The problem isn’t Donald Trump but Trumpism—many commentators feel safe enough to utter these words. What made them feel unsafe over the past year, despite the toxic extremism that Trump the man represented, was timidity. Someone posing as a strong man, capable of viciously demolishing his political enemies, posed a potential threat to anyone who spoke out against him. But now more people have found a way, even a growing handful of Republican politicians, to denounce him.
There’s a collective sigh of relief that Trump has become his own worst enemy, but relief isn’t the same as feeling safe, much less immune. America hasn’t seen the last of Trumpism until remedies against its return are undertaken seriously. As a physician sees it, we are past the prevention stage, past the first signs of disorder, and well into rampant symptoms that threaten a full-blown outbreak. In a word, Trumpism has become a persistent virus, and although it fuels a sense of self-righteousness to blame the long line of Republican presidents going back to Nixon who planted the seeds of Trumpism, we can’t afford that luxury.
To compress Trumpism into its essential ingredients, they are actually a batch of stubborn illusions that have been turned into a belief system, as follows: Continue reading →
The machinery of politics is geared up to defeat Donald Trump on the Democratic side, and there’s hope, after Trump revealed his propensity for self-destruction, that the Republicans will either abandon him or keep a safe distance. Enough condemnation has been directed at him to sink a dozen candidates, and his extended Teflon period may quickly draw to a close.
But the larger issue isn’t Trump’s viability as a candidate, troubling as that is, but the rise of the movement he represents. Every term of condemnation applied to him–bigoted, racist, sexist, xenophobic, authoritarian, mentally unbalanced–fuels the approval of his supporters. A hopelessly divided, hostile electorate has become a diseased electorate. That’s the thing that should disturb us the most, because disease conditions need a cure or else they continue to fester.
To clarify the point, I think back to my early days in Boston as an underpaid medical resident with a young family to support. Like many in my situation, I moonlighted to make ends meet, working at a famous private clinic in the Boston area. My status was on the bottom rung, so I found myself doing workups on the entering patients. One day I did the physical for the leader of a huge labor union, a nationally known figure. To my alarm, he was overweight, a heavy drinker and smoker, and suffering from various symptoms, the most serious being his high blood pressure and bad heart.
I finished the exam and immediately rushed to my supervisor with the bad news. He blanched, saying, “You didn’t tell him any of these things, did you?” I said no, and the supervising physician looked relieved. “We don’t want to let him know that anything is wrong,” he said. “He’s doing okay the way he is, and if he really knew what was wrong, it would probably kill him.” Those were the days, in the early Seventies, when medical ethics still considered it discretionary to tell a patient any grim news, but the net effect was that denial by the doctor led to ignorance by the patient.
The same, and worse, applies to a diseased electorate. On both sides the racism, bigotry, greedy elitism, reactionary attitudes, and sheer malice that has been a feature of the far right for decades somehow became normalized. A very sick patient was being coddled as if he was healthy. In the case of the union leader, keeping him in the dark was done supposedly in his best interest. The far right has been treated with denial out of fear and repugnance. After “nice” Presidents like Reagan and George H. W. Bush deliberately fueled the festering malignancy of the far right, Southern racists, and religious fundamentalists, moral lines became hopelessly blurred for the vast majority of politicians running for office. Continue reading →
Two months ago 7 year old Tiana Parker was sent home from school because her hair cut was considered “distracting.” What was her haircut? Thin dreadlocks tied back in a bow. The Oklahoma public school that sent her home has a policy that says “hairstyles such as dreadlocks, afros and other faddish styles are unacceptable.” Really? Could they be any more blatantly racist? Afros are the natural style of many black women’s hair and you want to imply it’s distracting?
MSNBC host Melissa Harris Perry decided to take up the cause on her show, especially after derogatory comments about black hair were made by “The Talk” co-host Sheryl Underwood (a black female herself) earlier in the week. Melissa addresses her segment to young Tiana, affirming that the little girl has nothing to be ashamed of – that her hair is not distracting but an homage to black heritage. Melissa names off several influential black artists and musicians who have also rocked dreadlocks – from Bob Marley to Whoopi Goldberg and more recently Willow Smith. She applauds Tiana’s parents for withdrawing her from that school and placing her somewhere where her natural beauty – her black beauty – is embraced. We applaud them as well.
