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Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Welcome to Braggsville and Another Post Where I Don't Know the Answers

Charlie was a Saints fan, as he described it, about all things race. Best advice my father ever gave me: When you know your team can’t win, you hope, pray, and cheer, but don’t bet, curse, or get in anyways angry when they lose. That’s how you live without your heart drawing up into your ass. 
T. Geronimo Johnson, Welcome to Braggsville
Boy howdy did those words resonate with me. As a Raiders fan, of course I understand. No better metaphor could hammer into me so quickly just a glimpse of the frustration felt by a racial minority. Just a glimpse, you understand, as I am a member of the dominant race in my county (93.5% white), the dominant religion (89% Mormon), and share the average number of people living in my house (3.61 - in our case the 0.61 is Henry who lives in the space between the ground floor and the basement. We don't talk a lot about Henry.)

Furthermore, I'm tall, which means I will earn somewhere between 9 and 15% more during my life than an equally qualified version of me. Add this to the fact that in my state women make 67% of what men do (the second worst ratio in the country. Second only to Louisiana. You guys. LOUISIANA.) and I am part of a religion in which there is no woman whose authority is over a man at any level of its hierarchy, and yet there are no women who are not under a man's authority. Where grown men stand outside of church dances, looking closely at teenage girls' bodies and deciding whether what they are covering enough of them. So I guess I don't understand. I guess maybe I don't even begin to understand. I'm so used to people who look like me being in charge that to consider any other possibility is foreign.

The only things really going against me are baldness and failing kidneys. Baldness, ironically, may actually give me a further leg up in the professional world. And though the data is not yet in on kidney disease's affect on general winning at life, I would surmise a guess that it isn't particularly good. Admittedly the chronic disease thing is a pretty raw deal, but it's surmountable. If I were going to pick an organ that was going to crap out on me, I could have gone a lot worse, is what I'm saying.

I don't really want to talk about it anymore. Moving on.

See, it doesn't matter how much education I get, or books I read, or social media I follow, I'll never understand what it's like to be in a store and have security follow me around. I'll never be told that an apartment building is full when it isn't. I won't know what it's like to have the school police officer (honestly why do we have those) constantly asking my friends and I if we're in a gang. Aside from the one time when my friends and I were in a cemetery after hours around Halloween, I've never had even one second to be afraid of a police officer.

In that case he looked in our eyes and said they looked bloodshot and if we'd been smoking marijuana. When I told him no, he asked why we were there. I said, "Because I'm stupid."
He looked at my friends and said, "Is he stupid?"
They nodded.
He gave us a warning and sent us on our way.

Even at that time, when I was caught clearly breaking a law, and it was dark and I was in a danged cemetery, even then the extent of my fears were only that I might get a ticket which means I would buy fewer CDs that week. So no. I don't know what it's like when I see the red and blue in my rearview mirror, and instead of worrying that I may be inconvenienced or at worst have to pay a fine, I worry if maybe I might die today. The thought has not crossed my mind.

Why? Because I'm a white male. If I were me, but with darker skin, I would be 21 times more likely to be shot by a police officer. Do you like those odds? I do not like those odds. You guys those odds are crazy.

Maybe that's why I've always treated police officers with respect. Because nobody I know has been killed by a police officer. I had a friend die of a drug overdose. I had a friend die in a car accident that was probably caused by texting and driving. A friend almost lost his baby due to a drunk driver. Those things I worry about. I avoid them. But cops? Nicest folks on earth. I've been ticketed so rarely that I see a police encounter as something that will make me late. The one time I actually was given a ticket I took it to court because how dare they.

I'm not saying cops are evil. I'm not saying some shootings aren't justified. I have not been there and I have no idea. I used to work at a doughnut shop and yes, there were lots of police officers there. They seemed like great men and women. I currently work with and interact with some awesome folks who carry badges and protect wildlife. I've been able to train with them. We shot at each other with paint guns. I want them all to go home to their families, safe and sound. What I'm saying is that I can't begin to understand what it's like to be 21 times more likely to be shot by one because of my skin color and how that would change the way I look at the world. That's just one ethnic group, though. And not even the worst case.

My life is so safe and sound that I can pretend to be a bad guy and get into fake gunfights with real police officers. The most fun I've had at my job was play-acting someone else's worst nightmare.

Followed by pulled pork sandwiches.
The best I can do right now is just listen. So that's what I do. And by listen, I mean read.

Welcome to Braggsville is a book about race. In it, the main character is D'aron, a southern white boy who ends up going to Berkeley. There he makes friends with a bit of a posse. A white girl from Iowa, a black kid from Chicago, and an asian aspiring comedian from California. They call themselves the four little indians and decide to stage a protest at a Civil War reenactment in D'aron's hometown. In the form of a staged lynching.

The different locales gives T. Geronimo Johnson plenty of room to riff on race and politics, and he does so like a jazz musician. The writing style shifts, the timelines mix up, and narrators are in constant flux. Johnson is an equal opportunity critic. He goes after liberal Berkeley and it's apparent distance from the world outside of its borders. His parents, trying to help him find a job, look at the names of the courses on his transcripts (Johnson studied and later became a curriculum designer there) and laugh at how useless they are in the rural south.

He goes after white southern culture, including black-face lawn jockeys and bumper stickers saying "I hate his white half, too." The defense of the confederate flag as heritage, not hate. He goes after benevolent racism, and cultural appropriation, regardless of intention. He points out that young people eager to make the world a better place often do so in unfortunate ways. “Don’t curse a child for doing childish things, but don’t ’courage him none neither."

He talks about loyalty to where you grew up, regardless of how weird it is. And defending your own, whatever that means. It sounds like a textbook, but it's really a crackerjack story that's funny and scary and interesting.

I don't know, you guys. I haven't figured this stuff out. If you've read this blog at all, you'd know that I'm optimistic about the future. But that optimism isn't some The Secret bullcrap of us all wishing for it together. It comes from the assumption that we all try to be better. Let's figure this stuff out.