Today is a typical November day, at least for Oklahoma. It’s rainy — just a thin drizzle — and a bit cool. 62°, which may sound warm to Yankees, but with the damp? It seeps into Okie bones. Especially aging ones!
So when I dressed for the day, I pulled on an old favourite: a cashmere pullover. And no, it really wasn’t the splurge it sounds. I probably should, one day, give thanks for the education in shopping I received from my old ladies, my mother, & then my in-laws. Each in his or her own way schooled me in bargain hunting: I rarely pay full price for anything, & certainly ‘not luxury’ items. Like a bright blue cashmere sweater…
No, I sign up for ‘we love you, loyal customer’ discounts & notifications. And I shop when things are 30% or more off. Sometimes, they’re even on sale before the discount! Hence my recent purchase of new sheets, on sale AND 50% off total price!
So while I certainly recognise my myriad privileges, this sweater isn’t as big a one as it might seem. And on a cool fall afternoon, when I’ve left the backdoor open for a flighty cat & a picky dog, I give thanks over & over for soft, warm, things. For the hand-knit throw my 3rd sister gave me one year. For the vivid turquoise cashmere muffler my elder son bought me for Christmas a few years back. For sweaters, & caps, & gloves. For the gentle hug of soft wool, and the goats that offer it up to herders & carders & spinners & all. Here’s hoping they are as happy being cashmere goats as I am with their wool, in my soft pullover.
And just FYI? You can find GREAT cashmere bargains at resale shops! ????
When I was a very young woman, I was a card-carrying member of the ACLU. Really. It was during the 70s, and the Neo-Nazi party was demonstrating (or trying to) in Skokie, IL. There was a huge outcry, because (you probably don’t know this) more than 1/2 of Skokie’s population was Jewish. In addition, a large number of the Jews who did live in Skokie were Holocaust survivors. In other words? A tragically incendiary situation.
I was a journalist for years. And as a radical liberal — if there is such a thing! — I defend freedom of speech, freedom of press, freedom of assembly. They are building blocks to a liberal democracy. So I sent money to a financially strapped ACLU; liberals weren’t happy to see ‘their’ organisation defend Nazis, and there weren’t many donations coming in. My friends were horrified.
But I remembered someone had told me, in a class I had once on ethics in media, that freedom of speech wasn’t about defending the things we agree with. It’s about making sure that even the things we HATE are also given the right to air. Even things that make us crazy angry.
I still believe that.
However, it’s just not that simple anymore. There are, of course, limits to free speech: you can’t yell fire, as we know. And you can’t incite riot. And yet… Surely this political season, we have seen many ‘leaders’ fomenting hate: saying that entire groups of people should be deported, even (possibly) executed, if ‘necessary.’ We have seen jokes made (in verrry poor taste) about guns and various candidates, followed w/ ‘wink/nudge’ that ostensibly excuses the ‘joke.’
We’ve seen people with, ostensibly, the same political goals make accusations without any basis. Families (once safe from mud-slinging) are fair game, and spouses are attacked w/ impunity. A man’s father has been impugned as an accomplice to murder, a woman’s husband’s affairs alleged to be ‘her own fault.’ Debates have disintegrated into finger shaking and eye-rolling.
And it’s not just ‘them.’ It’s all of us. We’re all angry.
Yesterday, my younger son sent me a link to an article I’m posting here. It talks about ‘in-groups’ & ‘out-groups,’ & how we range ourselves against the ‘out-groups’ of our choosing. It’s not a new (or even overly recent) article: Scott Alexander, the author, posted it back in 2014, almost exactly 2 years ago. But it’s never been more relevant. For the next week or so, I’ll be referring to it more than once. Alexander so neatly articulates the tension these days: liberals are just as apt to forget freedom of speech as someone from the ‘other’ side.
