit as human as the rest of us. On his best days he exemplified a life of service; on his worst days he made decisions that negatively affected the American people. 

In the last 24 hours, I've read articles and blogs that ranged from John McCain was, "one of America's greatest heroes" to he was, "a blood thirsty warmonger". The fact that so many people are so far apart in their assessment of his life and political legacy is a testament to how polarized our political landscape is. 

There are writers pushing out "clickbait" articles for the sole purpose of preaching to their ideological and political choirs. This is sad. John McCain isn't above scrutiny, but he and his family deserve respect. 

Saturday, August 11, 2018

10 Separate (but kind of connected) Thoughts About Race

1. On the one year anniversary of Heather Hyer's death there are still bigots who think of themselves as good people because they don't protest with Tiki torches.

2. Most of the people who equate protests over racism and police brutality with disrespect for the military do so willfully. Ignoring the racism cooked into the American system of jurisprudence is easier than fixing it.

3. Laura Ingraham's bigoted comments are part of the mainstreaming of racism. The overwhelming majority of racist people I've encountered didn't think of themselves as racist: even after sharing their problematic views about people of color.

4. Fear of changing demographics is evidence that too many "real Americans" are prisoners to their narrow conception of what it means to be an American.

5. Every day racial, religious, and ethnic minorities are implicitly reminded that the "founding fathers" didn't steal this land and slaughter the indigenous people who lived on it for us. They never intended on us benefiting from their labor. 

6. There is no nuanced way to interpret bigotry. There is no distance between supporting language and actions that categorizes people as less than. Silent support is still support.

7. Black people who engage in respectability politics are a bigger part of the problem than they realize. Trying to creating the illusion of perfect "Blackness" is a form of accepting the lie of black inferiority. Quit trying to prove things to people.

8. If you truly care about your minority friends, try to get outside of your comfort zone long enough to look at the overt racism of the last three years from their vantage point.

9. No one person is capable of ending racism: It's nearly impossible to cause shifts in some people's thought process. Once an idea becomes entrenched in the psyche it tends to stay their. There are people we have to leave behind.

10. As a rule, radical shifts in a society are almost impossible achieve over a short period of time. This is a never ending battle.  

Thursday, July 26, 2018

We Are The Prophets: Lessons From Amos

They were living lives of material wealth and satisfying all of their carnal desires, yet they were empty on the inside. Their debauchery knew no limits; they had even reduced the sacredness of worship to a ritual that could be memorized.

Piney Grove Baptist Church
Click the play button to start the message.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

There's Never Enough Time

Have you ever felt like your plan isn't working? Think about it; you set a goal, but every time you turn around your attention and resources are being diverted from the task at hand.

Do you feel stuck? Keep reading if this sounds familiar. You just got home from work, but before you can decompress you have a literal laundry list of things to do. Some of these tasks should have been done the other day, but you didn't have time. Have you ever sat down on the couch at 8:30pm and 20 minutes later it was 11 o'clock?

If any of this describes your life, you are not a statistical outlier. You are exactly like the majority of us. Life is pulling you in so many directions that you feel swamped. Sometimes, our biggest accomplishment in a day is just surviving it.

The two questions I started with are rooted in how we feel about our situation. That's great news. We can be our harshest critic. What we feel about our situation and the reality of our situation can be two completely different things. We only have so much time at our disposal, so we shouldn't use it beating ourselves up. You are probably doing better than you give yourself credit for.

Most of us don't have enough time to accomplish everything we want when we want. There will always be something pulling our attention away from our goals. This is what life is. If you can close your eyes knowing you are doing the best you can: sleep easy. A good night's sleep feels better than restlessly doubting yourself. Either way, the laundry will be waiting on you in the morning.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Donald Trump Has No Character

"It was almost no trick at all, he saw, to turn vice into virtue and slander into truth...arrogance into humility…brutality into patriotism. Anybody could do it; it required no brains at all. It merely required no character."

