A call to live out your principles more fully than ever

A call to live out your principles more fully than ever

Don’t forget that it’s up to us, all of it. All of this. If we don’t upend the current state of affairs, who will? If we don’t fight oppression, who will?

We know what we know. I hope that if nothing else, this might inspire you to think hard. If you saw a movie with yourself as the main character, knowing what you know, what you would expect that character to do? What would that character find him or herself doing in the name of living out your principles?

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On Indigenous Peoples Day, a gun dealer donated nine assault rifles to be used in schools. Woof.

On Indigenous Peoples Day, a gun dealer donated nine assault rifles to be used in schools. Woof.

I was invited to host ChoiceMedia.tv's “Story of the Day” for Oct. 8, 2018 — yesterday. So, I did.

But instead of dwelling on the horror of our actual current reality, I would like to encourage you to not let the idea of Indigenous Peoples Day just sit in the past until next year’s special day. One way to take something forward from here throughout the next year is to familiarize yourself with even a tiny sampling of the many brilliant Indigenous folks out there boldly doing their thing, and to add a few authentically Indigenous-led publications to your reading list.

Here are a few links:

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Starbucks closed its stores today to renew its commitment to... Third Place? Huh. What's that?

Starbucks closed its stores today to renew its commitment to... Third Place? Huh. What's that?

I’m sure you know by now that two Black men were arrested after a Starbucks employee called them in for being Black a few weeks back.

Every Starbucks closed today in response to that incident, and every Starbucks employee in universes both known and otherwise attended a racial bias training this afternoon.

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I may be crazy now, but at least my eyes are open

I may be crazy now, but at least my eyes are open

I rode out to Ferguson from St. Louis with DeRay Mckesson on the night after the one-year anniversary of Michael Brown’s murder. We parked on a side street and walked a few blocks to the intersection of Florissant Ave. and Canfield Dr.

From there, we walked into a buzz of people and activity.

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With largest #NoDAPL camps evacuated, Standing Rock picks up the pieces

I drove back to the #NoDAPL camps at Standing Rock this week.

The Army Corps of Engineers in conjunction with Morton County Law Enforcement issued a deadline of 2 pm Wednesday (Feb. 22) to clear the Oceti Oyate camp (formerly Oceti Sakowin), which sits on contested land, as well as Rosebud camp and part of Sacred Stone, both of which are (were?) on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation but below the flood plane.

I wanted to be present for the deadline, to do what I could to help, and right at 2 p.m. I found myself in the Oceti camp in a pickup truck trying to find two kids who we’d been told needed to get out (and they did).

Two water protectors look out over the evacuated Oceti Oyate camp (formerly Oceti Sakowin) as the 2 p.m. eviction deadline ticks past on Feb. 22, 2016. Photo by  Matt Halvorson .

Two water protectors look out over the evacuated Oceti Oyate camp (formerly Oceti Sakowin) as the 2 p.m. eviction deadline ticks past on Feb. 22, 2016. Photo by Matt Halvorson.

 

The strange thing, though, was that the police were not particularly aggressive in clearing out the camp. They arrested either nine or 10 people Wednesday, depending on which report you read, and I’m told that something like 50 more were arrested the next day when the police came back through and fully cleared the camps.

The police tried to intimidate and definitely inflicted some physical injury, but all in all, the eviction was surprisingly peaceful. It only takes one police officer responding with too much force too quickly, or one person reacting too strongly to seeing his grandmother being handled by the police for violence to erupt and turn a situation like this into a disaster.

Instead, it was peaceful-ish, as policing goes. Or if peaceful isn’t the right word, well, nobody died. The police were not startlingly violent toward the water protectors who chose to stay in camp and pray until the end, which is what I was afraid of. But then, the #NoDAPL movement has never been characterized by fatal violence.

Set aside for a moment the grotesque images of water cannons, rubber bullets and explosives used by police in riot gear in Standing Rock.