As a Buddhist, I know about ‘attachment.’ Upādāna (it literally means ‘fuel’) is the fire that arises when we cling fiercely to a longing, a wish for things to be different. Maybe it’s a desire for $$, or freedom from pain. In my case? It’s a visceral ache for justice for all: equity (which is NOT the same as equal treatment, per se: equity is levelling the playing field — quite different). I want that kind of ideal fairness to EVERYONE. And so those who work towards that goal are my ‘in-group.’ If you’re not working for equity? You’re in my ‘out-group.’ And I’m almost certainly angry about it.
Equity also means that you can’t be a racist, or a homophobe. You can’t be a misogynist, or indifferent to your own privileges, racial or class or gender derived. I don’t think I’m any of those. But as Scott Alexander notes, I get no ‘virtue points’ for being ‘tolerant’ of differences like race, gender, class, religion. Unfortunately, I also get no virtue points for being tolerant of my out-groups(s), because I’m not. Instead, I’m angry. Almost all the time.
I”m leaving this here for now. Next blog? More on trying to live a Buddhist life of non-clinging while remaining socially engaged, and activist.
In my hometown, many of us — I hope thousands of us — are grieving. We’re grieving for a murdered father of four. For a man returning from a music appreciation class, who had car trouble. Who was shot FOR NO GOOD REASON (although that’s not the story the accused cop is telling, of course), after he was tased.
Did mention he was tased FIRST? Oh: and he was black. That’s the REAL important fact these days…
I’m linking to two other pieces — one the heart-breaking post of a teacher at Mr. Crutcher’s daughter’s school. Please read it. Imagine how to explain that this little girl’s daddy won’t be coming home because a cop killed him. If you can, imagine the faces of the black children to whom the teacher is speaking: sons & daughters of black men. Black boys who will grow up to be big black guys who may look scary. And tell me it’s going to be fine. Because I don’t believe it.
The 2nd piece is one I wrote, for my other blog — a more Buddhist one — at Beliefnet. In it, I spent more time than my breaking heart will allow today exploring what happened. And how it’s part of a tragic historical trajectory. America is not interested in justice, when it comes to black men. It’s more afraid of them than for them.
The Buddhist in me has no idea what to do. I’m writing and writing and writing more, wondering how to help. I’m tackling family who believe that an unarmed man is a threat. I’m railing at a system where black is the wrong colour, at least in any tense situation. I’m caught in a kind of death spiral of anger & pain and more anger, and rage that this keeps happening.
And I don’t have a clue — not a single Buddhist text — to help me figure out. All I can do is breathe in, breathe out. Breathe through the heartbreak and anger. And try, HARD, to remember that the pain I feel is not a drop compared to the tsunami of sorrow Terence Crutcher’s four children feel…
I have a new betta fish: Beowulf 2. Beowulf the Original disappeared in a gullywasher of a derecho last week. We received more than an inch of rain overnight, and the next morning? No Beowulf. He seems to have been washed out of his home in the deck water feature… 🙁
If you’re careful, bettas are quite happy outside. My beloved epoxied an antique copper pot (about 2.5 gallons capacity), and we filled it w/ dechlorinated water, hornwort, & anachris (2 kinds of water plants for cover & shade). I bought a yellow snail to keep down the slime, and because I like snails. We put Beowulf in, and he seemed happy, learning to come when I leaned over the pot to feed him, or just when I leaned over (hopeful, that fish was). He was tame, and would follow my finger through the water plants. In case you hadn’t figured it out, I got pretty attached to him.
But after the rains, he was gone. I had a very sad vision of him being washed out of his pot, onto the deck, and then off the deck (a story up) into the yard below… 🙁 Very unhappy image.
So we bought Beowulf 2. He’s a little more iridescent than Beowulf 1, who was a bit whiter. So he’s equally pretty. But he wasn’t — at least not at first — nearly as tame. He hid under the water plants, and I’d have to move them to drop the food in front of him. In other words, he wasn’t a whole lot like Beowulf 1. Pretty much, except for both being fish, they weren’t pretty different.
