How Do You Solve a Racist Problem like Donald?

July 17, 2019

After this week, if you don’t think Donald Trump is a racist, you might be a white nationalist. I’ve been interviewing avowed white supremacists for over 30 years and when I do there is two things they ALWAYS say:

  1. I’m not a racist. (I just love my people.)
  2. If you don’t like the way things are you can go back to where you came from.

Only the most sub-moronic of rednecks and Trump apologists do not recognize Trump’s latest hissy fit about Ayanna Pressley, Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashid Tlaib is rooted in tried and true racist tropes. Ask any person of color (including Mitch McConnell’s wife) what they hear when a white person tells them to “go back where they came from.” Trump is a racist. Every free-thinking person knows it.

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I started writing about Trump’s use of racist tactics in 2015 and it’s only gotten worse. I know plenty of former proudly white supremacist organizers who had a reckoning of conscience and are now the most bad-ass anti-racist activists.  At 73, I won’t expect any moment of redemption from the current occupant of the White House. Don’t expect Donald Trump to sign up to be rescued by the good people at Life After Hate. He’s going to carry this diseased bone to his grave like the old dog that he is. It’s not worth trotting out the evidence to convince the unconvinced. Those people are idiots and/or racists themselves.

So we have a virulently racist president who will probably have the bully pulpit until he is sworn out of office on January 20, 2021. (I’m still hoping he’ll just quit like a bloated Nixon.) What do we do about it? How do we adapt to the fact that the office of the President of the United States of America is caked in hundred year old pig shit?

FIRST – There are real victims of Trump’s racism. There are traumatized children at the border because they have been ripped from their parents seeking to protect them from the violence of their home countries. There are families traumatized through prolonged separation because of his “Muslim ban.” There are increasing numbers of Americans traumatized by hate crimes, as the racists who worship Trump scream, “Go back to where you came from!” as they harass and beat and shoot them. The most important thing is to protect, defend, and heal these people until the source of Trumpism is confined to the trash heap of history.

I was a Boy Scout and we were taught to take care of the least among us. “We’re only as strong as our weakest link,” we’d say. We learned that from the American armed forces. I grew up thinking that was an American value. When I watch Trump throw red meat to his rabid base, I wonder if we’re still America or if we’ve become ancient Rome. This is not America. We have to defend those who are the targets of his fear mongering. We have to be willing to stand on the tracks of the Trump train and say, “No more!”

SECOND – Obviously, Trump is not a unifier. He has made America 1861 again. We have never been more divided. We need to resist the divide & conquer tactics. The new rebel finds common ground.

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His moronic refrain is that if you have a problem with America, “you can just leave.” Does he really think that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez does not love this country? Or is that just what he thinks his cult of supporters want him to think? In the 1960s, right-wingers would chant, “America! Love it or leave it!” to civil rights marchers and anti-war protestors. The more rational reply was, “America! Love it and fix what’s broken!” I had a lot of fun ten years ago telling Tea Partiers, who where always complaining about President Obama, “America! Love it or leave it!” The irony sailed right over their thick skulls. It didn’t accomplish anything but it was fun.

I’ll admit the divisiveness can be fun. I can go all in for a good Facebook fight. But that only serves Trump and his Russian troll overlords. They want chaos. Remember when Jeb Bush called Trump the “chaos candidate”? Shocker: Jeb Bush was right. The antidote is political civility and unity. It was encouraging to see several Republicans sign on to the congressional condemnation of Trump’s most recent racist tirade. There may still be a shadow of a spine in the GOP. We need more of that. And just not unity in clapping back at the Dear Leader.

There is good research about political civility. It can happen. I know it seems impossible right now but we need to build bridges not walls. There’s a great Special AKA song from 1984 that goes, “If you’ve got a racist friend, now is the time for that friendship to end.” It’s wrong. As much as I want to unfriend people who blather about Trump not being racist (please stop), I want to keep them on board. Keep them engaged. Find ways in. Free them from their bigotry. Bring them to the light side of the Force.