This issue hits particularly close to home. As a child of interracial marriage (my dad is black, my mom white) my hair was often an issue of contention. I was born with a full head of it. My mother’s family has thick hair, especially for Anglicans, which combined with the kinky curls of my dad’s DNA lead to this:
It only got thicker and more out of control from there. I was 15 before we decided to try relaxing my hair. I grew up in the south so having my white mom take me to a black hair salon to get a perm was always a level of complicated that would take a text book to explain. It cost $150 and took three and a half hours (did I mention my hair is really thick?) of me sitting in a chair with my scalp feeling like it was literally on fire. That painful tingle was the feeling of some magical concoction burning the ethnicity out of my hair. That went on once every 3-6 months for 7 years.
Why? Because I never felt pretty with my hair natural. I often make the comparison that my hair without a straightener looks like someone shoved my fingers into an electrical socket. All of the popular girls at school at stick straight shiny hair that they could wear down any time they liked. All the lead characters on my favorite tv shows were the same way – even the black characters had their hair shiny and straight instead of natural. All the weather has to do is think about drizzling and my hair becomes a seeing hazard for anyone walking behind me. Like Tiana’s school is trying to preach – I felt like I was a distraction. Even now I prefer my hair straight over curly (though to be honest, that also has a lot to do with the fact it’s cooler temperature wise if it’s not all bunched up on my head).
It’s because the message given to Tiana, and all other little girls attending that school, isn’t a new one. For generations little black girls, and minorities all over, have been under pressure to “white-ify” themselves to fit the beauty ideals we are bombarded with on a daily basis. From simple hair treatments like relaxers and extensions to the extreme of skin bleaching treatments. It’s often insidious – the fact we see so few black females rocking natural hairstyles in mainstream media. It’s a subliminal campaign. But this – Tiana’s case? There’s nothing undercover about it. We are telling girls in primary school that their natural beauty isn’t good enough, that it’s a distraction, that it’s ugly. And that’s a problem.
So take a second before you put on your make-up today. Look in the mirror, just look, before you style your hair. Tiana Parker isn’t a distraction. She’s beautiful. So are you, right now – naked and natural and flawless. Own that. You have to because there are a generation of girls growing up who are being told differently and we have to show them the truth. That job starts with us. Let’s do better than this.
Hate, negativity, close-mindedness—none of this is new. Being heavily tattooed with big holes in my earlobes, a skateboarder and a fan of punk/hardcore music since my teenage years has left me all too familiar with judgmental people, especially growing up in a small town before these things started to become somewhat socially acceptable.
Disapproving looks, comments under the breath, or, in some cases, blatantly to my face, have been commonplace throughout my life, and it’s something that has led me time and again to seriously contemplate why people are the way they are. Particularly, why do people feel the need, or, that they have the right to cast judgments and write someone off based solely on outer appearances or personal lifestyle choices?
There’s really no simple answer. Each person is a unique individual with a unique set of circumstances that has led them to become the person they are today. One thing I’ve learned about myself, however, and my own judgments (because yes, I too am human and have no shortage of them), is that it’s rooted in fear.
For me, I’ve learned that being a counterculturist from a very early age, or, raging against the machine (though truth be told, I often wasn’t quite sure exactly what machine I was raging against) has often left me judgmental towards those in the mainstream media—from spiritual teachers to musicians, actors and so forth. Don’t get me wrong, I’m certainly grateful for my punk/hardcore roots as they dismantled a lot of the naivety in my otherwise culturally conditioned mind, but I am definitely seeing some of the after effects playing out years later in my adult life (though adult or not, I still listen to plenty of punk/hardcore).
The fear of seeing myself as a “conformist” for nothing more than liking a popular band, or reading one of Oprah’s official book selections, or maybe, just maybe even admitting that someone like Justin Timberlake actually has some talent stems from fear. I mean really, why else do I feel the need to completely write these people off simply because they don’t look, talk or act like me? Isn’t that on a comparable level to what the close-minded individuals I’m writing about in this article are doing? Sure, they may be coming from a more hateful place, but at the end of the day, a close-minded judgment is a close-minded judgment.
I’m not here to make excuses for anyone, because hateful rhetoric of any kind turns my stomach. Every time I see the Westboro Church protestors and their “God Hates Fag” signs I feel my entire body begin to tense up, however, I’d be lying if I said it didn’t also make me feel a deep sadness and compassion for them.