But we continue to do this, America. We continue to lump all black Americans into a category that (apparently) says dangerous: kill. And we put all Muslims into a box that says terrorists: deport and/or kill. We look at tattoos and ‘deduce’ trashy person: harass and/or arrest. A colleague visiting my alma mater recently was stopped by campus security & harassed by three (yep, THREE) cop cars. It was a hot day; he’d taken off his shirt. And he has a LOT of (lovely) tattoos. Plus, he didn’t have his wallet with him. Now, security COULD have followed him nicely to the classroom where he was teaching. But nooooo. They were so sure he was a ‘bad guy’ that they interrogated him aggressively. And now? He’s in the totally justified process of bringing a LOT of negative attention to the university.
Two betta fish. A series of wrongful deaths at the hands of profiling police. A sad interrogation of a PhD who works for UNESCO, ironically on issues of social justice. Can you figure out how to fix this problem? With a betta, you let it show you who it is. And it gradually will come to trust you. At least B2 has. Now? He comes to the water just like B1. But note: that doesn’t make me think they’re the same…
Charles Kinsey was laying on the ground, as we all can see. With his arms in the air. He had done exactly as the police asked. The therapist had stopped his conversation w/ the young, autistic black man (who apparently had a dangerous toy TRUCK) to obey police. They shot him in the leg anyway.
When Kinsey asked the police why he’d been shot, the shooter responded: I don’t know.
I absolutely believe that. I’m sure the police who shot Kinsey doesn’t know why he shot Kinsey. But there’s a lot of good research out there that helps us understand, even if the shooter doesn’t.
When given psychological tests, by far the majority of whites respond to pictures of blacks w/ fear. White Americans are far more likely to see black Americans as dangerous, as ‘bad.’ As threatening. This is the backdrop for the shooting of Charles Kinsey, a black American who did everything the police told him. And STILL was shot in the leg. And then left to bleed, in handcuffs, for 20 minutes. While the ‘rescue squad’ (certainly not a rescue of Kinsey) came to the scene of the crime. Note: Kinsey committed NO crime. He did EXACTLY as police asked. He was completely unarmed. And he was STILL shot.
If there needed to be, for white America, a ‘smoking gun’ to illustrate the fear of black Americans endemic to white police officers, surely this is it. This is what black Americans — and white police — live with. For those of us with long memories, those of us who have been active for decades in social justice issues (which in America are so often those of race…), this is an old story. But Charles Kinsey’s shooting is an almost perfect confluence of sad vectors: black men, white police, Fear. And film footage. In this age of cell phones, it’s far more difficult to get by w/ overt racial wrongheadedness. Especially when it’s sooo obviously a case of fear.
But here’s the problem we are NOT discussing: fear isn’t rational. You don’t just say, I don’t want to be afraid of the dark anymore. It doesn’t work that way. When we look at the visceral responses of white police to black Americans — and I’m thinking of obviously horrific cases, like Sandra Bland, Alton Sterling, Eric Garner — these are, for the even more tragic most part, not conscious racism. They are the product of adrenaline, fear of black Americans, and guns. And (probably) inadequate training.
There is an entire litany of names of wrongful black deaths at the hands of the white police system. The recent deaths of police (not all of whom were white, note) are tragic, yes. But they are a drop in the bucket compared to the murders of black citizens from way back. And until we begin to figure out how we can change the hearts & minds of white America, so that we see our friends and family in the faces of black victims, we don’t have a chance in hell of changing this.
When I heard of the shooting of Charles Kinsey, I thought of two dear friends. Kinsey could just have easily been my friend Ben, or my friend Dewayne. Both have Ph.D.s That, of course, would have made no difference to the police. Each is a kind, funny, brilliant person. That too would never have made police radar. Neither carries weapons — not even pocket knives. But none of that would have mattered, since each one would have been there to help the frightened autistic man. They’re helpful, and would have seen his fear and panic. Each would have done what the police demanded. And almost certainly? Both would have been shot.
What do we do, America? How can we change fear into reason? How can we defuse this poisonous tragedy? If you have ideas, I would love to hear them…