Can straight white males be progressives?

It’s a question that as a straight white male, I have struggled with. Not to mention adding in the additional layers of being a parent, a veteran and a regular “church-goer” (to those outside UU, we are typical church). There are several lens with which to view this question. (Leave it to a philosopher to correct his own question.)

First, can I overcome my straight white maleness to see the issues of people that are historically marginalized by a society run by straight white males?

I think I’ve tried. I don’t know that I will ever be perfect at it. I don’t know that anyone is ever perfect at overcoming themselves and their own experiences. I read, watch, and listen to feminist, GLBT, and racial/ethnic minority perspectives as well as attempt to include them in my thinking. I agree with them most of the time. I’m historically literate and know that there is bias in history that leads to present-day issues.

Second, if I use my straight white male privilege to amplify the voices and perspectives of marginalized persons, am I not invoking the very privilege I’m trying to dissolve?

For instance, a couple years ago, a group of older white males were repeatedly dismissing the issues my twenty-something female colleague was bringing up in a patronizing sort of way. I fired off an emotionally charged email (rarely a good idea) about their unwillingness to deal with the problem because of who was voicing the concern. After some chastisement from my supervisors, the issue was immediately addressed and resolved. They have since listened to her repeatedly but at least initially, it was more out of fear. (They seem to listen now out of both habit and respect.) But often I don’t have the longevity to see if my use of my privilege has a lasting impact.

Third, and maybe the toughest, when it comes to employment, when I do I allow my career ambitions to take a back seat to the promotion of historically underrepresented persons?

It happens that I work in a field with a strong collection of women, racial minority, and GLBT persons. So when an opportunity for promotion comes open, there have always been candidates from these groups also applying. When I am selected over them, regardless of qualifications, I hear remarks about the persistence of the straight white males in positions of power and privilege and how it is a shame I was hired over an equally qualified person who was not a straight white male. At times, knowing a qualified colleague who was not a straight white male was putting in for a position, and wanting to support them, I have chosen to not apply and openly supported them. But how often do we expect, encourage, or accept, straight white males who are willing to do such a thing? Even when it means passing up a career opportunity or a financial incentive for a working-class family. And has mentioned in the previous question, how you do such things also has career ramifications.

Last, is the question of voice. Is my voice less valuable in the diversity conversation?

When I work with people from marginalized groups, I find I am often shunted into a role of limited agency. When I write about the history of women or African Americans, there is the inevitable question “Why is a white guy doing this work?” As if straight white male historians are limited to only straight white male history. Isn’t that the problem?

I don’t say this out of seeking some pity or “woah is me” attitude. I say it out of answering an earnest question from a colleague about why aren’t more straight white male allies of women and minorities.  There are still more straight white males in this country than any other single group. And as a whole, they are more conservative and hold more power than any other single group. It isn’t easy for a straight white male to try to offload some of that either philosophically, physically, or financially. Hence, the limits to what many are willing to do.

A brief history of the Vacationer-In-Chief

Over 8 years, it is estimated Obama spent 85 million or so on vacation and personal travel. That’s just over 10 million a year. Trump has already spent an estimated 15 million in three months plus the added cost of his family living in New York. I’m worried about the precedent that is being set for future Presidents. When did being Prsidnt suddenly turn into an episode of Life Styles of the Rich and Famous?

I don’t remember any public consciousness of vacation costs before Obama. Maybe because Bush went to his ranch in Texas? Or because Clinton went to Camp David? Maybe we just notice now because the anti-Obama folks have made it a thing the past several years. 

Regardless, I think it is a dangerous standard for the future in what people may come to expect of their lifestyle while President. More than one political system has lost touch with this and it led to their downfall. I already saw a comparison of Trump to Marie Antoinette but too few people know history enough to get it. 

During Obama’s time, we turned the President into a celebrity. Now we have a celebrity we are trying to turn in to a President. 

Meanwhile no one has any clue what is going on in Congress.