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THIRD – We need to remove Donald Trump by whatever constitutional means possible, including the ballot box. The damage this madman is causing our great nation will take generations to repair. 2020 can’t be about third parties and “voting your conscience.” Ross Perot is dead. There is too much at stake. Whoever the Democratic nominee is, you’re gonna have complaints. “He’s too old!” “She prosecuted too many people of color!” “I can’t pronounce his name!” Shut the fuck up. Get out your debit card and make a contribution. Put a bumper sticker on your Uber. Hold your nose and vote. There are kids in cages. If I meet a single “anarchist” in 2020 who tells me they are not voting because elections are bullshit, I will personally hand them over to their Russian troll puppetmasters. We need everyone, including frustrated Republicans and youth in Che Guevara t-shirts (Made in China, no doubt). We need the sophistics and the folks who never pay attention to politics. We need a massive rebuke of this very anti-American American president.

It’s not worth it to debate Trump’s racism. Too many credible people (Thank you, Don Lemon) have already done it. The question now is who are we as a nation? Are we going to tolerate a tinpot dictator who wants to make America Jim Crow again, or are we going to stand for the great promise of our country holds for all people in the world? You must choose.

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Female Role Models For My Daughter (and all those boys)

July 6, 2019

There’s a classic riddle I offer my sociology students when I want them to think about gender.

A man is spending a day with his young son who he is meeting for the first time. They do the usual father-son things like going to a ball game and having ice cream in an ice cream shop. At the end of the day, there is a horrible car accident and the father is killed.The boy is critically injured and taken to the Emergency Room. The attending doctor sees a child in need of critical aid brought into the ER and gasps, saying, “I can’t operate on this child. He’s my son!” 

Who is the doctor?

The first time I heard this riddle my mind did all kinds of backflips. Maybe the doctor was the step-father or maybe there were, somehow, two fathers in this universe. Then someone said, “The doctor is his mother” and I felt like a complete idiot. It’s a valuable lesson in how our brain is trained for normative maleness. Oddly, if I had grown up in the USSR, the answer to the riddle would have been obvious as the majority of medical doctors in the old Soviet Union were women. We’re not at gender equity yet, but I have great hope for my daughter’s generation. (Our daughter has a female doctor, by the way.)

The vestiges of patriarchy still pervade my 4-year-old’s preschool life. A male classmate told her that “girls can’t be bosses,” even though the owner of the school is a woman. I hope she called bullshit on the boy but I know she gets a lot of reinforcement of the “men are in charge” narrative even if at home dad is folding laundry while mom clocks in the hours at work.

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The day after we got back from Mexico, a tornado blew down our street in Portland. It was only an EF 0, but we were in the car right next to it and saw it take down the biggest tree in the neighborhood. Quickly, police and fire departments were on the scene, as the rain poured and power lines flailed about in the wind. As I gave interviews to local news crews, I saw Cozy talking to a female police officer about the twister. I realized that, thanks to my dragging her to endless meetings with law enforcement, she’s met enough female cops and FBI agents to know that women are in important positions of power all around her.

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Earlier this summer we took her to her first Portland Thorns game so she could see thousands of people cheering for our amazing female athletes. For her, it was just a normal sporting event, nothing remarkable that all the players on the pitch were women. What was even cooler was that she got to see tons of boys and men (including her dad) cheering for the mighty Thorns, at a record crowd in Providence Park, as they took down the Chicago Red Stars.

That’s been one of the most thrilling parts of watching the women’s World Cup matches this summer. Sure it’s great to see girls getting to see women play hard and fast soccer to a global audience (even if they are paid significantly less than male FIFA players), imagining that they could do it too. That there is space in a male-dominated world for female athletes and careers in their sport. But it’s also important that so many boys are showing up to root for women. It’s the beautiful game. We might have a misogynist in the White House, but the walls are coming down in football stadiums all around the world as men cheer on their sisters.

Gender socialization is real. It happens when we are conscious of it. (We live in a Barbie-free Zone.) But also when we don’t see it. I hope Cozy has taken note of all the women running for president, the women who she meets who work in local and national government, the female firefighters who responded to the tornado on our street, the female sportscasters on TV, and all the moms of friends who are working and bringing home the vegan bacon. But I also hope all her little male friends take note of the exact same thing.

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I was of two-minds about the 2011 Beyoncé song, “Run the World” The refrain, of course, was “Girls!” It was an empowering anthem but masked the fact that men (and their anti-woman/anti-Mother Earth agenda) still pretty much run the show, from Afghanistan to Alabama. Girls need to be armed with this truth, patriarchy is real and will not die easily. A few World Cup matches isn’t going to change that. But I think the girls (and boys) of Gen Z, might be able to see what that world will look like. It will look like a million people cheering as a talented female puts the ball into the back of the net.