During the protests in Ferguson of the past few years, militarized police frequently shot real bullets at Black Lives Matter protesters and occasionally killed them. Even when the PR risk should have steadied their trigger fingers, fatalities were commonplace. On the one-year anniversary of Michael Brown’s murder, for example, St. Louis Police shot and killed another young black man during that night’s protest.

In Standing Rock, on the other hand, through more than 10 months of steady demonstrations and consistent police confrontation, not one water protector was killed. The police inflicted serious injuries and committed atrocities, but everyone survived.

This has been on my mind for months but hasn’t been something I’ve known how to talk about, partly because I was in Standing Rock bearing witness to much of the police violence that has made the news. And it was painful and traumatic and frightening. But I also made an appearance in Ferguson, and I know that the stakes were more immediate there, though no higher in the long run.

I don't know what it means. Our government and law enforcement certainly have a deep and storied history of killing indigenous people. They just haven't done that in Standing Rock yet, even as they're doing it elsewhere. Maybe it just means that our oppression of people of color has been tailored to each specific community.

Whatever the case, just as happened on Dec. 4 last year when the Army Corps under the Obama administration denied the easement needed for Energy Transfer Partners to complete the Dakota Access Pipeline, this is a time of change and transition for the #NoDAPL camps. Roughly 600 people remained in the camps from mid-December through mid-February, and only a handful of reinforcements arrived this week.

Now many of them are heading home. Many more are staying and continuing the fight on the ground in North Dakota, and a group of committed indigenous activists have promised to continue finding new sites for prayer camps to continue if needed. LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, who owns the Sacred Stone land and founded the original camp last April, has vowed to maintain a community on her own land as well, come figurative hell or literal high water.

And everyone who is leaving is leaving profoundly changed, it seems, carrying with them a sense of invigorated spirituality and an empowered sense of capability and responsibility to stand up more fiercely than ever to injustice.

Perhaps my greatest takeaway has been the interconnectedness of movements that had remained, until now, disparate. The issues being raised by #NoDAPL water protectors, indigenous rights advocates, environmental activists, Black Lives Matter protesters, immigrant rights groups, education advocates, workers' rights groups and countless others are all symptoms of the same disease, branches of a tree whose trunk contains the sickness of capitalist greed, colonial entitlement and systemic inequity.

I see the possibility for enormous breakthroughs as our passions are shown more clearly to have a common enemy, and as it becomes harder to ignore that our own liberation is dependent on our neighbor’s.

We’re all in this together — even the police officers and DAPL employees who are following orders in order to maintain an income they’re afraid to lose. Even Trump and everyone who voted for him. We are protecting this water for everyone. We are shouting for everyone’s sake that Black Lives Matter -- not just for the Black men and women who face the greatest immediate risk -- because no life is truly valued by a society that declares some expendable. We are demanding equitable access to high-quality public education because its absence leaves a cavity in our country and our communities.

No matter what you hear in the mainstream media, the #NoDAPL movement isn’t ending. It’s just shifting, dispersing, expanding. Water falls from the sky as millions of individual drops, but those beads of water don’t remain separate. They can’t help but combine, to join together as they touch, and in doing so, to become a roaring, powerful body of water.

We, too, seem like millions of individuals, but we come from the same source, whatever that is. We are intrinsically connected. And when we act out those connections, they deepen, and we awaken the potential of our unified power to overwhelm the hate and division that plagues us now.

The Privilege of Ignoring Race

A year ago today, I was out in Ferguson.

Two years ago today, Michael Brown had been dead for a day, murdered on Aug. 9, 2014. A few weeks later, I wrote this. This seemed like a good time to take a second look at it.


