Privilege, Empathy, and The Dishonest Vote for Trump

privilege-editI’ve been thinking a lot about privilege in the aftermath of an election nightmare that  resulted in president-elect Trump. I’ve been thinking about empathy as well, but let’s start this discussion with privilege.

Privilege is defined as “a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people.” Given the tensions surrounding Black deaths at the hands of law enforcement, the focus has mainly been ‘white privilege’. In the wake of Trump’s victory, it’s clear that there are other types of privilege also at work.

I won’t pretend to know all of the reasons that Clinton lost (and Trump won). The intersections of race, class, economics, gender & geography that came to fruition in this election were vast, and will need to be parsed for years to come by those who are much smarter than me.

But what I can say is that millions of people voted for a campaign based on disparaging Mexicans, scapegoating Muslims, denigrating Blacks, rolling back LGBTQ rights, and defending attacks on women. And apart from voters actively voting against their own interests, voting for the negativity of the Trump campaign was made a helluva lot easier knowing that you could do so with no pain; as long as you weren’t a member of any targeted group.

white-privilege-donald-trump-voters-election-lessons-race-bEven though the vast majority of these voters are White, I’d never accuse them of being racist — or sexist, or bigoted without incontrovertible evidence.1 But as the gloating continues over their ugly victory, it’s hard to stomach the self-righteous justifications many have given for a vote that completely ignored explicit bigotry.

[1  A majority of Trump voters described Blacks as less evolved, Ashley Jardina, Sean McElwee, and Spencer Piston, Slate.com]

Some of these supporters are deniers (He didn’t really mean ban all Muslims), some are apologists (I don’t like some of what he says, but those emails…), and some are merely sympathizers (I’m not racist, but we do need some kind of wall). The worst, of course, are the openly racist ones who have no problem  saying “Make America White again”.

Honestly though, all are equally culpable for this sad nightmare of fear and persecution that we’re witnessing.

I got into a sharp disagreement with a white male Twitter follower (denier) who raised objections when I alluded to Michelle Obama’s “Go high” catchphrase. He said that I rarely go high, to which I replied, “There was absolutely no need to go high in a campaign that started with Mexico sending us rapists.”

More to the point, I wasn’t going to apologize for harshness towards a man who not only promised to take away my healthcare, but also to strip me of my civil rights as a gay man.

He dismissed my healthcare concerns with “there is no way they can repeal and replace and let people lose insurance. It will kill the whole idea.” As for the rollback of LGBTQ protections, the dismissiveness continued with, “I don’t believe any of that will happen. I think people have evolved and Trump has never said that his goals are to do either.”

The statements displayed an arrogance from someone who has no idea what it’s like to be a minority in America, and who has the privilege of never being a government target. It’s easy to dismiss healthcare concerns when you have good healthcare. It’s also easy to dismiss LGBTQ persecution when you’ve never lost your civil rights, like I did with the passage of CA Prop 8.

In another notable example of what I’d call privilege, an SF friend called out this NYU student who moved out of her dorm room (after discovering that her roommate voted for Trump), saying she acted like a toddler. He added that she should have used this opportunity to learn how to find common ground and work through their differences. Though I like and respect this friend, that’s as ridiculous an argument as criticizing me for moving after learning a roommate voted for David Duke.

It’s easy to criticize when you’ve never confronted a threat, literally or figuratively, to your existence. This move wasn’t about her roommate’s different political views. This was the realization that someone she lived with could, simultaneously, smile in her face while also supporting a candidate who wanted to strip her civil rights.

This is precisely the type of untenable situation many of us felt after this election. The enemies (neighbors, roommates, social buddies) were all around us, yet seemingly happy and unconcerned about the promised negative outcomes we would face. All the while, criticizing us for having these fears they would never have to face.