 

Just Open the Damn Border

June 18, 2019

Mexicans have built an amazing country filled with culture and enterprise and awesome drinks. It’s no wonder so many Americans are moving here and so many locals have zero interest in heading north. This is wonderful place.

I’m back in Mexico for our annual family trip to Morelia and a bit of guest lecturing on Isla Mujeres. Every time I come to Mexico, I’m so knocked out by the beauty and hospitality of the country that I wonder what all those Trump racists are going on about. And then I remember, racism.

If Donald Trump had ever taken a break from his rich boy bubble and traveled south of the border for an extended period (not camping out at a luxury hotel in Cancun), he might not have branded Mexicans “murderers and rapists.” If he had actually gotten to know the people of this amazing country, instead of surrounding himself with the sycophants that kiss his orange ass, America might have a completely different view on immigration. Instead of inciting crowds of morons to chant “Build the wall!” he might be encouraging Americans to “let them in!”

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We started our trip here in Guadalajara. We’re in Morelia now, soon to head to Mexico City, before hopping a ferry to the isla. Each step of our experience here is always filled with encounters with the most generous and lively people. They might not have much, but they are happy to share what they have with a visitor. On Sunday, we attended a baptism of baby daughter of a sister of a wife of a cousin. We were welcomed warmly and then invited to the fiesta afterwards and showered with tequila and chicken mole and made to feel like we had been members of the family for generations. Cozy played with the niños for hours, including having a go at the piñata, as if they were all her school mates. The grandfather of the baby told me how honored he was to have my family attend. It was the exact opposite of what you hear about Latin America on Fox News.

It was then when I realized what a mistake it is to try and keep these folks out of the United States. We should be inviting them in by the droves. America needs more kindness, more parties, more commitment to children, more family. America needs more Mexicans! We have plenty of room! And bring your crazy tequila drinks!

Unfortunately, the hate mongers have driven an idiotic narrative about criminals, cultures of corruption, MS-13, and welfare cheats. I seriously doubt any of these folks have ever even been to Mexico, other than possibly a stop in Puerta Vallarta on some luxury cruise. Spend two weeks here and then tell me we don’t want a taco truck on every corner.

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There’s two important facts these immigration hawks ignore. The first is that  America had an “open border” policy its first 148 years and the country was fine. The Immigration Act of 1924 (modeled on the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882) was heavily pushed by the Ku Klux Klan and effectively choked off immigration from non-Northern European countries.  It was the law that told a ship full of 937 Jewish refugees escaping Hitler in 1939 to turn around. Campaigning for the law, a Klan leader declared at their 1924 convention, “I would build a wall of steel, a wall as high as Heaven, against the admission of a single one of those Southern Europeans who never thought the thoughts or spoke the language of a democracy in their lives.” Sound familiar?

Before that law, people would just show up and America was happy to have them. We knew this country was being built and we needed hard working people from wherever who were ready to invest some sweat equity. There was no “right way” of immigrating before 1924. People just decided to join our team and get to work. But even after 1924, the southern border was completely porous with people going back and forth at will, no check points, no border patrol. Before 9/11, the same was true with our northern border. You didn’t need a passport to go to Canada and they didn’t need one to come here. This nation was built on open borders and we were great!

The second thing these Trump ass-lickers ignore is that, despite our Russian puppet president’s declaration about “criminals flooding across the border,” clear research shows that immigrants (especially undocumented immigrants) have LOWER crime rates than the general public. They come here and work their asses off, paying billions in taxes, and often not able to access the services that citizens can. If someone comes here and commits a crime, bust them, but also bust the CEOs that are robbing your 401K while you sit there watching Tucker Carlson.

The reality is that many Mexicans, especially from the state of Michoacán where we are now, headed northward after George Bush negotiated and Bill Clinton signed NAFTA in 1994. The trade agreement forced many Mexican farmers to buy overpriced seeds from Monsanto, putting most out of business. Nobody was hiring in Guatemala, so they made their way to Estados Unidos. Many of their children are now my students and kicking ass.

Research also shows that they have greater mobility in America. They may come here with just the clothes on their back, but their dedication to the American Dream allows their children to go to college and start businesses of their own. My wife walked across the Arizona border as an “illegal” and is now teaching at a university, working towards her doctorate. I would bet my house that the average DACA kid has added more to America than the average troglodyte in a “Make America Great Again” hat.

