Barn's burnt down
I can see the Moon.
~ Mizuta Masahide

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Holiday Gift Guide for Anti-Fascists in the Age of Trumpence #GrabYourWallet #SmallBizSat

Image result for love peace gifts

If you didn't so much as vote for Trump as hurl a Molotov cocktail of rage at the current economic system, and are now finding yourself perplexed and appalled by the explosion of hate crimes emboldened by the flame you helped start, then this gift guide is for you.

If you are a progressive, unsurprised by the explosion of hate crimes leading up to and following the election, and are therefore inclined to throw a Molotov cocktail at your friends and family who voted for Trumpence, then this gift guide is for you.

You see, there are many thousands of companies that demonstrate better ways of doing business than the exploitative, discriminatory and often illegal approach favored by Trump. And the collective power of holiday spending can help draw attention to these exemplars.
If we value the fair treatment of workers, neighbors, and contractors, it's not enough to just boycott the Trumps, we need to also support those companies that treat their workers well, support equitable local economies, and operate as responsible environmental stewards (but at the very least, skip New Balance).

You can find excellent options here, in the B Magazine directory, or you can buy from locally-owned and locally-sourced companies as a way of creating a stronger local economic impact in your community.

For your beloved who looks with horror upon the kitchen, gift them with GrubHub gift cards. And while you prepare your holiday meals, consider using flour, butter, wine and cheese from these companies (note: A to Z's Pinot Noir is quite tasty and pairs addictively with many Cabot cheeses).

If you're not in a benevolent gift-giving kind of mood (believe me, I get it), and would rather support organizations that assist those most vulnerable to the incoming administration's priorities, then by all means, reallocate your holiday spending to make donations to those organizations.

But here's the thing, since calling someone out directly as a bigot or heterosexist doesn't work, perhaps using the gift as an opportunity to create empathy might. If you choose a mission-driven donation in lieu of a physical gift, try not to do it in spite. Realize this is a teachable moment between you and your beloved. For example, if you make a donation to the Trevor Project, include the personal story of another person you love or respect (note: get their permission first OR choose someone whose sexual orientation is already known).

Remember Dr. King. He wasn't all kumbaya, rainbow character love, he was an astute economic strategist who understood that civil and human rights are intricately connected to economic priorities and opportunities. When he was killed, he was supporting a workers' strike in Memphis, calling for a boycott of discriminatory Memphis stores, factories and banks and preparing for the interracial Poor People's March on Washington. This was when he became truly dangerous to the ruling elites. It was fine when King and other modern civil rights leaders insisted that overt white supremacy was anathema to the country's moral authority in the rapidly changing world of the Cold War and decolonizing black and brown nations. But when King began with increasing fervor to connect racial injustice to economic predation, he "had" to go.

I'm not suggesting that engaging in guerilla gift-giving will result in That Cousin passing you the mashed potatoes with a side of anthrax. Rather, I am saying that you should be prepared to have your guerilla gift-giving used as Exhibit 1 in the case that you are petty or are a socialist whiner who lacks empathy (even King was accused of being tone deaf, impatient and heartless towards white people). Give anyway. And if - unlike me and others who have experienced racist vitriol and are therefore less inclined to be magnanimous towards those who have gloated about Trump's White America since the election - you can give your guerilla gifts with love, please do it. For love of the best that America can be, for love of your community and for love of your beloved.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Requiem for an American Dream

When I started this blog, it was after accepting that my long and circuitous journey towards becoming an academic was derailed, and I needed to re-chart my course.

Last month, I began drafting a post the week after my birthday. I'd learned that a high school friend (the first boy I ever loved) had died tragically. And a few days later, a college friend died after a sudden, fierce and ultimately futile battle with cancer. Questions of mortality and purpose intermingled with grief for two of the kindest and most decent people I've known. And I was plunged deep into introspection.

In the days that I have been drafting this - tapping a few letters, sometimes words, deleting, and gradually needing fewer pauses to remind my lungs to function - I have reconciled with the demise of my delusions about the state of the country of my birth.

My American Dream has long been to finally settle on some land in a rural spot within a half day's drive of an international airport. My mind's shameless cosmopolitanism would finally reconcile with my agrarian progressive heart and I would establish our family's farmstead bed and breakfast some place in rural America that would welcome our presence, and respect this dream.

But in light of last week, my encounter with Trumpence, and the litany of indignities and threats piling on to my black, brown, Muslim, Jewish, Asian, Latinx, and queer friends and acquaintances, I've decided to rechristen my American Dream as my North American Dream.

I've decided to resume the journey of emigrating to Canada, something I've explored off and on for over a decade. And for that, I've been accused of being histrionic. Of being a quitter. Of never really being an American anyway. Of being naive. Of simply not doing enough.

I've been told that now is not the time to walk (or sprint) away. It's the time to grieve through volunteering, strategic donation, and consistent self-care. It's the time to stockpile Plan B and lean in, just a little bit more. It's the time to celebrate the glimmers of hope that also manifested on Tuesday (see 1, and 2). Now is the time to lead and testify and build bridges to those who want me and mine gone my neighbors and listen with an empathy they clearly lack for Others. It's the time to give hate a chance.

But here's the thing: at best, all those exhortations sound like Hamilton's Aaron Burr chatting revolutionary strategy with General Washington, and at worse, they are the knight reassuring the pawn.

I will continue to lean in to support the development of communities that support businesses that implement more positively impactful practices (an aspect of my current work that I deeply enjoy) and I will lean in to advocate for more equitable distribution of economic opportunity to regions beyond the coasts and large cities. But I will not lean in to place my head in the guillotine and become a martyr. And Hell will host the Winter Olympics before I knowingly gamble with my daughter's safety and options. Staying put feels - and with each passing day, looks - like a risky gamble.

