Skin in the Game & Why I Wish My White Friends Would Take a Break from Social Media.
Before I infuriate my entire friend list (Should I really be worried about that given how much my Facebook feed is messing up my chi right now?), let me first tell a few stories that I think provide just enough background for you to understand why I don’t want to look at you right now or your damn posts.
Last year, my kiddos lost their Grandpa Larry. Grandpa Larry was my step-grandpa, and while I didn’t grow up with him as a grandparent, he was a grandpa to my children from the very beginning. He was at Normandy. He was a survivor. A proud member of a generation that I know many of my Facebook friends have referred to as the greatest generation. He was an Honor Flight Veteran, and his burial was a military ceremony complete with Stars and Stripes and a ritual gun salute followed by an Irish Wake at a Polish restaurant in South Milwaukee.
At the funeral home, a few people took the opportunity to make some public remarks about Grandpa Larry, and it was there that I heard a story about him that I would never forget. The story was my Grandfather’s response to the question, “What was the worst thing that you ever saw in the war?”
Towards the end of WWII, as the Allied forces were liberating the concentration camps and the Nazi troops were on the losing side, while marching down a particular road, there were the corpses of Nazi soldiers in the road and American soldiers were using tanks to intentionally and repeatedly run over the bodies. As the story went, the collective hate of that act was too much for young Larry, and he commenced efforts to move the bodies of the German men out of the road effectively changing the moral landscape of that dark place and rising above the mob mentality of that moment.
Now let me say, that (possibly unlike our Commander in Chief) I am repulsed by everything Nazi, but I would argue that Larry finding the ability to recognize someone else’s humanity at that moment, speaks more to what America is supposed to mean than the actions of the men in the tanks that day. Anytime someone steps forward to do what they believe is right, ignoring the possible counter-attack of an angry majority, they are taking a risk, and we call that risk protest.
When I was little, my great-grandparents on my mother’s side used to give us a Sears Roebuck Catalog every holiday season and asked us to circle and write our names on all the things that we liked or thought we might want. I wasn’t super into dolls, but I can remember taking an interest in them from time to time particularly when I was expecting to have a new sibling soon. At around five or six, I made a rather astute observation and to this day have not been satisfied with the response that I received. I noticed that nearly all dolls featured in the big ads were white and that once in a while there was a tiny little box offering the same doll with a darker complexion. I was bothered by both the segregation and the inequity and asked why the pages of the catalog looked this way. I was frustrated by the non-answers that I received.
In an act of defiance, I circled at least ten Black baby dolls, hoping to send a message to the universe about how the Black baby dolls were just as beautiful and hoped that maybe my God would agree and send me a Black baby brother or at least convince my great-grandma to order me a Black baby doll for Christmas.
Think that a doll is just a doll? Hmm…Check out this compilation of Clark & Clark’s work replicated.
Well, I never did get my doll, although the very first baby doll I ever bought (for my firstborn son) was in fact, a Black doll.
Now, I am not blaming Sears Roebuck Catalog for the way that children react to dolls; I merely use the story as an example of how embedded bias can be in our daily lives, and how the cumulative effect of so many seemingly tiny inequities is one that perpetuates a racist society. We buy into the progress myth. We can argue that life is better than it was, but we cannot claim that any level of improvement means that we can turn away from reality and claim to be living the dream.
While I was in the fourth grade, shortly after the Challenger disaster, I had some project to do for school that required me asking questions of family members about various eras of history that they had lived through. Among the list of questions were a series of, “Where were you when…?” questions.
Among them were several questions related to assassinations. I asked my mom, “Where were you when you found out Martin Luther King, Jr. was murdered?”
She told me that she was in Gimbels in Southgate with my great-grandmother — “Nanna,” my grandma and my aunt. My mom was 11 at the time. An announcement came over the loudspeaker in the Department store. Some people gasped, there was a shift in the energy in the room. Life felt tumultuous at best. The response from my Nanna was loud and without hesitation, “Good. He was a troublemaker.”
Fast-forward to 2017, almost 50 years later — that’s two score and ten years for anyone who is keeping stats, and it would seem that the United States is in a perpetual state of existential crises.