Joseph Heller Catch-22

Truth, sometimes, is stranger than fiction. This quote, in some form or another, has been used to describe Donald Trump by a number of people. His performance in Helsinki and the subsequent press conference to clean up that mess is par for this presidency.

Donald Trump had a complete meltdown less than 10 feet from Vladimir Putin. He proved once and for all that he is a Beta male using bravado to hide his insecurities. Watch the video again; his discomfort was visible. I wasn't surprised by his lying and scapegoating: he does that almost every time he's in front of cameras, but the timidity was stunning. He looked like a child with a disappointing report card.

The right-wing response to the Helsinki debacle was predictable. Some of his early GOP detractors pounced in an effort to show some sort of strength. His supporters did what they always do: defend him and his ineptitude at any cost, and when that didn't work they fell back on Hillary Clinton's emails and Barack Obama's existence. Sarah Sanders stood in front of reporters and "Trumpslained" her boss's 45 minute comedy of errors. This whole experiment is absurd.

Donald Trump's cult following gets​ stronger after every one of his catastrophic public appearances. He is the manifestation of Joseph Heller's quote from "Catch-22". His utter lack of character is only surpassed by his most loyal supporter's ability to ignore and defend his almost daily indiscretions. Donald Trump has waged a war on virtues, truth, humility, and patriotism.

1. Donald Trump's vices are his virtues. Donald Trump’s money, lifestyle, and pseudo-machismo are attractive to many of his followers. A lot of Evangelicals subscribe to an overly ascetic interpretation of the Bible that causes them to, publicly, deny having urges of the flesh- much less acting on them. The fact that he is an unapologetic serial liar, adulterer, misogynist, and bigot is seen as a sign of strength. He says out loud what some only say in the comfort of their home. Trump's army of self-professed Christian conservatives always defend him- even when his behavior is antithetical to the teachings of Jesus. He turned ignorance, arrogance, and apathy into redeemable qualities.  

2. Donald Trump's slander is his truth. His mantra of "fake news" is a linguistic and rhetorical tool used to handicap factual discussions. The idea that broad swaths of the American media and intelligentsia should be ignored is a genius strategy for someone who can only be hurt by the truth. This sort of Tammy Wynette "gaslighting" has been very effective. Donald Trump's war on the truth and empirical data is the embodiment of the Chico Marx line from the movie Duck Soup, "Who ya gonna believe, me or your lying eyes?" When confronted with incontrovertible facts his base is unswayed. He has convinced millions of people to suspend their commonsense. His lies and personal attacks are equated with facts in the world.

3. Donald Trump's arrogance is his humility. Arrogance is defined as: an attitude of superiority manifested in an overbearing manner or in presumptuous claims or assumptions. Donald Trump loves the use of superlatives. He constantly reminds us of his personal greatness. He is the smartest, best, richest, and my personal favorite: least racist person any of us knows. In Meher Baba’s 1967 book Discourses, he described pride as “the specific feeling through which egoism manifests.” Donald Trump is so much better than us that we should be happy he humbles himself to talk to us- even if it is about himself.

4. Donald Trump’s Patriotism is brutal. There is a dangerous and false pride woven into Donald Trump’s America first ethos. His treatment of Barack Obama, The Kahn Family, and Judge Gonzalo Curiel is tacit proof that being born in America doesn’t mean someone is a “real American”. He has a litmus test for patriotism. In his view, anyone who questions the status quo is un-American. He calls NFL players “sons of bitches” for protesting police brutality while he ignores, equivocates, and even excuses Russia’s attacks on the country he professes to love so much. There are segments of the American populace who feel increasingly vulnerable in the age of Trump. The spike in racial attacks, unwarranted calls to police, and the normalization of bigotry is a form of violence that has been visited upon people who don’t conform to the “Trumpian” view of who is an American. This is a problem many in his camp ignore.