Ever wonder where that stereotype of the “lazy Mexican” comes from? It’s called projection. Mexicans and other Latin Americans are working countless shifts or in horribly unsafe conditions, while white people sit around whining about “illegals.” We’re the lazy ones. Their work ethic shames everybody else and instead of thinking, “Man, I’d really benefit from having those people on my team,” xenophobes have to make up some classic racist shit about “invasions.”

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Trump’s stupid claim that you can’t have a country without secure borders ignores reality. For most of America’s history we didn’t have “secure borders.” Tear down the walls, open the doors, and beg these wonderful people to come in. Let’s start the fiesta. Make America great again.

This War on Women and a Strategy to Defend Choice

May 19, 2019

In Texas last month, male lawmakers introduced a bill that would give women the death penalty for having abortions, even if they were the victims of rape or incest. The news coming out of Ohio, Georgia, Alabama, Missouri and other “red” states is even more frightening as laws restricting a women’s control of her body have actually passed. What the hell is happening? Is America becoming Gilead? Are these states controlled by the Taliban? Is Donald Trump’s wet dream of turning the country into a misogynistic dictatorship coming true right before our eyes?

The 1973 Roe v. Wade decision didn’t settle the debate about abortion access. Supreme Courts can over-rule previous “established law.” Liberals have been hoping for a president who would appoint judges that would overturn the 2010 Citizens United decision that gave personhood to corporations. The 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson decision that made racial segregation constitutional was reversed by the the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision that ruled racial segregation unconstitutional. So don’t think the high court sets anything in stone. And now that Trump has placed two conservative white men on the court (Please don’t die, Judge Ginsburg!), expect more backwards motion.

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The abortion debate runs deep. I totally understand the pro-life position. The first day we heard my unborn daughter’s heartbeat changed my life. But their position has two major flaws. The first is that outlawing abortion will not end abortion. It will push it back into alleys (and on to the internet) where women will die from not having doctors and trained professionals carry out the procedure. (You can buy RU-486 on line, by the way.) The second is that these “pro-life” advocates could not care less about these “babies” once they are born. Alabama, for example, comes in 46th in health care for children and 50th for education. While the Cotton State was ruling that rape victims must carry their rapist’s child, they were executing a guy who committed his crime when he was a teenager. Pro-life!

So what do we do?

All the screaming in the world is not going to convince the “pro-life” (Really the pro-forced birth, pro-illegal abortion) crowd to let women have control over their bodies. They’re convinced that that clump of cells is a “person” who needs to be protected. They are dug in and we are dug in. How do we appeal to enough people in the middle to make sure this frighting trend doesn’t end up as a real-life Handmaid’s Tale?

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The good news is that the vast percentage of Americans (79%) are pro-choice. According to a May 2018 Gallup poll, 50% of Americans believe abortion should be legal under certain circumstances and another 29% believe it should be legal under any circumstance. Only 18% of Americans surveyed think abortion should be illegal. I’m going to guess that recent news coming out of places like Alabama is going to push the May 2019 numbers even more towards the pro-choice column.

We have a road map here. It’s the incredible shift in attitudes towards homosexuality and gay marriage. Over the last twenty years, American attitudes have flipped on gay marriage. It’s been one of the biggest and fastest attitude shifts in American history. How did that happen? How did we go from Ellen DeGeneres’ sitcom being cancelled because of outrage over a gay character on prime-time TV to marriage equality in all 50 states? Because people came out. There was a time when middle-America thought gay people were only in San Francisco, dancing in ass-less chaps in the streets of the Castro district. Now, LGBT folks are their family members, friends, co-workers, and (gasp) even their kids’ teachers. The movement to come out (even in Alabama) has certainly had casualties, including violent hate crimes, but the end result is that it’s a lot harder to scream about “homos burning in hell” when the family member you love comes out and asks, “Are you going to be with me or against me?”

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What’s been happening this week on social media feels a lot like the start of the #metoo movement in 2017, when women began telling their stories of harassment and rape. The genie of truth was out of the bottle. In the last few days, so many of my female friends have come forward with their stories of terminating pregnancies, including in red states. For some, it was a gut wrenching-decision. For others, it was a medical procedure that was just a step in retaining control over their lives. Some had been victims of rape. Others were not ready to add a child (or another child) to their lives. All were allowed to make the decision for themselves. Their right to dictate what went on in their bodies was not challenged, because, as Leslie Jones said on SNL, “You can’t control women because — I don’t know if y’all heard — but women are the same as humans.”