Liberal Americans suddenly amazed Archie Bunker is still alive and voting

As I sat through yet another funeral service for the Death of Progress, I again grew frustrated with my white liberal and progressive friends and neighbors. The majority of whom apparently live in a world of only inner-city hipster and college-campus blue bubbles surrounded by like minded people. Some of whom seem to have literally thought that Archie Bunkers only lived in reruns, museum pictures, and occasional internet posts. They suddenly found out there are many Archie Bunkers who are alive, well, and voting. You need to get out of your bubbles more!

Now certainly, some of it has to do with age. I’ll automatically forgive anyone under 30 who doesn’t know that Archie Bunkers exist (Here is link for you to explain this post. Read it before continuing.) If you are over 30, you probably met Archie, you just didn’t know that was his name. And if you are over 45 I can’t imagine that you haven’t met Archie. What blue rock are you living under?

We progressives joke about awkward Thanksgiving Dinners with family yet forget those family members vote. We try to avoid the crazy old guy who works in building maintenance and still believes Obama is “one of those Mussaleems” but forget that he votes. We rally to our social media to post memes and photos about racial injustice in the system and then forget that there are people who make up that system of racial injustice. People who vote. Speaking of social media….remember those family and high school friends you blocked or unfollowed for the “horrible uninformed things” they were posting. They vote.

Who do you think we are fighting against? Racism – in all its forms individual and institutional, intentional and unintentional, informed and uninformed – is not dead. Nor are its siblings, Homophobia, Nationalism, Sexism, and Religious Righteousness. They are all alive and well. They live just outside your blue bubble. Likely a little further out of town or further from campus. A neighborhood you would never be willing to live in. Probably a neighborhood you don’t feel all that comfortable in. The one with the beat up mobile home that has a Confederate flag on the front porch. Or the rural community with lots of tractors and John Deere hats. Or the small town of small houses and small manufacturing trying to hold on to their small piece of the American dream. These are not isolated places. They are literally just a ways away from where you live.

I continue to be amazed at how out of touch so many progressives have become given the advances of the last few years. There is still much much work to be done. There is reason to fear the coming repercussions for our social advancements. But there is as much reason now as there was in 2008 as there was in 1992 or 1976 to rally to the cause. Get off of your social media full of like-minded friends and actually go out and talk to Archie. Get to know him. If you don’t, you will never find a way to change his mind. We have been lulled into laziness by our recent progress. But America is advanced citizenship. You have to work for it.

I’ll end with two thoughts. First, a quote from one of my favorite movies The American President:

America isn’t easy. America is advanced citizenship. You’ve gotta want it bad, ’cause it’s gonna put up a fight. It’s gonna say, “You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.”

As we go out there to that fight and advocate let us not get discouraged. As Theodore Parker said and Martin Luther King reminded us, that moral arc of the universe is long and it does bend towards justice. America is not an exception. But the work of bending it is constant. Find your Archie Bunker and start applying pressure to that moral arc. We have four years to bend it.

Praying for God’s Will: Baseball, Elections, Oxymorons

There it was on my Facebook wall. A post from a friend the night of the election proclaiming that they were “praying this election goes in God’s favor.” It was one of the most theologically oxymoronic things I had seen in awhile. Keep in mind this is the same friend who having lost their job a few months before had proclaimed it to be “all part of God’s plan.”

So if God has a plan, and God is the almighty, all-powerful deity that you believe him to be, why pray that things go God’s way? Won’t God just do them the way he wants to? This is one of the many confusing things of popular Christianity that makes my head hurt in observing it. Either God has a plan or God answers prayers. Am I to believe that God sometimes changes his plans based on prayers? If so, it would seem rather arbitrary as to when he chooses to change his plans. I can already hear my pop Christian friends say “But that is the mystery of God that we can’t comprehend.”

Unless you are a Chicago Cubs fan. Cubs fans get the mystery. The Cubs recent World Series win was the sort of thing that inspires legends and movies. Cubs fans around the world apparently prayed that this would be the year and God apparently heard those prayers. Apparently the Cleveland Indians fans just don’t pray enough.