I've written over 30 articles about Donald Trump since the spring of 2015. They all have a similar tenor and tone. I have ceased trying to understand or respect a man who has shown a complete lack of character. Donald Trump's agenda is dangerous to people on the outside of his racial, religious, cultural, and heteronormative conception of who is an American, but it's become obvious that it is just as dangerous to those in his base. Sadly, this won't be the last time he embarrasses America on the world stage.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

We Killed The Church

I'm not a religious zealot looking to convert the masses. I will make the introduction and witness to you, but the rest is your business. I'm much worse than those constantly proselytizing to the masses. I'm a Christian naive enough to expect Christians to love folks. I have never found the right balance between rage and Grace.

The last few years have been incredibly frustrating. I really don't know what, if any, role I have in this Kingdom building endeavor. I will never pretend to be a perfect person and I will never ignore bigotry and ignorance. These two fatal flaws almost eliminate me from preaching.

I am so disenchanted with the state of the church. I don't know what to do. I know a lot of great pulpit lecturers and entertainers, but very few members of the clergy who are willing to take a stand. I'm disappointed with pastors who profess to believe in a risen God who was crucified, but are too scared of upsetting their congregations to preach the truth to them.

I don't think the church can be saved. We did this to ourselves. We can blame the Atheist, the Agnostics, or worshippers of other religions, but they aren't the ones who made us trade our religious convictions for the idols of money, nationalism, politics, and race.

Friday, June 15, 2018

America's "Real" Christian Values

"I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for His purposes."

 Attorney General Jeff Sessions

Taking scripture out of context, like this beauty from Jeff Sessions, is a cornerstone of repressive evangelical ideology. If we were to draw this misreading of scripture to it's most logical conclusion then the crucifixion was just, Paul's four trips to prison for emulating the life of Jesus and spreading the Gospel were just, and yes America's enslavement of Africans was just. This is the kind of regressive Christianity that continues to poison people against the church.

Religion and patriotism have always been good disguises for bigotry. There are very real issues to be resolved with our immigration system, but snatching babies off of their mother's breast and detaining kids in makeshift prisons isn't the answer. It's painfully obvious, to anyone who isn't emotionally invested in the myth of America, that this kind of treatment has always been reserved for racial minorities. This is an empirical fact. America has always mistreated those with "problematic" identities. This is just another version of that.

In 25 years the people who are supporting this foolishness will have to pretend they were always against it. They are, coincidentally, the same people angry about nonviolent protests against police brutality. These are the descendants of the people who defended southern police departments when they were spraying protesters with hoses and beating unarmed people with nightsticks. It takes some of our fellow citizens a generation or two to see the humanity in people who don't look like them.

Here's some free advice: be very careful around people using the Bible to justify vicious and cruel behavior. The same people using scripture to dehumanize the "other" will use the same Bible to find a verse to legitimize your mistreatment.

There's a rich history of Christians who have been martyred for disobeying unjust laws. I wish Jeff Sessions was as well versed in what Jesus was doing when he was calling out Pharisees and running money changers out of the temple. Maybe if Mr. Sessions had paid more attention to what Black people were rebelling against when he was a young man he would know the state isn't always doing things in accordance with the principle of "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Honoring Woody Pettus

On Saturday, June 2nd, a group of almost a 100 people gathered on The Casino Lawn at The Omni Homestead. The Casino, built in 1895, will be the home of the Omni Homestead’s newest restaurant “Woody's”. A restaurant dedicated to the memory of Woodrow Pettus.

Woody Pettus started working at the Homestead as a caddy when he was a teenager. He moved from the golf course into the stables where he worked with his father. His final move was into The Main Dining Room. He was a busboy, waiter, wine steward, captain, assistant head waiter, headwaiter, and then Maître d.

In 2003, Golf Styles Magazine recognized Mr. Pettus as Maître d’ of the Year. Last September, (2017) The Historic Hotels of America honored him as Ambassador of the Year.