I worry about my healthcare, my protections from discrimination/harassment, and even the potential loss of my life if I’m stopped by police. I don’t have the luxury, or the privilege, to not worry. Neither do the undocumented citizens who’ve been promised deportation. Nor our Muslim citizens who are on the cusp of having to register with the government, like the Japanese in the US — and the Jews in Nazi Germany.

Trump got roughly 47% of the popular vote. So the question is this: how do we get this group to see the bigotry, and inherent immorality, behind their privileged vote? How do we get them to have empathy for the minority targets of the incoming administration?

It starts with honesty. If someone can honestly tell me that they voted for Trump because we needed a change in government — even though his campaign promises might hurt some — I can respect that. It may not be what I want to hear, but it acknowledges the pain that others are going to feel.

Anything less is bullshit, reeking of privilege with zero empathy toward those who are justly afraid of the presidency-to-come. And personally, I think we’ve all had enough of that.

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The Ignorance of Colin Kaepernick

kaepFor quite a few months, I’ve been one of the Colin Kaepernick’s strongest supporters. But that support immediately dried up when he didn’t vote in the general election for President.

This tweet was once pinned to my Twitter profile. Though the point is still valid (and relevant), it’s since been removed.

For me, what began as a poignant protest has turned into an offensively selfish gesture that spits in the face of those who paved the way for his multi-million dollar platform.

trikosko-marchers-with-signs-at-the-march-on-washington-1963Think about it for a moment.
Colin kneels during the national anthem in order to protest police brutality against people of color. He then undercuts his own message by refusing to vote, desecrating an act for which people of color — and their allies —  have suffered immeasurable amounts of police brutality.

The irony is staggering. And his ignorance? Outstanding. Here are snippets of his specious reasoning for not voting.

“I’ve been very disconnected from the systematic oppression as a whole,” Kaepernick said. “So, for me, it’s another face that’s going to be the face of that system of oppression.
“And to me, it didn’t really matter who went in there. The system still remains intact that oppresses people of color.”

Hey Colin, shut the hell up, get off your soapbox, and let me give you a quick 5 minute lesson on why you need to pull your head out of your ass and go vote in the next election.

project-cYou should know this but I think it bears repeating. During the fight for Civil Rights, Blacks were  ruthlessly attacked for demanding their equal place in society, often times by the police.

Birmingham, AL, was one of the epicenters for that fight, and in the spring of 1963, Birmingham’s Commission of Public Safety, Bull Connor – an avowed racist, used the power of the Birmingham Police to crack down on Martin Luther King’s Project C protesters.
(Colin, feel free to click the above link.)

“We are not going to stand for this in Birmingham…” And to that end, he employed physical beatings, high-pressure water hoses, and police dogs to assail and subdue the young Black protesters.

Colin, that, and much more, is what protesters had to endure so that you would have the right to vote as a person of color. If reading about that Birmingham battle didn’t persuade you, maybe you should go have a chat with Congressman John Lewis; a man who suffered a fractured skull (and nearly died) fighting for your right to vote. Talk to him about what it means to truly walk the talk.

You can’t just pick and choose the parts that are easiest for you to wrap your head around for participation. If you truly want to be the big man, and take a stand that will have a lasting impact, then you have to do it all. And do it from a fully-informed point of view that doesn’t completely end up undermining your message AND any built up goodwill from your supporters.

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Not my President, not my America

trump-devilI repeat, Donald Trump is not my President.
And I don’t know which ‘America’ voted for him on Election Day, but it was NOT my America.

I say this not for the sake of hyperbole, nor dramatics. And it’s not a statement made in anger, but certainly one borne out of clear and irrefutable facts from this awful election season. These facts, which we learned about president-elect Donald Trump from his own words and actions, are:

  1. He is a bully, bigot, racist, and rampant misogynist.
  2. He is a serial adulterer with great pride in his ability to do so.
  3. He is a proponent of sexual assault, and the power over his victims it brings.
  4. He is ignorant of world affairs, and wears that ignorance as a badge of honor.
  5. He is a narcissistic personality type (and very likely a sociopath).