I also have a similar reaction when people pray for one side to be victorious in war. Or if they claim God is on one army’s side and not another. Given his 10 most revered commandments include that one about not killing, it seems unlikely that he would suddenly grant a group of people a free pass. (Although he himself seems rather reliant on the act. Then again, what parent hasn’t said “do as I say, not as I do.”)

So what is prayer? What good is there in asking that the odds, no matter how slim, go in your favor when you also believe that everything that happens is the will of God and done for a specific reason? I’m afraid I don’t have an answer to that. It makes no sense to me. There is a side of me that wants to believe that your God may occasionally grant such miracles to the most deserving. But if such a thing did happen, that “most deserving” would be the saints and top 1% of believers. Your momentary humbleness in the midst of a largely immodest and unrepentant life, seems a bit much to ask. In fact, it seems your God would be more willing to grant such things to those too humble to ask themselves or too busy living out their Christian values to take that moment to ask.

The problem is that logic loop in which prayer exists. When you pray for something, say a pony for instance, and you get a pony, then you are convinced of God’s favoritism towards you. When your prayer isn’t answered, you say it is part of some master plan and not some form of punishment. After all, God only punishes your enemies and non-Christians.

Having not asked that your God’s plan be changed in this election, I missed my chance to evaluate my status with your God. I’m left to believe that Trump must be part of your God’s plan. Or maybe America is just being punished. Or maybe, your God has nothing to do with elections. Just baseball.

Lessons in Protesting: Malheur and Standing Rock

I find it interesting to compare the treatment of Standing Rock protesters in North Dakota to the Malheur Wildlife Protestors in Oregon. Both are cases of people occupying land they don’t own but to which they claim some entitlement. Both are occurring in relatively remote areas with limited mass media and public perception of the issue. There are also a number of differences (race and cause being two) but I believe there are two very key differences that aren’t being addressed.

1) Our country has a history of dealing with people who stand in the way of corporations much more harshly than those who stand in the way of the government. Historically, police and the military (usually the National Guard) are called upon to get rid of such protests as quickly as possible and by whatever means are necessary. As opposed to those strictly protesting the government (without inferring with commerce) who are often given a “wait and see” approach. The government is typically not seen as losing anything when people protest it; where as corporations are seen as losing money and therefore urgency is required. Plus corporations have the political power to ensure their concerns are heard and acted upon. For a related example, look at how the Occupy movement was often allowed into parks for days and weeks as opposed to other protests that stayed on the streets impacting businesses and commerce. The message here is that disrupting the government is apparently an American right but disrupting other Americans, particularly corporate Americans, is not.

2) I have seen several discussions about Malheur being an exercise in white-privilege, which I generally agree with. The Standing Rock protesters are not armed like the Malheur protesters were. Force is less often used against those that can readily return that use of force. Not that I am calling for them to arm themselves, but it is worth noting that I think there would be much less interest in using force on them if that were the case. Imagine how different it would have been if the Freedom Riders or Stonewall patrons had been armed. There is something to be said for how law enforcement approaches the issue when their lives are at considerably higher risk.

I will be interested to see what happens one day when a large group of non-white Americans stages an armed protest in the same way as Malheur. Hopefully, when that happens, it will end with fewer deaths than Malheur did, which only had one death associated with it.

Image courtesy of Savege #KSAV at https://goo.gl/images/Wv0l7n

Yellow lights, guns, and white-privilege

It’s been a long time since I’ve transported any firearms around town. The recent passing of a friend changed that. I cleared a number of weapons from her house at the request of those packing the house up. It was late when I left the house to head to Wal-Mart to buy a locking case for them while I temporarily stored them. As I saw a stop light go yellow, I sped up a bit to get through and barely made it. It was late at night in a dark area. My first thought was if I get pulled over, put both hands out the window and notify the officer that I have multiple unloaded firearms (and one sword) in the vehicle. And then I thought about my white privilege.