At the ribbon cutting ceremony, managing director of The Omni Homestead, Brett Schoenfeld, had this to say about Mr. Pettus:

From the time I learned of Woody’s illness we spent a lot of time on the phone. We talked about his legacy here at the hotel. Trying to honor a man like that is a very difficult thing. We, as a team, thought a lot about how we wanted to do that and how we wanted to make that happen. We are pleased to announce today that the restaurant here at The Casino starting June 8th, will be named Woody’s.

The ribbon cutting event was part of a larger weekend dedicated to the life of Woody Pettus. Later that night, The Omni Homestead’s main dining room was transformed into a celebration hall for the life of Mr. Pettus. Proclamations from The Historic Hotels of America were read by William Foudy. A letter from The American Hotel and Lodging Association was read by Henry “Hank” Spire. A letter from the Virginia State Golf Association was read by Don Ryder, and resolution from the Virginia Tourism Corporation’s board of directors was read by Miss Jane Sewell.

The Pettus family received numerous awards, presentations, and plaques throughout the night. State Senator Creigh Deeds Introduced Senate Resolution number 534 honoring Mr. Pettus. In an extension of remarks for the Congressional Record Robert William Goodlatte United States House of Representatives presented the family with a certificate of recognition. Virginia Governor Ralph Northam also sent a recognition to the family.

Bob Goodlatte Chairman of the House Judiciary 
Woody's daughter Lisa Aguilar gave remarks to the crowd on behalf of her family:

What an honor it is to stand here tonight and honor my daddy. He loved this place. To his friends and coworkers, he loved you. He truly loved the Homestead. He loved everything about it. There are guests who have known my dad and told me my kids know your dad, my grandkids know your dad. What an honor.

In a tribute video presented to the family coworker longtime friend Arthur Bryan summed up Woody’s impact on the resort this way:

Many times, guest would call the Homestead and ask, “Is Woody at the Homestead?” If they were planning to come and Woody wasn’t here, 9 out of 10 times they would wait until Woody came back to work before they would even check in.

This story is also published on the Allegheny Mountain Radio website

Thursday, May 31, 2018

When Were The "Good Ole Days"?

Contrary to popular belief, American society hasn't devolved. This doesn't mean we should ignore or compartmentalize the barbarism we've witnessed, but we shouldn't pretend like today's evils are inherently different than the evils of yesteryear. America has a 240+ year run of carnage under her belt. The only thing separating today from yesterday is our vantage point.

The idea that American society has devolved is rooted in the false belief that we achieved some utopian state of bliss and then lost it. This collective fetishization- with a period no one can point to on a calendar- is a form of scapegoating that hinders​ our ability to address the very real issues we face.

There are millions of Americans so in love with the past that they fear the future. They have romanticized a history that never existed. Some have been so tricked by their youth, incomplete memories, and the false narratives woven into our cultural identity that they believe the America from country and western songs actually existed. I have some bad news for the adherents of this false doctrine. The "good old days" never existed. They aren't a real period in time. They are a fantasy land where nothing bad ever happened and everything was pure. 

This is a painful realization, so painful, that some choose to avoid it. Instead of engaging and critically examining the myths and lies that underpin this fantasy they repeat them. Anything that challenges​ the narratives​ people believe about America is viewed as a personal attack. People aren't upset that a piece of cloth isn't being recognized, they are upset that people aren't embracing their version of reality. This makes telling the truth about​ America a risky and controversial proposition.

America didn't devolve; Americans just quit pretending to be civilized towards each other. Meaningful discourse was murdered by ego. Our society is so preoccupied with making sure people are respectful to symbols and relics that we've stopped working towards an inclusive future. There are people so invested in their tribes, dogmas, and ideologies that they have become blind to the ways those beliefs harm other people. They are prisoners to the myths they were indoctrinated with.

This is who we are and where we are. We are in this bed together and we have to fix it. There's a better chance of white people returning this land to the ancestors of those it was stolen from than a mass exodus of Black and Brown people. We will learn how to live together or we will be witnesses to the kind of uprisings we see in black and white photos and videos. The choice is ours.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Wynton Wasn't Wrong!