Men need to step up and join their sisters (figurative and literal) on the front lines. As a man without a uterus, I’ve learned to take a back seat on the abortion decision itself. To be 100% honest, I have had the front seat in this discussion on a personal level. Since it’s not my body, my only job has been to be supportive and respectful. Fragile men pass these laws but they can also be dicks when they should just shut up and make some tea. So, as a man I can’t say, “Women, you need to do this…” But as a sociologist, my hunch is that the more women and girls come forward with their stories about exercising their right to make choices, some hard, about their bodies, the more people in the middle will not see pro-choice women as “baby killers” or any of the other pejoratives that are hurled at females who are often just trying to get through a rough patch. The bottom line is that men have to both defer to women but also ramp up their initiative and effort to defend those women. If women and girls are going to tell their truths, we dudes have to make our brothers listen.

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Thirty years ago I volunteered as an escort for an abortion clinic in Atlanta. This was a time when a so-called “Christian” group called Operation Rescue was harassing women who were entering women’s clinics, some just for simple pap smears and OB-GYN appointments. I would walk the women in as these maniacs would scream the worst things imaginable at them. I would try to provide a distraction by talking about the weather or the latest episode of Cheers. It was clear that these “pro-life” harassers were more traumatizing to the women than the actual task at hand. 

I think that’s what’s going on now. Men are losing their long grip on patriarchy. From Title IX to #metoo, their assumed authority is eroding. They will recruit a few willing women who need a “strong man” to shape their shifting world, and flock to a pussy-grabber president who will take them back to the “again” America, before Brown v. the Board of Education, before the modern feminist movement, and before Roe v. Wade. Their best weapon is to traumatize girls and women again. To weaken them with threats of returning to the back-alley past. To bring back Father Knows Best. To reach into the femaleness of females to terrorize their humanity. To proclaim them less than human.

But it’s different this time. Women and girls are different. And so are many of the men and boys who now stand with them. The old men have lost their control over us. We won’t go back.

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Globalization and Nationalism: Get Ready for More Fascist Violence

April 28, 2018

The news today is not good for the world. A 19-year-old neo-Nazi opens fire yesterday on a Jewish synagogue in California, far-right nationalists have  won seats in Spain’s parliament, Hindu nationalists are waging a violent campaign against Muslims in India, far-right nationalists just came in second in Finland’s national election, and while the members of the Chabad of Poway synagogue were being shot, a group of white nationalists stormed a bookstore in Washington DC, chanting “This land is our land!” to an audience listening to an author speak about the rise of white nationalism.  Fascists in the streets in Germany, anti-gay murders in the Congo, and neo-Nazis “emboldened” in America.

What the hell is happening?

First of all, this isn’t something we can just blame on Donald Trump. Trump, like Brexit in the UK, is a manifestation of the problem. He has just added fuel to the flames of a fire destined to leave the world in ashes.

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One of my first jobs as a graduate student at Emory University, before I dove into the world of white supremacy, was analyzing the birth of the global economy. Working as a research assistant for the late, great Dr. Terry Boswell, one of the leading authorities on World Systems Theory, I was running computer regressions on the shipping patterns of Dutch traders in the 1500s to find the moment that money became more important than nations. For the last 500 years, we’ve worked on a global economic model. World War I was the last gasp of the old empires and now everything we have comes from somewhere else. If you wonder where our manufacturing jobs went, consider this statistic – 10% of every product exported out of China is headed to a Walmart store. The price of tea in China has mattered for centuries, as does the Nikkei index does now.

Globalization has been the norm for a while. It’s an inherently complex web of social and economic interactions that makes the world a smaller but more interconnected place. Some people’s brains can’t handle complexity, so they grunt “America first!” or “Leave!” and quit important international treaties because their little boy impulse is to take their toys, go home, and build a wall. The reality is that globalization has both benefits and harms. The workers of Thailand have better labor protections but the first world is dumping all its toxic plastic trash in Thailand’s formerly lush forests. Sorry.