These are qualities that I would expect from either the leader of a “Banana Republic” (Noriega comes to mind), or even a street pimp. But these are certainly not the qualities I want in my President aka the leader of the Free World. I’d rather stick with the standard set by our current POTUS, Barack Obama. Hell, I’d rather stick with the “have a beer with” standard set by George W. Bush. He may not have been very smart, but was also not quite as reprehensible as Trump.

But if other people don’t mind their President embodying the qualities listed above, so be it.  He can be their President. But he won’t ever be mine.

shameThis leads to the second point. If there is an America people where people are so keen to overlook all of these personal flaws in order to get back a level of personal power and privilege that they feel has been lost as the country has grown more diverse, then they are not part of my America.

Additionally, if there is an America that rabidly supports a candidate who vows to take away the civil rights of other Americans, they are also not part of my America. And honestly, I was never a part of theirs.

I won’t substitute catchy misspellings like AmeriKKKa for America, because I don’t want to assert that much evil over an entire swath of the population. Yet I’m reminded of a line in the article ‘The Good, Racist People‘ by Ta-Nahisi Coates that lays bare the (often spoken) racial beliefs of that very same America:

“I am trying to imagine a white president forced to show his papers at a national news conference, and coming up blank.”

As recent as September 2015, 43% of Republicans still thought that Barack Obama was Muslim. And to be fair, the same can be said for 29% of Independents and even 15% of Democrats. Still, the horrific irony can’t be ignored that Barack Obama will be forced to hand over his position to the bigoted buffoon who forced him to “show his papers”.

14956661_10154204334893717_4259732807029263570_nHillary is an awful “politician”, and was a similarly awful candidate in many ways. But she’s also a tireless public servant who genuinely wanted to help others, particularly children and women. As First Lady, she withstood both public scorn for trying to “work” in her husband’s administration, and public humiliation as a “cuckquean“.

She earned huge respect from New York constituents – and Senate colleagues – after initial concerns as a carpet-bagger, and world respect as our Secretary of State after our reputation on the world stage had been tarnished by the Dubya administration.

Hillary kept her head down and kept doing the dirty work of public policy, regardless of whether she was being vilified OR honored. She’s not perfect by any means, but what politician can claim that mantle?

Irredeemable “basket of deplorables” aside, she would have been a great President to all because that’s how she’s always viewed her public service work. More notably, she would have been great as MY President.

17mag-17trump-t_ca0-superjumboTrump ran a campaign based on racial division and ethnic finger-pointing in order to increase his personal power and fortune. As far as I’m concerned, he can crawl into the same hole where Saddam Hussein hid, and stay there for the next four years. #NotMyPresident

So what happens next? What do I do? Where do I, and the many others like me, go from here with our anger, fear and frustration?

For starters, I’m not going to be pressured into accepting this outcome, or easily forgiving the acrimony of the past 16 months. It’s absurd just how many people who, after having undermined President Obama for the past 8 years, want me to forget about that and accept this outcome; working with Trump for the good of the country.

After what he’s said to Mexicans, Muslims, women, the Blacks, and everyone else? Are you f**king kidding? Pigs aren’t flying, and I haven’t gotten any reports of snowballs in Hell. So to be clear, the answer is No.

Moreover, I find it extremely condescending and offensive to be asked to forgive someone who actively based his campaign on being an oppressor who would create public policy to hurt others, in order to assuage the white GOP masses.

I saw this tweet the other day and my jaw dropped:

Jonathan Haidt is probably a nice enough guy, but he missed badly on this. The responses came quickly, with one of the more notable ones from Joy Reid, an MSNBC journalist who I greatly admire.

Here’s the thing about “forgiveness” that’s so often expected from victimized groups, especially Blacks, in the aftermath of a horrific event. We’re all supposed to act like Martin Luther King and go about our lives as though they haven’t been irreparably shattered. And that’s just not what any of us are feeling in this current reality.