“I don’t think we should have a music talking about ni**ers and b*tches and h*es... I’ve said it. I’ve repeated it. I still repeat it. To me that’s more damaging than a statue of Robert E. Lee.”

Wynton Marsalis

That quote from Wynton Marsalis on Jonathan Capehart’s weekly podcast “Cape Up” put him squarely in the sights of #BlackTwitter. He was absolutely obliterated. His criticisms of rap were dismissed as the rantings of a cane waving old man. The following day Marsalis wrote a 1,074-word Facebook post clarifying his position. This recurring conversation about rap has deeper social consequences than many of the folks attacking him seem willing to admit.

Criticisms of rap, no matter how reasonable, have a way of pitting people from different age groups, races, and socioeconomic backgrounds against each other. Many of Marsalis’s critics chose to attack him instead of the arguments he used to support his position. This is sad. His use of Robert E. Lee and Confederate statues was provocative, but his logic was sound. We should be morally and intellectually honest enough to admit that misogyny, homophobia, drug use, drug distribution, and soft genocide are constitutive themes in a lot of the music produced today. This doesn’t mean all rap.

I say this as a 43-year-old ordained member of clergy who listens to rap every day. I will always love rap: even though I can't stand a majority of the kids making it these days. For me, rap has always been about the beats. Good songs always have great beats, and great songs have great beats and great lyrical content. It’s possible to love a problematic genre of music and tell the truth about it. Rap is awesome, but there are artists and songs I don’t play in front of kids and polite company. This is true for movies as well.

There are so many negative artistic and literary representations of Black people that they seep into the consciousness of a society. This is damaging. Many of today’s rappers have more in common with actors and reality stars than the image they portray. Sadly, many of the kids listening don't always know this. Imitation is a form of flattery, but when Black children mimic the actions of their favorite rappers the consequences can be deadly.

Marsalis’s words parallel those of bell hooks and others who have critiqued rap from inside the Black community. No one has to agree or disagree with these criticisms but ridiculing them doesn’t make them go away. I don’t agree with everything he said, but I respect him for the way he explained his feelings. He didn’t go the Fox news route and try to diminish the community while distancing himself from Blackness. He didn’t coon or sellout.

What we are seeing in rap is the logical conclusion to the evolutionary path the genre has been on. I had a mixtape in the 90’s titled: Music To Do Drive-Bys To. It was as cd of freestyles over some of the hardest beats down south producers were making back then. I look back on that album and realize the problems with it. This doesn’t make me better than a kid listening to Lil Pump or Migos. A lot of the kids making music today were raised by people who exposed them to the same music I was listening to. As a community it behooves us to come to grips with the impact rap has had on too many kids. This is an important conversation that more parents and kids need to have.

I love a problematic genre of music. Our society is never giving up materialism or vanity, so those themes will always be reflected in art. Rap isn’t all bad. There have always been people rapping about systemic racism, poverty and the existential angst that comes with living in America. Kendrick Lamar and Future are the progeny of the genre that produced KRS1 and 2 Live Crew. As consumers of the art form and people concerned with our community, we have to he honest about this reality. Wynton Marsalis isn’t our enemy. He’s more of an ally than the record labels benefitting from Black pain and suffering.

Friday, May 25, 2018

America Needs More Steve Kerr!

"I'm proud to be in a league that understands patriotism in America is about free speech. It's about peacefully protesting...They're weren't disrespecting the flag or the military, but our president decided to make it about that and the NFL followed suit and pandered to their fan base by creating this hysteria."

Steve Kerr showed some of "allies" how easy it is to tell the truth.

"Allies" love sharing their obligatory MLK quotes and pictures, but very few have ever wrestled with his words. Dr. King's message was the antithesis of  peacefully suffering injustice. Anyone who believes he would side with Donald Trump and the NFL over the people he was murdered advocating for needs to turn of Fox News and pick up a book.

Here are some Dr. King quotes to get you started:

1. Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.