I’ve been to some very dark places in my life. I lived for many years as a hardcore addict, and there were countless nights I would lay in a dark room wishing for death to take me. I was filled with fear, self-hatred and disdain for God, or whatever “it” was out there that created this whole insane goddamn world (how I felt then, not now). I lost so many years of my life to those experiences that now, years later having come out of the other side of them, I can’t help but contemplate what it’s like for others as they go to bed each night, or in this particular case, hate-filled people.
I put myself in their shoes and imagine what it must be like to lay their head down each night, filled with so much anger, hatred and fear. I’m sure the majority of it for these people is on a subconscious level, but still, it’s there. So whether they realize it or not, it’s making their lives what I could only imagine to be a complete living hell.
When I sincerely put myself in their shoes, it becomes virtually impossible for me to muster any judgments to cast back on them, no matter how much I disagree because honestly, all I’m left with is the desire to hug every single one of them. To really hold them in my arms and let them know that it’s going to be okay. To let them know they are loved and that whatever pain they are holding inside can be healed. To look them in the eyes with the compassionate understanding and again, tell them it’s going to be okay— that we’ve all suffered, and in varying degrees we all still hurt and suffer. I want them to know it’s all part of the human experience, and that since they are a fellow brother or sister in this journey, that I honor and love what they are beneath the thoughts and beliefs that are temporarily lodged in their minds.
Maybe some of you believe I’m naïve for thinking like this, and who knows, maybe I am, but this is what’s in my heart. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my travels, it’s that when I lay myself aside and allow my heart to do the driving, it never, ever, steers me in the wrong direction. I just don’t want to add to any more hatred to this world, and in this very moment, that’s the ultimate truth of what’s in my heart.
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Chris Grosso is an independent culturist, freelance writer, spiritual aspirant, recovering addict, and musician. He serves as spiritual director of the interfaith center The Sanctuary at Shepardfields and is a correspondent for the Where Is My Guru radio show. He created the popular hub for all things alternative, independent, and spiritual with TheIndieSpiritualist.com and continues the exploration with his debut book titled Indie Spiritualist (Beyond Words/Atria Books, February 2014). A self-taught musician, Chris has been writing, recording, and touring since the mid-1990s.
Fifty years ago today, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered a speech that would reverberate in our memories for decades to come. Today, President Obama and other leaders convene in Washington to pay tribute to the remarkable man and his timeless message:
Did you watch the Video Music Awards last night? If so, did anything stand out to you?
In the company of acts like Lady Gaga, Justin Timberlake, and Kanye West, none caused as much of a stir as Miley Cyrus, the Disney-star-turned-sexpot-turned…cultural commentator?
That last descriptor might be overly generous, but it refers to the somewhat misplaced commentary on race, sexuality, and liberal politics Miley apparently seems to be dishing out with her latest performance and musical offerings.
Before we address her VMA performance, it’s first necessary to go back several months to the release of her music video for “We Can’t Stop.” A dance/party anthem reminiscent of her earlier “Party in the USA,” this video strips Miley of any semblance of sweetness or innocence and dresses her instead in a costume of unrestrained, “deviant” sexuality and, what many are calling, caricatured “cultural appropriation.”
It’s important to understand that Miley is very privileged to be able to play dress up and adorn herself with the trappings of an oppressed/minority culture. She can play at blackness without being burdened by the reality of it.
Click here if you’d like to watch the music video and judge for yourself.
If the grills, the fake nails, and the gold chains aren’t enough to make you cringe at their blatant cultural essentializing of what Miley seems to view as “hip hop culture” and urban couture, then her VMA performance will probably do the trick. Miley struts across the stage in a leotard, with dancers all around her carrying gigantic stuff bears, and she proceeds to hump the air, stick a foam finger between her legs, and “twerk” up close and personal for Robin Thicke.
It’s hard to know exactly what the 20-year-old’s politics and values really are. If her “We Can’t Stop” video and VMA performance are trying to inspire some discourse on race and sexuality, then she seems to be going about it in a roundabout fashion. Does caricaturing minority culture actually encourage enfranchisement, or does it just perpetuate racism? Does trying on and playing with sexuality actually show respect to the LGBT community, or does it just over-sexualize homosexuality – lesbian relationships, in particular?
To a public that is largely angry and dissatisfied over the Florida court’s ruling in the Trayvon Martin trial, Obama’s press statement might be unsatisfactory. Protestors around the country have been calling for justice all week, urging Obama to step up and address race and racial profiling head on. But the President notes that, in addiction to race, this is a case of states’ rights and independent court systems. “Traditionally,” he says, “these are issues of state and local government – the criminal code. And law enforcement is traditionally done at the state and local levels, not at the federal levels.” It’s his way of saying, “We can’t do anything.”
