Can You Handle Uncomfortable Conversations?

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You are the company you are.

Being pessimistic is easy and does not require critical thinking. It barely requires thinking at all; just reacting. And in a constant state of reaction is where loose cannons are born.

Pessimism is a negative response to something that makes you feel a negative way.

Like I said, it’s easy. It’s aggressive, dismissive and addictive. Pessimism is like a drug. In the moment, it can feel good. Hell, it might even feel right, but pessimism is a slippery slope. It doesn’t take long to become a habitual pessimist, so proceed with caution.

If pessimism got anyone, anywhere, everyone in the world, would be on top of the world.

Before you know it, you’re living life in a perpetually foul mood, surrounded by other pessimists. That takes a toll, but you likely won’t care because misery loves company, and sometimes even bad company beats being alone.

Loose Cannon, Party of One, Your Table’s Ready

Now more than ever, I notice people are quick to react pessimistically to the topic of racism. I’ve witnessed meltdowns where people quickly go on a tirade declaring how not racist they are, without anyone calling them racist.

It’s bizarre psychology at work, but you can thank the history books for that.

When the topic of racism comes up, there is no reason to get mad about it. Racism is a real thing and we should be okay talking about it.

However, if the topic strikes a nerve deep inside, you need to ask yourself why.

It happens a lot with homophobia too, but that’s another discussion altogether.

For generations, rather than confront the why and how we feel a negative way about certain things, our instinct has been to shut it down, sweep it under a rug, and move on.

We can’t do that anymore. Those days are done.

We owe it to ourselves and everyone who comes after to address it now. It takes work to be a better person, and part of that work is acknowledging the problem to begin with.

I Feel Great Today

How’s that for optimism?

Actually, that’s not a lie. I feel pretty good today. But that’s a conscious decision I have to make, every day, to stay on the right side of a downward spiral.

At the end of the day, I have food on the table, a roof over my head, a bed to crawl in, and a dog to snuggle up to. All things considered, that’s not a bad place to be.

But I’ve Been Duped

For generations, we’ve all been duped in this country.

We all grew up with an easily digestible version of U.S. history where Columbus discovered America, pilgrims and Indians shared a meal, and white people saved the world from other white people and radical Islamic terrorists.

When I graduated high school in 1992, the Cold War was over. The Berlin Wall was coming down. The first Gulf War was done, and the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center was still nine months away.

As far as I knew, Abraham Lincoln abolished slavery after the Civil War, and racism, segregation, and discrimination ended in 1964 when Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act.

I was blissfully ignorant about the prevalence of racism throughout this county. When it came to race, the major problems were between street gangs in the urban neighborhoods of large cities, Rodney King was a one-off event, and the N word was off limits.

If only it were that simple...

The White Bubble

I was born in 1974; you can’t get much more GenX than that.

For our entire lives, GenX has idolized black professional athletes, comedians, actors, and musicians. The list is endless.

For GenX (and beyond), pop culture was (and continues to be) heavily influenced by black culture. Racial tension was entertainment in movies. Primetime in the 80’s and 90’s featured some of the most successful and funny predominantly black television series ever made.

For decades, nobody had to leave their home to see successful black Americans.

That is the white bubble. It’s the bubble I grew up in. It takes effort to see beyond it, which only gets harder the more comfortable you are in it.

It was a privilege to be in.

It wasn’t a bad place to be, but it certainly skewed my view of the progress our society had actually made, and the work we, as a society, had ahead of us.

Juneteenth

How old were you when you learned about Juneteenth? I’m ashamed to say, but I had no idea Juneteenth even existed until I was in my early 20’s. I remember asking what’s that? Is it new? Honestly, it’s shameful.

As a society, we’re doing ourselves a disservice when overlooking opportunities to come together and unite over things that we agree on. Shouldn’t the official liberation of the last remaining slaves in this country be one of those things?