2. In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends. 

3. There comes a time when silence is betrayal.

4. There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe nor politic nor popular, but he must take it because his conscience tells him it is right.

If you can't tell the truth about peaceful protests and the Black bodies that caused them, keep Dr. King's name out of your mouth. Your silence allows the status quo to continue. We have a legal system that kills more unarmed people of color than armed school shooters. Let me say that again: white mass shooters are treated better than unarmed people of color. In 25 years your grandkids will be ashamed.

If we hadn't put a moratorium on inviting folks to the cookout Steve Kerr would have already received a lifetime achievement award.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

A Few Quick Thoughts

1. Tomi Lahren is a horrible person who has exacerbated, and directly benefited from, racial tensions, but she didn't deserve to have a drink thrown on her.

2. If the NFL was really worried about patriotism and the flag they would give back all of the tax dollars the Department of Defense has paid them since 2009 for "acts of patriotism".

3. Wynton Marsalis is getting a lot more heat than he deserves. He has valid arguments worth wrestling with.

4. The truth doesn't have a political agenda, and it doesn't require our approval to be valid. 6×6=36 no matter your understanding of math.

5. Opinions aren't facts, but they carry weight. Also, all opinions aren't equal. If you don't believe me, take medical advice from an accountant.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Thanks For Your Support!

Thoughtwrestler turned 5 years old today! In its first year my blog got 4,000 page views. These days, I can get that many clicks in a week. My little blog is still a "failure" by society's standards, but I have had my work published and cited across a variety of publications. I have met and interviewed politicians, celebrities, and academicians. I'm not where I want to be, but I can look back and see progress.

The moral of the story: keep pushing. Don't allow the secular myths of popularity, approval, or acceptances limit you. Don't wait for ANYONE to validate your vision. If you see yourself doing something do it. Most people never make it because they are afraid of failing in public. Don't be this kind of failure. Be the kind of failure that can look back at your efforts and be proud. No one can decide how hard you work. No one can make your dreams a reality.

Thanks for your support! I appreciate all of the reads, likes, and shares. This has been a blessing! Salute!


A Royal Shaming

Q: What was the most annoying thing about the royal wedding?

A: Reading hot takes from people hell bent on shaming people for watching it.

Full Disclosure: I didn't watch the royal wedding; however, I'm not completely clueless about the most watched, tweeted, and discussed event this past weekend. I, like everyone else, was witness to the media's 360° coverage. From what I saw it was beautiful. Bishop Michael Curry delivered a timely message a lot of people needed to hear. This was the kind of event little girls playing princess dream of.

I chose not to watch the wedding for one reason: it was too early. By the time I got home Friday night I had already worked 60+ hours and Saturday is, usually, the only morning I get to sleep past 6:30 am.

I logged on Twitter shortly after 8 expecting to see some hateful tweets mixed in with the hashtags relevant to the wedding: that's what Twitter does, but I was surprised by how many people spent the better part of their Saturday bashing others for watching it. Contrarian points of view are social media's life's blood, but this was beneath petty.

#BlackTwitter split along ideological, religious, and gender lines. #WokeTwitter started attacking #BlackFeministTwitter, #HotepTwitter started attacking #NegropeanTwitter, and #SwirlingTwitter had a war amongst themselves.
It was sad.

The social media interactions between Black people over the weekend demonstrated how fragile our unity is. With all of the issues facing us, we let the marriage of a biracial woman to a prince, who is likely to never sit on the throne, come between us.

Watching or not watching the Royal wedding didn't open one school or close a liquor store in any of our communities. Tweet shaming people who watched didn't return any of the wealth looted from Alkebulan. Saturday didn't change anything.