He spends most of the statement discussing potential adjustments that could be made in law enforcement and training – all productive ideas, but still not addressing the real issues of racism, discrimination, and profiling that still goes on in this country. But take a look for yourself and let us know what you think:
By contrast, Obama gave a very powerful statement directly after the shooting of Trayvon Martin, in which he states, “If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon.”
Please share your thoughts in the comments section below!
In May, Cheerios released a commercial depicting an interracial couple and their daughter. It was cute, light-hearted, and apparently extremely controversial. The video itself is entirely inoffensive, but it seems the fact of the parents’ mixed race relationship was enough to spark the strongest of reactionary feelings among many who viewed the commercial.
Is this really the world we live in? Still? Here is the harmless and adorable Cheerios commercial, whose YouTube comments had to be disabled after so many racist and hateful messages were left:
According to a recent Pew Research Center survey, 8.4% of all current marriages in the U.S. are interracial, compared to 3.2% in 1980. In western states, 1 in 5 couples marry out of their race. Granted, “race” is still a dubious category, describing ethnic, regional, and cultural nuances that have no actual bearing on biology. But even as a cultural signifier, race has been used as a powerful tool for segregation – and it is heartening to see the gaps steadily closing.
For children growing up today, especially in progressive corners of the world, racism might seem like a thing of the past (if not altogether an unknown concept.) For their series “Kids React,” The Fine Bros decided to interview 12 kids, aged 7 to 13, on their reactions to the Cheerios commercial. When asked why they thought the commercial would be considered so controversial, not a single one of them could come up with an answer. This launches them into a frank, emotional discussion on racism, discrimination, and why everyone has the right to love whomever they want. Watch it here:
We don’t know where these kids come from, what their parents are like, or what kinds of beliefs they’ve grown up surrounded by. Regardless, their responses are heartfelt and unrehearsed, and it just goes to show much the adult world could stand to learn from kids like this.
At the bottom of their video, The Fine Bros link to the following resources for race equality, which we encourage you to check out:
I have been reflecting on the Trayvon Martin case a lot. The fact that Zimmerman got away with murder angers and worries me because I am the mother of two ethnically diverse male children living on this planet.
Injustice, inequality, sexism, and racism are not just USA problems; they are global problems. I myself was harassed by the police in Europe when I was a traveling teenager. I was racially profiled because of my brown skin and wild curly hair. One of the police officers asked for my passport and after confirming that I was a 19-year-old tourist with a proper visa, he said “It’s just that we have a lot of undocumented Brazilian prostitutes arriving here.” And that was supposed to make me feel better? Thanks for the Brazilian part, but I did take offense to the disrespectful noun.
Just walking down the streets in Italy, men would yell “hey, Marroquina” (woman from Morocco). My Italian girlfriend explained to me that many of these women were immigrant sex workers and the men were wondering if I was available. At the airport in Spain, security officers picked me out of the line and scanned my creeper shoes because they thought I might be sneaking drugs in the soles of my shoes. All of these accusations were purely based on my ethnicity, gender, and appearance. As a female teenager I felt angry, impotent, and vulnerable, and even though I wanted kick them in the face with those very shoes, I knew I had to handle myself with dignity and keep it together, so that I could get on the plane back to the USA where I had been living since I was 15 years old. (And might I add that I am grateful to live in this diverse country.)
I may not be an African-American male, but I am Afro-Latina woman and I have experienced racism in Panama, Europe, and in the USA, repeatedly. I know how it feels to be denied good job opportunities based on where I come from, my age, what I look like, and because I am a woman. I have experienced racism walking down the streets in progressive San Francisco for holding hands with my husband. He was called a white pig and I was called the N word. Scott and I have had racist encounters with both white and black men because we are an interracial couple and those people felt we should not be together. If we changed our behavior to accommodate others’ ideas of who we should love, our children would not exist.
I have experienced racism from white people because they don’t know exactly what I am and that makes them uncomfortable. Then when they find out I am from Central America, and they hear me speak, they tell me “Wow, you speak English really well!” What did they expect? Why should I not have excellent command of the English language? This often happens to me. It happened to me just three months ago at a client’s office here in New Orleans. Back when I worked in corporate America in the Bay Area, I was the token minority woman who was fortunate to be able to reach senior level positions. At my last corporate job, HR even pointed out that they were happy to hire me because they believe in equal opportunity – yet in an office building of 250 + employees, only two of us were Latina.