There is a direct connection between the pushback against globalization and the rise of Trump and the other nationalist movements, each surrounded by waves of hate-motivated violence, like yesterday’s synagogue shooting. World Systems Theory has demonstrated that nations get about a hundred year tenure as “king of the hill,” whether it’s Spain and its massive armada, the British Empire (where the sun never sets), or the American Century. At the end that period, there’s usually an economic crash, and a new king (or “global hegemon”) is crowned. Since the American Century is generally viewed as beginning at the end of WWI (November 11, 1918), our hundred years is ending and look forward to a period of fascist isolationists pulling up their drawbridges until a new global power (China?) assumes the thrown. Donald Trump will have succeeded in making the USA a second string country. If we’re lucky.

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The neo-Nazis who organized the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville in 2016 (who Trump still claims included some “very fine people”) are anti-globalists. They see the world controlled by a cabal of “international Jews” (as Henry Ford called them), destined to destroy “white society.” Earlier today I was lurking on 4chan, a haven for white nationalist boys. I wanted to get a feel for their reaction to the (latest) synagogue shooting. It didn’t take long to see the standard sociopathic anti-Semitism:

“The only solution to the Jewish Problem is extermination, that is to say genocide, which the Germans were too nice to do. Those genes are too harmful to everyone else. The second half of the 20th century demonstrates the need for Jewish extermination.” – posted on 4chan at 10:48 am on 4/28/19

The posts on 8chan, where the synagogue shooter posted his manifesto were even worse, complaining how whites have become “Jew-cucked” making it “OKAY TO KILL JEWS.” It is endless bile from fragile boys building walls in a world that thrives by opening doors.

To be fair, there’s plenty of anti-globalization from the left who see the global forces of capitalism destroying worker rights, as well as the earth itself, as multi-national corporations push for profits. The renewed campaign by the global media to make “socialism” a dirty word is certainly evidence for their position. “We are the World” doesn’t get sung much anymore.

Right-wingers have scapegoated refugees, the media, civil rights activists, feminists, transgendered kids who have to use the bathroom, and anyone who challenges the “God-given privilege” of straight, white, cis-gendered, able-bodied males. The global move to equality feels like oppression to them, whether they are “Incels” in America killing women in yoga studios or Saudi Arabian religious officials cutting off the heads of gay men. Hate crimes have surged in America along with Trump’s “Make America great again” campaign. If by “again,” he means 1949, we are well on our way.

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Walls are going up all around the world as those who don’t know how to manage the complexity of globalization retreat into simple “us verses them” nationalism. They will wage violent war against those who represent that complexity (like any non-White Anglo Saxon Protestants, including Muslims and Latinx immigrants) as well as those they think are agents of the push toward globalization (including Jews, the media, and any international partnerships, like the UN, NATO, and the Paris Climate Agreement). They hug flags and want their tax dollars to go straight to the military.

Buckle your seatbelts because the American Century is crashing to a close as the world’s tribes pull up stakes and get ready to go it alone, waging war on anyone who they think doesn’t belong in their camp. We are quite literally at a turning point in human history where we fall into a dark chasm of endless dystopian fascism. Or we could find a better, catchier version of “We Are the World” and banish these troglodytes to their caves. It’s that or start learning how to speak Mandarin Chinese. 我们是世界。

I have found what I was looking for, Bono.

April 14, 2019

I have climbed the highest mountains

Whenever friends or family would come to my little Georgia town, we’d force them to climb its namesake, Stone Mountain. It’s the largest exposed piece of granite in the world and offers a pretty spectacular view of countless pine trees from its nearly 1700 foot summit. On a clear day, you can see Atlanta, which calls itself the “city too busy to hate” in an effort to claim a full agenda gets white people off the hook. We took everyone up that mountain, even my grandparents. There was something spiritual about rising above the tree line, while seeing the graffiti of lovers from the 18th century etched into the rock.

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As a kid I didn’t understand the historical significance of the mountain, which features the largest Confederate memorial carved right into its face. On Thanksgiving night, 1915, a group of hooded white men, including two elderly members of the original Ku Klux Klan, climbed the mountain, raised the Confederate flag, opened a Bible, and, for the first time, burned a 16-foot cross. The modern KKK was born on my mountain. The century of murder and terror it waged against Americans had its inglorious beginning on Stone Mountain. The land beneath it was owned by a Klansman and they still return to its summit, like a white supremacist Mecca.

Walking in the footsteps of those first Klansmen would lead the way towards a lifetime of studying hate and trying to understand organized racism. This included time spent undercover in the white supremacist movement. I’ve seen crosses set alight by men in robes and it made the blood freeze in my veins. This long career has been dedicated to trying to undue what those men started on my mountain in 1915. It’s taken me around the world and brought me to what I had been looking for all along, the antidote to hate.