I don’t know why Juneteenth isn’t a more celebrated holiday. It should be on par with Independence Day. But no, every year Juneteenth comes and goes as ignorant Americans hear about it for the first time over and over again.

What was that you said? All lives matter? Ok.

Black Lives Matter

That’s why I have such a problem with people saying all lives matter.

My daily reality tells me that my life matters. I don’t feel the need to brag about it, especially not while friends of mine are in such obvious pain.

All Lives Matter isn’t about any cause. It only came to be after Black Lives Matter became a movement.

ALM was a reaction because BLM made people uncomfortable. That’s it.

If all lives truly mattered, the world would look a lot different than it does right now.

Think of it this way.

Black Lives Matter is to Merry Christmas what All Lives Matter is to Happy Holidays.

Chew on that for a minute. Take as long as you need.

Now, on to my final point.

Breakfast Brand Controversy

Aunt Jemima is a brand that has been around for 130 years. Recently, the Quaker Oats Company, owner of Aunt Jemima, announced it is retiring the name and imagery of Aunt Jemima and people are losing their minds.

Before wasting your energy getting upset about a decision that’s already been made, consider the following reasons why the Aunt Jemima stokes so much emotion.

  • The Aunt Jemima brand was 49 years old when Hattie McDaniel won an Academy Award for her role as “Mammy” in Gone With the Wind in 1939.
  • While people had been enjoying Aunt Jemima products for half a century, the first black woman to win an Oscar couldn’t attend the premiere of her movie at a whites-only theater. Ms. McDaniel was only allowed at the Oscar ceremony as a favor and she had to sit at a segregated table apart from her white co-stars. She wasn’t allowed to attend the celebrations afterwards.
  • When she died in 1952, Ms. McDaniel’s final wish was to be buried in Hollywood Cemetery, but was denied because the graveyard was restricted to dead whites only.
Meanwhile, Aunt Jemima was on pantry shelves in white home across this country.
  • Aunt Jemima was America’s Favorite Mammy
  • While Aunt Jemima was allowed in white households throughout America, black Americans weren’t allowed to use white bathrooms.
  • While Aunt Jemima provided warm and buttery pancakes to white families, black folks couldn’t drink from the same water fountains or swim in the same pools.
  • While Aunt Jemima smiled her pearly whites from her happy packaging, black Americans were not allowed to vote, and had to sit in the back of the bus.
  • While white kids went in for a double dose of Aunt Jemima’s sweet syrup, black kids weren’t allowed in the same schools.

Of course white people loved Aunt Jemima. That’s no accident. That’s by design. But it’s time to open our minds, eyes, and ears.

Liking Aunt Jemima products doesn’t make you racist, but denying that the Aunt Jemima brand is rooted in racism does.

Just because it makes you feel good doesn’t mean it makes everyone feel good. A big part of combating racism is being cognizant of others’ feelings.

Great, you loved Aunt Jemima, but this isn’t about you and your love for high fructose corn syrup and gluten. There’s a whole history at your fingertips that will explain how we got here. But the decision to learn is on you.

Empathy goes a long way when being an ally.

On that note…

Free at Last, Free at Last, Aunt Jemima is Free at Last

Happy Juneteenth Aunt Jemima. You’re free to go.

The Right Side of History

Racism is about more than expressed hate. Many of us know how to treat others with kindness and compassion. That’s not what the current discussion is about. It’s deeper than that, and it’s a problem that can only be dealt with through awareness, fundamental understanding, and a genuine, heartfelt desire for change.

The tide is turning and each of us have a decision to make. You can either swim with the current or against it, and I don’t recommend exhausting yourself swimming against it. It’s not a good look; it makes you look like an asshole.

Progress is good. Progress is always welcome, and it’s heartening when it happens. It’s never too late, but that’s up to you.

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United We Stand

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This is not about me.

This is about friends of mine who are in pain. And my friends’ friends. And their friends. And so on.

