Like birds of a feather, we gather together,
‘Cuz they’re feeling exactly like you…
~John Prine

 

I am not afraid of being a white minority.

I had lunch today with a Jamaican drummer, a Ugandan farmer, and a Senagalese potter. I don’t say this out of pride, for we gathered together simply because we are the old guys working in a young persons’ place. Our conversation was far from noble (unless unpretentiousness is noble) but simply eating together was an experience of nobility–a subtle reminder of what is possible. I have lived long enough and broadly enough to recognize the essential principles of goodness–‘and that has been my continuing consolation. Sappy as it sounds: we are all practically the same. But, this fear of being a minority is the core of what is powering the republican campaign. It is a profound irony for a platform that cherishes individual freedom, but it is still a stunning reality. Our 350 years or so of democratic experience has revealed both the sublimity and baseness of majority rule, so much so that I am equally fearful if either party gains the upper hand, but it does not appear that any true and noble warrior will arrive on the battlefield to save us.

So we are left to ourselves and whatever core of nobility that is within us.

As a white American, I am not immune to the angst of possibility. White America has distorted and abused the inalienable rights of minority Peoples time and time again, and if life teaches us anything, it is that the day of reckoning will always come. I remember reading one day the words of some European philosopher who wrote, “that which is not sustainable cannot continue.” These words have lingered in my consciousness for many years. Ever the optimist, I used this sentence to deny and belittle the fatalists among us: the seas will not rise; the next apocalyptic war till not happen; famines will not engulf us, and change will not destroy us because I believed in the power of collective wisdom to act before the tipping point of inevitability.

I don’t believe that anymore.

As a teacher at a pricey independent school struggling to be inclusive, I have been forced to sit through dreary and pedantic seminars about our white privilege. At the time, I despised being lectured to and admonished by pathetic apologists for my race. In my mind (or at least my previous mind) the sins of our fathers and mothers is not passed on to the sons and daughters, most of whom are belly-full of optimism and are freshly bound by enlightenment to a new paradigm of equality and justice. My whiteness is not a blemish any more than a deformed branch is a tree. It is, however, a dark and menacing shade to any non-white who lives “beneath” it. To not see this, recognize this, and not be appalled by this is to be a sub-human dirt-bag.

It is the tribalism of race that makes us racist. To ignore this is fantasy and hyperbole. Moving beyond that tribalism is a monumental task, but also a necessary journey—an odyssey—that we must make to create a pure democracy in line with the original nobility of our Constitution. For the most part, the word “racist” is obsolete. No one really knows what it means, and we throw the word around with reckless and dangerous volleys of stinging venom. Racist has become more of a root word, a prefix we attach with casual abandon for the purposes of expediency to whatever suits our point of view and whatever belittles those who oppose us. Here and now, the loose and reckless “racist” word is being thrown about with righteous smugness by the left and attached to any person who expresses an inkling of solidarity with the republican platform. Incessant derision only widens the gaping maw between people and parties, and friends and communities until the very notion of free speech becomes a pathetic and gratuitous mockery of itself. Your life–and the way in which you live your life–needs to be your first, last, greatest and most memorable statement.

There is no race that can or should be proud of their history if that history is to be looked at in its totality. We are evolving creatures at odds with our instincts. We stubbornly preserve our own in the cycle of creation and we will try to overpower anything that stops that cycle. This instinct to survive and perpetuate our own is deeply embedded through the millennia of generations and is not easily undone. It seems to be our incessant folly to deny this, so we are now entwined and paralyzed in a sluggy mud of our own making. T.S. Eliot once wrote in “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock:”: “Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,/ have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?”

If you’re not blind, you will see we are at the tipping point of our crisis. We cannot have our tea and cakes and blithely go about eradicating the narrowness of our tribalist thinking. What is real is not hard to see. We are now an enmeshed world of races that needs to act–for the sake of ourselves–as a single tribe of humans–a tribe that can still remember and sing the many songs of our many races that does not mistake and reword prejudice for pride. It is not an artificial globalism; it is a reality we have to embrace and breathe into the actions of our lives. Our melodies may start out discordant, but maybe, somehow, we will at least find a common rhythm to which we can march together. It will never happen if we sing in the narrow halls and conventions of our own minds or huddled within gossiping flocks of sameness, consoled by a common and dull conformity. It will only happen if everybody is in the bigger hall together, searching and floundering for a common key in which to start singing.

And if you don’t, fate has the upper hand, and you will get what you get, and, sadly, you will be left out of the right side of the inevitable.

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