After Dylann Roof went into that church and shot 9 people dead in order to help start a race war, something miraculous happened. Families of the victims, almost to a one, forgave him when given the chance to speak to him at his first court appearance. Sorry, but  that wouldn’t have been me.
[Author’s note: I’m a supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement.]

trump-rally-punch-640x480Black protesters, even female protesters, were cursed at, spit at, shoved, and punched, often at his urging. Even when being led out by police, they were still assaulted AND sometimes set upon by the police, instead of the assailant. Trump even bragged that he would pay their legal fees if they were arrested.

Yeah…NO. I’m not that magnanimous. I can’t. At least not for the foreseeable future. And if someone has a problem with that, then I guess that’s on you. I’m very okay with my choice.

But there are other actions that I can take. Wednesday morning, Michael Moore came up with a ‘Day One’ To-Do List of things we can do right now to take back our Democratic Party and help it reckon with (I’m being kind) this horrific loss. I’m usually a conservative guy when it comes to stuff like this, but clearly we need to make dramatic changes if we want to see a different result; at the top of the ticket as well as in ALL of the down ballot races.
[FYI: Here’s Michael’s ‘Day Two’ To-Do List]

Also, I’m going to start writing again. I can’t write about tennis, but I can shed light on the many ways that social injustice still plague our daily lives, be it matters of race, sexism, or class. We’ve taken it for granted that we’re this great post-racial, enlightened society where all things are possible for everyone. And if you believe that, I’ve got a leaning tower in San Francisco to sell you.

More specifically, however, our basic assumption about the basic decency and fairness of this country was undermined on Election Night when we learned that those who felt most disenfranchised the past few years are the ones who’ve lost their privilege, and who now feel are being cheated their due.

Some of their concerns are valid. Then again, so are mine as a Black and Gay man. So are those of women, who still don’t earn equal pay for equal work. And so are those of our Muslim community that now faces the horror of state-sanctioned violence. Somebody’s got to shine a light on all of this. Right now, I guess that’s going to be me.

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No Hope In The Wake Of The Eric Garner Case

Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice

Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice

In the wake of the Eric Garner case, or lack thereof, I’m left with a feeling that there’s virtually no hope for the prospects of black men in America; especially young black men.

I’m certainly not alone in this feeling. All one need do is turn on their television to see tens of thousands of African-Americans (and other races) marching and protesting, because they don’t know what else to do in order to relieve their pain.

I was watching MSNBC’s ‘The Cycle’ when the decision to not indict was announced. One of their correspondents asked an African-American protestor in Staten Island, who was there with his daughter, about his feelings on the matter. His remarks closely echoed my own sentiments.

He said that after Ferguson, there is no hope. And that after this case, there’s even less hope.

To be perfectly honest though, I hit the point of ‘no hope’ with the Trayvon Martin verdict, which I wrote about in this piece to my nephew. But if I hadn’t done so after that case, I’m certain that the Michael Brown killing would have pushed me over the edge. (The Tamir Rice killing is merely a coda to the above.)

In each instance, a black victim was killed under the thinnest pretense, then blamed for causing their own death. Let’s start with Trayvon.

George Zimmerman, a self-appointed Neighborhood Watch member who was friendly with the local police, felt that he was in eminent danger from a menacing Trayvon, even though he had initiated the altercation with the 19 year-old who was on his way home from the store with Skittles and tea.

Officer Darren Wilson, felt that Michael Brown was an eminent threat who meant to kill him, never mind the fact that the initial stop was to harass Brown and his friend due to ‘walking in the street’, and that he pursued a fleeing Brown in order to fire the fatal shots.

Tamir Rice, a 12 year-old boy, was described as looking closer to 20 years by the policeman that shot him; a policeman we’ve now come to discover was declared “unfit for duty” by the smaller town of Independence prior to his hire by Cleveland. He was shot about 2 seconds after the police arrived on the scene.