I have experienced racism from black people who don’t like me because I am Latina or because my skin is not dark enough. I have experienced racism from Latinos who don’t like my skin because it’s not light enough. I have heard a couple of my white friends use the N word in the context of fear and anger. I have heard some of my Latino friends speak quite negatively about black people. I’ve heard some of my black friends speak with deep anger towards white people. I have had my black female neighbor call me a racist because I speak Spanish and I am married to a white male even though my father is a black Jamaican. (Hence my Afro roots that I am very proud of.) I myself have had to unlearn a lot of the colonialist brain washing that was impressed upon us in our Panamanian culture. In Panama, people of color were not allowed to go to a university until general Omar Torrijos changed that law in the early 70s.
Who is right? Who is wrong? What should I believe? Who should I be? The whole thing is very confusing, and back when I was younger, all these complexities of race and culture were extremely hard to navigate and comprehend. I continue to listen and learn, and I continue to be friends with all of my friends. I continue to learn about their history, their thoughts, their feelings, their beliefs, their cultures, their religions, and their truths, and I often engage in heated debates with them because dialogue is exactly what we need, even if we agree to disagree.
The part that troubles me the most about the Martin/Zimmerman case is that the failing justice system can be fashioned and manipulated to the point that it becomes a strategic game of knowledge and power, and of course, the power of money. I feel that every single human life is equally important and worthy of respect and happiness and should have a chance to reach their full potential – even if they annoy the hell out of me.
In cases like this it’s important to not get too distracted by the ongoing argument of racism. I suggest that we focus on a solution to the flawed justice system because the system is not working. Let’s talk about these events with our children at the dinner table, lets discuss it within our communities, our spiritual circles, and peers, and most of all, let’s get involved by telling our political leaders what we want, until we see meaningful change. Folks like Zimmerman exist because they choose to live in fear, and they teach their children the same things their parents taught them, that is, to live in fear and to hate. Let’s stop demonizing the youth. Let’s stop tainting their spirit with heavy dogma, mental slavery, guilt, the burden of the pain from the past, and colonialist ideas that simply do not support them as the loving and creative human beings that we were born to be. Let’s teach our children how to think and not what to think.
Why should I live in fear? Why should my friends question whether they should bring children into this world? That’s not a privilege; that is their right. Should I stop holding hands with my husband? Should I tell my son Diego that he should live in fear and that he should not wear his hoodie while walking down the street because some paranoid delusional fool might shoot him? Should he too eventually carry a gun and forget about our family values of love and nonviolence? How do I carry on as a parent?
I say we talk with our children honestly about the elephant in the room. I say we make a conscious effort to get to know each other a little better so that we may understand or at least tolerate each other. As a triple minority living in the United States and as a parent, I refuse to be distracted, deterred, or defeated by racism, and much less by the intimidation of hatred and fear. It’s evident that when it comes to racism, we have a long way to go, but in regards to the Trayvon/Zimmerman case, we musts demand that the government does away with the Stand Your Ground law.
I stand the ground of not giving up hope for a better world for our children.
On the rainy night of February 26, 2012 an altercation took place between 17-year-old Trayvon Martin and 28-year-old George Zimmerman that left the former dead and the latter bleeding from several wounds. There were no witnesses and no apparent cause for the dispute, and Zimmerman was shortly thereafter released on the basis of “self defense.”
But the story, and the pain and anger and debates, did not end there. Almost overnight there arose a pubic outcry over the event, calling for justice on what was largely seen as a racially-motivated event. Had Trayvon not been black would Zimmerman have perceived him as a threat? Would Zimmerman have been initially let go? And now, after this weekend’s verdict, would he have been acquitted of all charges? It’s a troubling line of reasoning to go down, but one that many can’t help consider.
Reactions to the verdict have been heart-wrenching, as many feel not only the tragedy of the teenager’s lost life but also anger toward a system that seems to value some lives more than others. New York City held one of the largest rallies on Sunday, with thousands convened in Times Square to protest the jury’s decision.
Here are 10 powerful photos from NYC’s protest, reminding the country that Trayvon Martin lives on in the hearts of many:
What are your thoughts on the Zimmerman verdict? Tell us your thoughts in the comments section below.