I have read and heard and seen a lot of people saying a lot of different things about race in the wake of the Michael Brown tragedy — some compassionate, some ambivalent, some ignorant. This is something true:

I took this picture this morning. Then Lindsay told Julian about Michael Brown, about who he was and what happened to him. She told him about how most police officers are people to trust, but that sometimes they make mistakes. She told Julian that it isn’t fair, but that sometimes he will need to be extra careful as he gets older because of the way he looks — that he will have to be that much more careful to stay out of trouble, to stay away from what looks like trouble, to stay in after dark, because it’s a matter of safety. She told him about having called to check in with his uncle Spencer a few days earlier, about asking Spencer if he was safe in L.A. and if he was being careful. She asked him if he understood. Julian asked a question or two, Lindsay answered, and then it was done.

This is what all this means to me:

Some have argued that the Michael Brown shooting isn’t about race. Many others have at least wondered. As you may know, I am white. I can tell you from experience that it is a privilege to ignore race. It is a privilege to be able to wonder whether or not this tragedy is a racial issue. It is a privilege to not have to start poking tiny holes in your six-year-old son’s bubble of innocence and sweetness in the days before he starts kindergarten.

We had conversations about race in my family when I was very young, too, and most of them were also very direct. Most of them even acknowledged the presence of danger and the possibility of violence. I vividly remember getting a version from my dad in elementary school of what his dad had told him as a kid: that there aren’t many good reasons to fight, but that if he heard anyone using the N-word at school — or using any other slur, or using anyone’s race or gender to hurt them or make them feel small — he had better step in and put a stop to it or come home with a bloody nose for having tried. That might not exactly fit with Dr. King’s belief in non-violence, but the message was clear: This is important. Not only do we not tolerate hate or racism, we will actively fight it. It’s a family value.

There is a subtle-but-important difference between these two sets of conversations, though. My parents (also white, coincidentally) chose to have these conversations with me and my siblings. They encouraged us to choose to stand up against blatant racism and hate. But I was not the target in the hypotheticals. I was on the sidelines. The guns wouldn’t have been aimed at me, so the conversation was different.

Lindsay and I talked with Julian this morning because he won’t have a choice. Julian needs to hear this, because he cannot choose out of his skin color or his black heritage. I can choose into the conversation, choose to step into the conflict. Julian does not have that privilege. He is about to start attending public school in a district that has recently been under scrutiny for disciplining black boys much more frequently than any other group. He will be stereotyped, he will too often be seen and heard through a racial lens, and he cannot avoid it. He cannot choose a different path. Before long, he will be, say, 10 years old and tall for his age. Soon after he will be a teenage boy of color living in a major city. He won’t have the privilege of staying on the sidelines when a police car drives past the park where he’s hanging out with his friends after dark. He won’t have the privilege of deciding it’s not about race when he makes a mistake and gets caught. And Lindsay and I, as parents, don’t have the privilege of giving him an option. We don’t get to decide whether or not he’s ready, because he has to be ready, because he has to stay safe. Because someone will call him a horrible name, and someone will treat him differently — probably unintentionally — because of how he looks, and because at some point, someone will view this sweet, loving kid as more of a threat, and he needs to understand what’s happening if he’s going to stay safe. He has no other choice.

Nate Gibbs-Bowling's 'Syllabus for Students When Dealing with Law Enforcement'

 

Nate Gibbs-Bowling has shared a two-page syllabus for a workshop he leads on students' rights when dealing with law enforcement, which he describes as "most important lesson I teach each year."

"The stakes are high for my students. Whenever I give a talk about teaching, I talk about the lack of predictability and danger that children of color and those in poverty face, on a daily basis. Never is that lack of predictability more dangerous than when it comes to encounters with those who are sworn to protect them. I know that no amount of 'respectability' can keep people of color safe in America; Sandra Bland, Henry Louis Gates and James Blake have taught us so, but my hope is that I can increase the odds for my students and yours."

How can I, in good conscience, raise two biracial boys in America?

I woke up just after three this morning having fallen asleep with my computer open next to me, a blank page on the screen. I fell asleep with literally no words and woke with the same.

So, I went back to sleep and woke again a few hours later with my one-year-old son. I made breakfast. I watched the highlights from last night’s Twins/Rangers game with my almost-eight-year-old. I let the dog outside. And just I keep on thinking and thinking.