I have to say that reading my Facebook feed and the strings of who-rah-rah, pep-rally-esk comments underneath peoples posts, my stomach is in knots. How is it that so many of my friends and family, people I love and care about seem to think so differently from the way that I think? How is it that their online comments can remind me of a story about my great-grandmother. That story, by the way, is one that I couldn’t even believe when it was told to me — I actually had to go through a grieving process over what I had heard my mom say about Nanna. The first stage of that process was in fact, denial.
To my white Facebook friends, might some of you be in denial? Or do you realize that your Nanna is racist and your kids aren’t colorblind? Do you understand that taking a knee to draw attention to the problems with police brutality and systemic racism does not mean that you are dishonoring your grandpa or what he fought for? If anything, taking a knee is continuing his legacy. He was after all fighting against the oppression of anyone and everyone who was considered other. Isn’t it about time America took a good long look in the mirror?
I mean, when I look at the responses of my white friends to the protests most of them divide in some way according to identity. The ones who are more apt to speak out publically in favor of #takeaknee or #blacklivesmatter, have skin in the game in one way or another. They are close to someone. They have a spouse or a child of color or have faced some direct animosity themselves over who they are.
To my Latino Facebook friends who have roots, if not still family and friends, in Puerto Rico and Mexico or other places ravaged by natural disasters recently, it certainly seems as if your outrage stems from the #takeaknee argument being center stage while additional groups of mostly non-white individuals seem to be dealing with post-colonial bull-shit. I get it, but does that really mean the conversation isn’t an important one to have?
What offends people is tied directly to who they think they are and to whom they feel tied. Knowing people helps to break down barriers between groups.
Our Stars and Stripes, our anthem, our pledge, our constitution — the very fabric of American society are rooted in cultural ideals. They are symbols of what my grandfathers fought for; they are not what my grandfathers actually fought for. And that’s the point, exactly.
The Great American Dream, including the most basic American values of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, are not equally accessible. Our American systems are getting in the way. The game is rigged.
Understanding that everyone is in some way both privileged and marginalized for who they are is just a starting point. Both the privileging and the marginalizing of any part of you is unfair and unjust.
Quite frankly, I’m not sure we’ve even arrived at that starting point yet. We may have spent the last 250 years or so arguing about who gets to be the thimble, the dog, and the race car.
Imagine for a minute that Monopoly met roleplay gaming like Dungeons and Dragons where you roll a di to determine who you will be in the game. Stay with my nerdy analogy for a second. You roll the dice to decide whether you will be the thimble or the dog or the racecar and what you roll will change the rules of the game.
Oh, Mr. Thimble, poor you, anytime you roll an odd number you owe $100 to the pot and $100 to the race car. Dog, don’t even worry about winning the game. Just try to stay out of jail. All you have to do is follow the rules. But just so you know before you get to roll the dice you’ll have to pick a chance card, at every turn. Hope you brought your lucky rabbit’s foot with you to this game. Oh, race car, don’t worry. You’ve got this game in the bag or certainly in your trust fund.
So who wants to play? And who wants to pay? And who has the right to complain? And who has the right to decide when, where, and how I get to complain?
Does my employer get to decide if I have a right to keep a blog? You’ll note the disclaimer district policy states I need to use when posting anything political later. Does the NFL have the right to fire a player for expressing an opinion? Does the POTUS have any business telling a privately-run company whom to hire and fire? Mr. President, your show has been canceled.
My friends, what does your whining about fellow Americans voicing their opinions say about how you view them and their work? Do #blacklivesmatter only when you’re getting your money’s worth in entertainment and only when you are allowed to pretend that you don’t see color and don’t have a racist bone in your body? Are you calling all the players who took a knee troublemakers? Where have I heard that before?
Do you realize our direct experience is rooted in the fear that comes from seeing others who are just like us lose their lives seemingly because of their identities? You’re hailing the chief on this issue is a personal attack? Note, I said personal, not political.
No issue based on identity is merely political. When an eight-year-old biracial boy is nearly lynched in New Hampshire by a group of white teens in September of 2017, and it barely hits the news, is that politics?
What will it take for people to care with or without skin in the game? At what point will we shut up and listen to the concerns of the people around us? When will we wake up to realize how we impact one another?
Disclaimer: The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent Wauwatosa School District’s positions, strategies, or opinions.