Not only was each victim assessed blame for their demise, investigations after the fact became post mortem trials of their character. At least that was the case for Trayvon and Michael. But I’m sure Tamir will end up having his 12 year-old life dissected and also deemed ‘guilty’.

It’s increasingly become the reality that when you’re a black man in an altercation with the police (or a police-friendly vigilante), you’re presumed guilty on sight, killed when you don’t perfectly comply with your accuser’s wishes (regardless of merit), and then assessed blame by the media after the fact.

Death with impunity, followed by character assassination and media scorn. Under these circumstances, how could I or any African-American male continue to have hope knowing that my life doesn’t matter.

The toughest pill to swallow comes from inferences by those, well-intentioned or otherwise, who think that these outcomes would be different if these individuals (Trayvon, Michael and Tamir) were more like me.

While it’s hypothetically possible to appreciate their attempt at being supportive, it’s more likely that I’ll uncover the unspoken bias that got us here in the first place.

In an overt nod to perceptions of race, class, and social strata, there’s a false perception that my background (parental influence, prep school education, general countenance, et al) makes me different – read ‘better’ – than the aforementioned victims; or, if not better, more likely to have lead me down a different path that didn’t lead to my death in a similar encounter.

I wrote about this last year in ‘I’m Not Racist, But…‘ The underlying premise that sparked this piece is reflected in the question, “Why do they have to act like that?” By implication this means, “Why can’t they be a more acceptable example of a black man like you?”

So here’s the story of this accomplished and acceptable version of a black male:

Before I was a Northwestern graduate, an award-winning professional dancer, an accomplished web designer, or a rising tennis official, I was a typical adolescent from Cleveland. And like many adolescents, I experimented with drugs, taught myself how to drink and smoke, and also stole candy and other items from corner stores, much like the guys (both black and white) that I hung out with back in the day.

Clearly, I’m not different. It should also be clear that these acts from my youth didn’t go on to define who I was as a dancer, web designer, tennis official, son, uncle, friend, or partner. I suspect that this is the case for many, Elizabeth Lauten included.

By declaring Trayvon, Michael, Eric and Tamir different, the Zimmerman/Wilson/Pantaleo/Loehmann apologists deny these victims their basic humanity, and the right to have made past mistakes while not letting those past mistakes define who they were or, ultimately, becoming the justification for their death.

I have no doubt that if I were to die as a result of a traffic stop misunderstanding with a cop, all of the bad parts of my past would be dredged up to explain the reason why I was culpable in my own death. None of my other life accomplishments would matter.

Lest we all think this is solely a black-white issue, one need only look to the shooting of Michael Bell in Wisconsin to see that this dehumanization affects us all. In a scene similar to the Brown shooting, Bell, a 21 year-old white man, was shot in the head by an officer after a brief scuffle with police in front of his family home.

An officer struggling with Bell mistakenly thought the young man had his gun, which was caught on a broken mirror. The officer yelled “He has my gun”. Another responding officer put his weapon to Bell’s head and pulled the trigger. Within 48 hours, the police had cleared themselves of any wrongdoing.

So how does one continue to have hope when black (and white) men are killed without a seeming care for the greater good? It ain’t easy!

Thankfully, I have wonderful friends of all races who are as outraged as I am by the utter disregard for lives that have been deemed unworthy by police, prosecutors, and the courts. And when all races lift their voices in protest, it becomes more than just “a black thing”. It becomes a human thing! This is what gives me an iota of hope that change may come before another senseless death…

I’ll end with the pained words of Michael Bell’s father. The senior Bell has spent a large chunk of time and settlement money working to make police accountable for their actions.

“If a blond-haired, blue-eyed boy could be killed under a spotlight and there were five eyewitnesses, and his father is a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who flew in three wars for his country and I can’t get this done, and I can’t get a fair justice system on it, then how is the African-American family, the Hispanic family, the Asian family, how are they going to get this done?”

I don’t know the answer to that, but I guess I’ll continue to have hope that it will happen soon. There really is no other choice.

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