Philando Castile (left) and Alton Sterling

Philando Castile (left) and Alton Sterling

I've watched two different videos this week of Alton Sterling being murdered, and now they’re in my brain on loop, playing over and over in my head no matter what I intend to be thinking about or focusing on.

I watched a video of Philando Castile dying with a bloody hole in his shoulder and a sweet little four-year-old girl in the backseat while his girlfriend cried for help and repeated the names of streets I recognized from my childhood.

Larpenteur. Snelling. Fry. “Five minutes without traffic,” according to Google, from where my dad grew up in St. Paul. Across the river from where my mother went to high school, from where my sisters both now live in Minneapolis.

Phil Castile punctured my personal bubble. If a police officer can stop his car and shoot him dead in the passenger seat “five minutes without traffic” from the first place I ever went home to, then no ground is sacred. No place is safe.

And that should come as no surprise, really. Minnesota hasn’t changed. In a way, it’s never been safe, like nowhere else has ever been safe, and yet it’s still as safe for me as the day I was born.

I have changed, though — or the shape and color of my bubble have, anyway. Now I’m the white partner of a black woman, and I’m the white parent of two biracial boys. The idea of safety requires a more nuanced thought process for me than it used to.

Our country was founded on racism and brutality, and let’s be clear — that remains its backbone. My predecessors in white supremacy, privilege and oppression did their best to physically eradicate the native people they encountered. My public school textbooks in Fargo, ND, called this genocide “manifest destiny.”

Our founding fathers, meanwhile, lived and died believing they owned black people, and that they were justified in doing so. When that practice was scrutinized, my predecessors protected their privilege. The systemic oppression shifted, and it lived on as lynchings. As Jim Crow. The war on drugs. The Washington Redskins. Mass incarceration. Redlining. Police violence.

We talk of progress, of incremental change, but we live in a country whose founding machinery of systemic racism is still humming along uninterrupted.

Alton Sterling is dead because two police officers were brought up breathing that machine’s smog, along with the officer in Minnesota who killed Phil Castile, and along with you and me and pretty much everyone we know. That smog taught us all to unwittingly view black men as potentially threatening criminals. That smog has poisoned us with a latent belief in white superiority and an unspoken, unacknowledged fear of losing a privileged status that no one deserves to keep. It’s insidious.

And I have to admit, sometimes I just don’t want to understand my place in all this. Because I’m culpable. Whether I “want” this privileged status or not, here I am, still complicit by my mere presence, and still benefiting from the idea of whiteness even at the expense of my own family.

Whether I “want” to be or not, I am still supporting the infrastructure of this systemic oppression with my taxes, my donations, my livelihood — with my very life.

All this thinking keeps on leading me to one question in the end: How can I, in good conscience, continue to live in America?

I don’t have an answer.

It’s not possible for me to live in this country and not benefit from and support systemic racism. I can’t escape my whiteness any more than my sons and my partner can escape their blackness.

Does that mean we have to leave? Is there another responsible decision to make with two young, brown-skinned sons?

I try to fight the status quo. I write this blog you’re reading now about education and race in Seattle and Washington State. I try to call out racism and inequity where I see it and demand something better. I’ve been out on the streets in Ferguson. I’ve been an at-times-crazy person on Facebook and Twitter.

But it’s not enough. Can I ever do more to fight racism than I am already doing, simply by living in America as a white man, to support it?

Our incremental progress was too slow for Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, as it has been for so, so many others. What if it’s too slow for my sons? Why should this finely tuned machine suddenly blow a fuse now?

How can I, in good conscience, raise two biracial boys in America?

That’s what I keep asking myself. And no matter how much I think about it, no matter how hard I look, I’m not finding an answer.

I’m just finding a replay of Alton Sterling’s murder, playing on loop, with Philando Castile dying in the background, and it’s saying, “These could be your sons.”