The British Empire was built from the spoils of slavery and colonization. A new duchess can't change that history and doesn't have the power to make amends for it. The majority of people understood this. They just wanted to witness a historical event. There are people inside Black social media communities committed to shaming anyone for attempting to escape the daily rigors of life. Imagine if the NBA Finals or the NFL Draft caused this much chaos in the community? Here's a thought: people are allowed to enjoy something without endorsing or approving of it.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

With Friends Like Rudy

Did Rudy Giuliani really go on Hannity and admit Donald Trump paid Michael Cohen the $130,000 dollars he has been telling his Christian base he knew nothing about?

This should be a pretty big news story in the right-wing world, but it won't budge the needle. I already know how this will play out. Fox news, conservative media, and #Trumpstans on social media will dig even deeper into their bag of deflections and ad hominem fallacies: "America didn't elect Donald Trump to be our priest." "The American people knew who they were voting for." "The president has had to do some orthodox things because of the George Soros funded liberal media's radical socialist agenda?" 

Rudy Giuliani's admission of Donald Trump's knowledge of the Stormy Daniels payment will slide off the moral compass of his Evangelical base faster than the president can tweet no collusion. 

Counting the campaign, we are almost three years into the largest forfeiture of "moral high ground" this county has ever seen. The same folks who made their conception of moral character and Judeo-Christian values a requirement to hold elected office have long given up the right to ever question another politician's past.

Rudy Giuliani will likely have to back track from his statement. Sarah Huckabee Sanders will feign outrage when asked about this, and either lie or dismiss any legitimate questions about this issue. This will dominate the news cycle until the president fires someone else or one of his bigger lies is uncovered. This is what our media cycle has become. 

I've come to accept how wrong I was for calling his Evangelical supporters hypocrites. This isn't hypocritical behavior. For it to be hypocrisy, there would have to be some underlying core principles in place. "Good" people didn't suspend their principles to support a man diametrically opposed to them. "Good" people elected someone who was the physical embodiment of the hatred and anger they work so hard to hide and conceal. They found their champion in an admitted sexual harasser and abuser, a serial philanderer: with a history of misogyny, and an ego driven pathological liar. They can get mad at the media for pointing out his daily stream of lies. They can defend this behavior any way they choose, but they cannot deny they distance between their stated beliefs and their current actions.

There isn't a lie Donald Trump could tell, a porn star he could pay off, or a p*$$y he could grab that will cost him any support. None of this bothers them. Evangelicals have dug in and Rudy Giuliani's admission will be parsed a hundred different ways to drain the truth out of it.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Police Brutality: Believing Your Heart Over Your Eyes

The last few weeks have been incredibly stressful. I've seen a new video of police harassing, body slamming, and falsely arresting someone who looks like me almost everyday. These videos go viral; which, in return, forces local and national news producers to add them to the 6 o'clock and 11 o'clock shows. We are seeing more police brutality because everyone is walking around with a camera in their pocket.

Police brutality and racial disparities are constitutive parts of the American system of jurisprudence. People of color have been subjected to discriminatory policing since 1619. The intimidation tactics and the amount of force used in these videos serve as proof that protect and serve still doesn't apply equally across the board.

"The facts speak for themselves...There's not a single witness that says these young men were misbehaving in any way. And you can see and hear that on the video."  Stewart Cohen  

One has to work awful hard to not see this pattern. Sadly, there are too many "good" Americans committed to this task. These videos are chapters in an ongoing genealogy about life in America for people of color. When police brutality is on full display some Americans reflexively look for reasons to justify what they've witnessed. This defense mechanism breeds distrust.

People of color in general, and Black people in particular, are expected to keep these realities hidden. We are blamed for disrupting the peace when we point out what's happening to us. America doesn't love us. America doesn't respect us.

[African Americans] had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations; and so far inferior, that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect; and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit. He was bought and sold, and treated as an ordinary article of merchandise and traffic, whenever a profit could be made by it.    

Chief Justice Roger Taney

I don't know what else to do. I have written and talked about this so much that it has become nauseating. In the last 10 days people who look like me have been arrested, detained, and/or forcibly removed from coffee houses, gyms, and golf courses. All of these people have retroactively been given apologies. As if a sorry after the fact can reduce or remove the trauma of a life or death situation.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Is The Band Steele Country Music's Next Big Thing?