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Most of my life I have been untethered. I felt like I was floating from one 4 minute music video to another. Even when I was “in love,” I had a few toes out the door, ready for the next song cycle to carry me where it might. There were some epic romances, followed by a divine right to the blues and red red wine. My passport was full but I wasn’t going anywhere, locked in a Möbius strip.

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For much of that life fully lived, the music of U2 provided a soundtrack of freedom. The summer of 1986 I ended up back in Dublin (after working in Copenhagen for a few weeks). U2 was recording their soon-to-be revered Joshua Tree album. I was meeting with Bono as he wanted me to help him compile a release of unsigned American rock bands for their vanity label, Mother Records. (The compilation never was finished but he loved the tape of my roommate’s band, drivin’ ’n’ cryin’ and they were soon signed to U2’s label, Island Records. “Randy, I am a drivin’ ’n’ cryin’ fan,” he said, grabbing my shoulders.) The summer of ’86, I told him way too much about my challenging love life. Part of that summer had been spent with Sinead O’Connor in London, watching her shave her head for the first time. Part of my heart was back in the states with my girlfriend who was leaving me for a life in Paris. I was 22 and had no idea how love was supposed to work.

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He told me the new album would have more love songs and be less political in its themes. The band was exploring more colors from its sonic palette. The following spring, I was driving in Los Angeles when I first heard the final product on KNAC radio; “Where the Streets Have No Name,” soaring as I drove across Mulholland Drive on top of the Hollywood Hills. The world opened up below me. The definitive musical statement of the 1980s had been made and it reflected everything I was at that moment, searching, running to stand still.

You broke the bonds, you loosened chains

My work studying racism and finding an audience in the ancient world of the university earned me the top rank as a tenured full professor at Hogwarts. I had leveraged my position, pushing the faculty to strike against the swollen trolls of the administration to build a university the cared more about easing student debt than the ever-expanding supply of overpaid deans. (If you didn’t know, Hogwarts has more troll deans than you can shake a wand at.)

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All that fell silent when she walked into the room. All the colors bled into one. Angel or devil, I couldn’t tell. I tried to put her out of my mind and went back to my lectures about how romantic love was a “social construction of reality,” a lie that we believe because we’ve been brainwashed by sappy songs and rom coms. I was still in my Möbius loop. “Maybe I should try online dating,” I thought. I tried to avoid looking at her. I worried it would be like B’rer Rabbit and the tar baby. One look and I would be stuck.

After the class was over, I ran into her in a bar. She bought me a shot of tequila and asked if I’d like to go out sometime. “I don’t date students,” I said, feeling the floor slipping out from under me. She bought me another shot. I heard Bono singing, “I can’t live with or without you.” Our friendship became more than that. I saw in her the end of the loop. She knew everything about me. All my flaws and the way out. Why had I been paying a therapist all those years? I saw in her the future mother of my children. We would not be only two people for very long. I saw in her the person who’s dreams I wanted to spend the rest of my life supporting. “I’m with her!” Soon we were married and the parents of a miraculous child who was conceived in a moment of brilliant foresight. “Let’s make a baby!”

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The trolls at Hogwarts used this love of loves as a cudgel to silence a trouble maker. (It seems on-line wizard training is much cheaper than tenured full professors, leaving more money to hire more troll deans.) I was dragged in before the council of witches, their mouths dripping with the anticipation of scoring points for the queen troll. They treated our love as some grand violation. They wanted to destroy my lifetime of work against hate. Perhaps I should have fought harder, but I was in love with my wife and new baby and seeing the monsters that profited behind the hallowed halls of Hogwarts disgusted me. I was forced resign my position and left to create something new, away from their sickness. I let go of the hand if the devil and was free.

Felt the healing in the fingertips

I should have felt like a freefall, loosing the security of a salaried tenured position and the benefits that came with it. (It was easy to not go to the dentist when you have full dental.) Thanks, Obamacare! I became a hustler, selling assets, picking up random gigs here and there. She carried the cross as I stayed home with the baby. I’d hold my little girl and chant, “Everything’s gonna be alright. Everything’s gonna be alright,” hoping the words would be a magical incantation, bringing the answer in a mighty flash of financial stability. “Vengeance is mine!” I would say, as I put some money, any money into my savings account.