Before Tuesday's results and the racist encounter I experienced on Thursday, if I unexpectedly encountered a person as I rounded a corner, I would respond with a chuckle and a greeting, my default reaction for ALL people. Now I go through my day with a heightened vigilance, uncertain whether I am truly, fundamentally safe. My trepidation isn't reverse racism, it's the law of averages. More than 53 million overwhelmingly white Americans voted FOR a candidate who promoted white supremacist views and violence against his detractors. They voted for a man who would rather me and mine weren't here, in the land of our birth, investment and homes. And many millions more didn't bother to vote to keep him and the hate he enthusiastically celebrates at bay.

I'm not the fighter I used to be. For my daughter and for my aging heart, I seek Safe Harbor in a sanctuary where I can mourn, heal, regroup and thrive.

But I also want to understand: 

How have Canadians made diversity and immigration "work," especially in rural and exurban communities?

Sure, I could just stalk the British Columbia OARH online, and dive deeper into reading about Canadian history to glean what I can learn. But, as a former study abroad alumna and a card-carrying cosmopolitan geek, I prefer immersion. In the US we like to talk a good game about how we are the exemplars for the world but on this point, we are a cautionary tale and clearly have a lot to learn.

Friday, November 11, 2016

On Fights and Backs in the Age of Trumpence

When I was my daughter's age, there was a little white girl I wanted to play with. Her parents didn't allow it, so I shrugged it off and went off to play on my own. At the time, Mom didn't tell me why the girl  wasn't allowed to play with me. And to those parents' limited credit, they didn't tell me either. It was much later that I was finally told it was because I am black.

When I was just a little bit older than my daughter, a white boy in my class called me a nigger on the walk home from school. I turned around, kicked him hard in the nuts, and then chased him home. Classmates were around. They heard what he said. They saw my response. And when the kid and his father came to school the next day, looking for witnesses to report me, my friends had my back. And I don't think it was because they were afraid I'd beat them up too (I wouldn't have). They had my back because in their elementary sense of ethics, they knew it was the right thing to do.

Fast forward thirty years, and some of those same friends who had my back in grade school, have turned their backs or stood in palpable silence as I and people who look like me have begun to be harassed by racists emboldened by my "friends'" chosen savior. Those friends no longer have my back. They have stabbed it.

New friends, better friends, promise they have my back in the fight(s) to come. And to the extent that their hearts are true and their spirits strong, I believe they do. But I also know that the beat downs along the way (some reputational, some legal, and others, I'm sure, physical) are coming as much for my allies as for me and people like me.

And the tests my back-havers will endure will be many, with varied expectations of advocacy and intervention.

When I studied abroad in Russia one summer, I was one of maybe two dozen black people in the entire city of St. Petersburg. It wasn't long before the neo-nazis under Nevsky Prospekt saw in me an easy mark, and the abused and down-trodden Roma saw in me someone who, finally was lower on the whipping post than they were. I got through those two months sometimes by hiding in my room but mostly because two white male friends who spoke better Russian than I did, essentially took shifts hanging out and exploring the sites with me. They had my back in a most literal sense and I will forever be in their debt.

Last Thursday, when I finally had to leave the house (pesky job and adulting responsibilities), I was anxious. Friends and others around the country were already reporting racially abusive language and physical acts. But though I live in Denver, CO, I was on alert as I walked out my door. What would the rise of the Age of Trumpence have in store for me that day?

Very little, it seemed. I parked in a parking garage and scurried to my office hours, encountering no overt racial enmity whatsoever. I carried a large box several blocks to another meeting downtown and encountered nothing but either averted eyes or really earnest and hyper-kind smiles. I got through the day! Yes! And as I walked back through downtown, to the garage, I allowed myself a little relief.

Then a car rolled up slowly beside me, which was odd because there are no parking meters on that part of the street, nor any storefronts. A sneering voice said something out the window to me. I didn't catch all of it but I did hear "Trump's White America." And as I picked up my pace, without looking at the car or saying anything, the car sped up too and drove off with the sound of the occupants' malicious laughter.

I was shaken. But I wasn't alone. There was a thirty-something looking white guy who was just a couple feet ahead of me. When the haters rolled up and pronounced the truth of the day, my sidewalk neighbor glanced over his shoulder at me and the car. And here's the thing: he didn't say or do anything. He just kept walking.

I won't have friends like my buddies in Russia around me everyday. I need to rely on the kindness of strangers in this Age of Trumpence. But can I? When 1/4 of the voting-eligible population saw an opportunistic racist and xenophobe and said, "Yeah, I'm cool with that." And nearly half of the voting-eligible population saw the rise of the opportunistic racist and xenophobe and said, "Yeah, I don't care enough about that to vote to keep it at bay." When nearly 3/4 of those who could have had my back chose or enabled those who'd rather but a bulls eye on it, can I rely on the kindness of strangers and still feel safe in the land of my birth?

I am tired of abuse. I'm tired of the shocked white moderate and liberal realization that white supremacy isn't America's underbelly, it's fundamental to too many Americans' national identity. I'm tired of those with more privilege and security than I have ever had or ever will have here telling me THEY need ME to fight the fight that THEY should have been fighting with their families and friends.

I need sanctuary to recover my footing,  heal my broken heart, and raise my daughter in a space of genuine compassion and safety. I need to relearn who I can trust to have my back as I have theirs, and who offers nothing but smiles and lies.

Sometimes, getting out is the best course of action. Trumpenistas may triumph when I and others leave. They may even try to block the right of return for anyone who departs. But if those who have the wherewithal (and strategic privilege) to stay and fight prevail, then the Trumpenistas will win this terrible battle but will lose the long and bitter war for this country's soul.