Pictured from left to right: 
Sage Tanguay-host of The Morning Dew, Ben Rubino- Guitarist, Bo Steele-lead singer, and Me

Last week I was joined in the WCHG studio by The Band Steele. They were finishing up a three state radio tour promoting the song 195 from their album Moon in a Mason Jar, and their latest single Victory in Jesus. This was the Band's second visit to our station.

We had a great talk. They might be country music's next big thing. Click the link below to see if they have the goods.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

50 Years Later We Still Miss King's Point

If you haven't noticed, there are a ton of articles, blogs, and videos about the 50-year anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination. A lot of people have worked really hard writing, editing, and producing content commemorating his life and legacy. If you get a chance you should engage as many of these works as possible. Critically and carefully examine the ideas expressed. After each piece, ask yourself: 1) What kind of person would produce this? 2) What kind of response are they trying to elicit? 3) What kind of work, if any, are they doing to support the causes important to Dr. King? 4) If someone doesn’t have a record of activism, why did they take time to participate in this conversation? Judge these works based on their merit, but also the actions of the author or producer who published them.

America celebrates Dr. King three times a year: his federal holiday on the third Monday in January, during Black History Month, and every April 4th. Sadly, these celebrations have displaced the reality of his life. Dr. King died a hated man. The overwhelming majority of white Americans had a poor view of him at the time of his death. His support inside the Black community was just above 50%. In the last years of his life Dr. King found himself on the outside of political and social circles he once was welcomed in.

Fifty years after his assassination, America has convinced three generations that he was the prototype for a social activist. His posthumous elevation from radical agent for social change to mythic figure is as American as apple pie. He went from hated to loved without a period of public reflection. The worst part about America’s love affair with Dr. King is the hypocrisy. Every time an activist engages in civil disobedience they are punished. America has never accepted criticism from marginalized communities.

No one in American history has had their legacy more purposefully distorted than Dr. King. Reactionaries and progressives alike use him to endorse a kind of respectability politics that lengthens the arc the moral universe has to travel before it gets to justice. Dr. King has been refashioned into a pacifist. His positions on physical violence overshadow the economic violence caused by the boycotts he championed. Because he possessed the ability to make people confront their own prejudices and shortcomings without attacking their character, he is viewed differently than some of his contemporaries who did the same thing with harsher language.  This isn’t the same as being conciliatory to white feelings.

America will never truly understand King’s dream until we are honest about the legacy of racism in America. We can celebrate the progress he helped usher in, but those celebrations do nothing to confront the ways race continues to affect people of color. Refusing to acknowledge race isn't a cure for racism.

Dr. King isn’t white America’s trophy civil rights activist and he’s not Black America’s principal. His legacy should be protected from all enemies both foreign and domestic. White people should check themselves before attempting to use him to quell social activism they are uncomfortable with and Black people with ulterior motives should check themselves before spreading fairy tales that defang his project of social change.

Here are a few things I think we should be mindful of as we reflect on this day.

  1. Be cautious around people who celebrate Dr. king while opposing every issue he advocated for. You can’t love Dr. King while hating someone like Colin Kaepernick and retain moral consistency. One of these men lead a protest that was much more violent than the other.

  1. Don’t sit idly by while people try to reappropriate King’s Dream. It’s impossible to remain silent about police brutality, mass incarceration, and the ways race still affects people of color and be a torch-bearer. Don't let people who have chastised protests movements over the same issues King was murdered for supporting convince you that he is their guy. Anyone who has publicly condemned protests over police brutality wouldn't have supported Dr. King.

  1. No one owns his legacy. I am very protective of Dr. King’s words, but the fact is he was heavily influenced by the religious and secular figures he read and came in contact with. His ability to weave secular and religious texts into a road map to a more equal future is something to be studied and shared. None of us own this legacy, but we should respect it.