It is about millions of people that are in pain who I will never know. I do not have to know them to know they’re in pain because I don’t deny that their pain exists. I know it exists. I see it and I hear it, now more than ever, and it breaks my heart.

Black Lives Matter

The pain is real for people of color. It is a pain I cannot pretend to understand. For better or worse, it is a pain I will never know. I will never know their pain because I am white, and I was born this way.

White Privilege

I will never know their pain because being white comes with privilege, which is a sentiment that makes some white people extremely uncomfortable. So uncomfortable, in fact, they get massively upset when confronted with the claim that they have it. They say that just because they’re white, doesn’t mean they don’t have problems. Yes, that is true. We all have problems. I’ll give you that.

Think of it this way.

If you were not white, your problems would be a lot different.

If you have not abandoned reading this yet, let’s take a moment to be brutally honest. Would you concede that the statement is true?

Here is another take.

Were you ever surrounded by kids on an elementary school playground, teasing you, and calling you chocolate chip?

That’s a true story, by the way. It happened to a girl in my third-grade class. It is one of my earliest realizations that the color of my skin spared me from ridicule.

That, my friends, is the bare minimum of white privilege, and it grows from there, in different ways, at different levels, for different people.

Own It

The playground incident was an impactful lesson about how wrong it is to be a heartless agitator.

Denying the prevalence of white privilege is heartless and agitating.

I have no shame admitting I have privilege. It’s true.

I grew up with the benefit of seeing successful, high profile, and famous people of color influence the culture around me. That could be a contributing factor for why people claim racism is a thing of the past.

Let’s be honest once more. Just because Beyoncé slays, and Obama served two terms, doesn’t mean that people of color are on any sort of level playing field. Both are on the receiving end of some of the ugliest racist vitriol from people who exist among us. All because they are black.

Perspective

Throughout history, white people have been the oppressors and people of color have been the oppressed. I didn’t make the rules. The system was in place well ahead of my existence, and there was a time when I never thought twice about it. Those days are long gone.

I think about it now, and I think about it a lot.

I want my friends, and their friends, and so on, to know that I see you, and I hear you, but above all, I want you to know you have an ally in me.

I commit to you to listen, learn, empathize, and adapt. I commit to communicating honestly and openly. I commit to actively attempting a deeper understanding.

Acknowledging my privilege and stepping back to prioritize the lives of my fellow humans, who are in enormous pain, is the least difficult step I can take toward an enormous mountain.

Nobody can speak racism out of existence. Racism must be plucked from the fabric of society with intentional action. Denying its existence will not make it go away. Being aware of it, and adjusting how we behave toward each other does.

Open Your Eyes

It is impossible to ‘not see’ color. To ‘not see’ means to close your eyes.

The worst thing that happened to me in the last 48-hours is that my dog pissed in my bed and my feet got wet. I was stripping my sheets and doing laundry by 5:30 a.m.

I was not pinned to the ground, knee to neck, by a cop who had no business carrying a badge.

I have been pulled over by the cops more than five, but less than 10 times in my life. Not once after noticing the swirling lights in my rearview mirror was I ever afraid of the forthcoming encounter. Annoyed? Yes. Upset? Absolutely. But scared for my life? No. Never.

Most of those stops resulted in nothing more than a warning. I have received a couple speeding tickets, and only once did I wind up in handcuffs, but they allowed me to have my hands in front of me after enough complaining.

I did not get murdered.

George Floyd’s life did not matter to Derek Chauvin and the three other complicit officers – Thomas Lane, Tou Thao, and J. Alexander Kueng.

To say that all lives matter is a lie. To say they do is willfully ignorant. It is outright denial. It is a spoon full of sugar to make a turd taste better. It is throwing a sheet over a mess on the floor and calling the room clean. To say all lives matter is complete bullshit.

All lives need to matter, but they won’t. Not until black lives do. We’re not there. Not even close.

It is not painful to say.

It is not hard to say.

Black. Lives. Matter.

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