I probably wouldn’t need to take those steps except for my own piece of mind. As a veteran, gun owner, former competitive shooter, and former public safety staff, I knew the laws. I wasn’t breaking any laws. I am legally allowed to possess firearms and transport them. But yet, I knew the officer would see the weapons laying in the back when they walked up. An officer who thought they were doing a routine traffic stop and just wants to make sure they get home to their family (like me). There was a brief moment of concern in me as I thought of the culture of fear that has crept into many of our law enforcement agencies. What sort of officer would I get? Would my whiteness and legality be enough to protect me? Would the officer assume no ill intention? Would it be different if I was a person of color? Should it be different based on the color of my skin?

I have a family to think about. I decided I probably shouldn’t risk it. I would just put my hands out and notify the officer as soon as it happened. And if they decided to have me lay on the ground or handcuff me for their safety, I’m okay with that. Although it only would perpetuate my curiosity about the culture of fear. If they didn’t ask me to do that, I would forever be left wondering if it was because I was a middle-age white guy driving a mini-van. Maybe the veteran license plate would help. Maybe not. Lots of stereotypes there too.

In the end, I didn’t get pulled over. But instead the yellow light went on in my mind that hasn’t yet gone off.

Memorial Day: The Cost of War

There is a paradox between Unitarian Universalists and the military that may never be resolved. While there is both strong history of Unitarians and Universalists in the military, since becoming UUA there has been a cultural chasm that seems to have developed. There are a few of us sitting in the bottom of that chasm, existing somewhere between the two.

Memorial Day began in the United States after the Civil War as a means to recognize the sacrifice and high cost of war on both sides. It was not then a commercialized three-day weekend or nominally-patriotic outing to a park. Decoration Day, as it was often called back then, was practiced by laying flowers on the graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers, even in places where the disdain for the issues of the war had been as high as Columbus, Mississippi. Various locations observed various dates, but it was Union Veterans themselves who argued for May 30th as the date, since it therefore didn’t coincide with any particular battle either won or loss. Because it was about recognizing the loss on both sides. It was about holding a place for death and loss and grieving.

Memorial Day is the time that we should recognize and consider the high cost of war. Not the billions of dollars spent but the number of priceless lives lost. The children who will grow up never knowing their parent. The mothers who will never see their children graduate college or start families. The brothers and sisters who will forever keep a picture on a mantel.

That cost of war is so high, that we cannot and should not go into it lightly. Memorial Day should not be practiced as a day of pride about military conquest or blanket glamorization of all military deaths, but as a day of remembrance about the cost of war. A day to recognize the price we pay as a people for the failures of our politicians. Failures for which they are rarely held accountable, but ones which every battlefield commander is judged by.

To those who want to advocate for a national day of recognition for all the civilians and non-combatants killed in war, I support you. To those who think more should be done to recognize the courage and impact of Conscientious Objectors, I agree as well and you have my vote. Conscientious Objection is as old as the first colonies in the US and is an important part of the American military and political landscape. But don’t let your desire for these things react to the blind nationalism and commercialism to which Memorial Day often succumbs. Allow yourself to recognize the cost of war paid by the blood of those who served, willfully or unwillfully, in the military.

We used to say in the military that “War is not about dying for your country. War is about making the other guy die for his.” US military deaths are not the price of “freedom.” They are the price of war. War in our country has rarely been about freedom. But war is always about death. Memorial Day is about those deaths and the legacy of pain and suffering they leave for the families, the friends, and the fellow soldiers. And no amount of patriotic, nationalistic, jingoism will ever fill the spaces left by those deaths.

There is no way to make you feel better about this.

There is no happy ending to this story.

But for this moment, sit in your gloominess and melancholy.

Know that hundreds of thousands of families, friends, and surviving veterans, live in this state on a regular basis, some for the rest of their lives.

This too is part of the cost of war.