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Instead, a strange healing happened as my world, once so big, was shrunk down to three people. It was a bizarre love triangle, like we were our own holy trinity. Not really us versus them, because we’ve had so many amazing people on our side. Us and them (and we think about the trolls less every day). There is a burning sun in our home that has melted us like glass into one perfectly clear entity. It might look like a blob to the outside world, but we are three voices in harmony, and, too each of us, it sounds like it’s coming the tongues of angels.

Being bounced out of my university security gave me back the hunger of my youth. I published a novel and proposed a reality TV show and found my way into cable news commentary. Each experiment was latched to hope that this would open a door that I could take my family through. My wife had her own ascendency, through her art and academic paths. She now grades her students’ exams as I write about our seemingly endless war on racism, from Stone Mountain to Trump. We are recreating the world in our image.

In the middle of all that I found what I was looking for. Hearing our daughter sing in the bathtub. Watching my wife see how her presence can help heal the great divide. Being asked to bring my experience to table after table. I had to lose it all to gain it all. I was of the world and now I am of we three, in this world. All the pieces fit. Like a teenage rock band that’s ready to take the world by storm (as U2 was in its infancy), our vision is unclouded.

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When Bono wrote the words to “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” he was still childless. He didn’t become a parent until 1989. I’m guessing he would have written a different song if he had been a dad the summer of 1986. Maybe I’ll ask him someday. (He’s about as accessible as the Pope these days.) That song seemed woven into my cellular membrane in those days. Now that I’ve found it, nurturing it is what drives my bass drum beat. Only to be with you. Only to be with you.

Postscript: A lot of us have lived that song. Have you finally found it? Or are you still running? In this unhappy time, let’s share our answers. Post it, tweet it, Instagram it, shout it from the top of the Hollywood Hills. #Ihavefoundwhatimlookingfor

He Killed My Child: Meditations on Christchurch and the Sociopathy of White Supremacy

March 19, 2019

There’s a response mode I go into when there is a mass killing, especially one by a white supremacist. I am called to write and comment on the news about toxic masculinity or my long research on right-wing extremists who want to spark joy among racists and launch a revolution to make America and Western Civilization “great” again. I give good soundbites to translate complex issues for the armchair sociologist. I’ve been through the drill dozens of time. “Something horrible happened in the world. I’m gonna be busy.”

The double mosque attack in Christchurch on Friday that killed 51 worshipers felt different. And not just because it happened in the violence-averse island nation of New Zealand. Maybe it was that I had just been to a meeting at the Muslim Education Trust (MET), a local Muslim school, community center, and mosque. We were starting to plan an educational event on the issue of Islamophobia. Maybe it was because I have to Muslim students in my Friday sociology class from Libya and Iraq. It certainly wasn’t because there was anything unique about the attacker. He was cut the white nationalist playbook, half Dylann Roof, half Timothy McVeigh.

I think it was the news about the victims. Many were refugees who had come to New Zealand to escape the horrors of endless wars. But among them were children. Three and four-year-olds, including a boy my daughter’s age, a refugee from Somalia named Abdullahi Dirie. He was shot in the head by the killer, who, according to new reports, was on his way to a Muslim school to kill more children when police stopped him. It’s next to impossible not to put your child in Abdullahi’s little shoes. But what do you do with that emotion?

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The reports of the attack were relatively fresh on Friday when a community gathering was called at MET, attended by local mayors and police officials who dutifully reassured the Portland-area Muslim community that their safety was a priority. Members of many faiths led us in prayer, but I don’t think the reality of the horror on the other side of the planet had sunk in. I wanted to believe the God was Great. Allah akbar.

I got called into media rotation on CNN, where there were, of course, questions about Trump’s role in the rise of right-wing extremism around the globe. It did not help (as usual) that Trump stupidly (as usual) said that white nationalism was not a rising threat (Fact: It is) and then went on whining about whatever had is panties in a wad. I managed to get this gem on a global broadcast – “Either Trump is knowingly inflaming white supremacists, a Manchurian Candidate for the alt right, or he is completely clueless to the real threat level and growing bodycount from right-wing extremists. I’ll let your viewers decide which it is.” 

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By the third sit-down with CNN, I didn’t want to talk about Trump or guns or the looming Aryan revolution. I just wanted to talk about Abdullahi Dirie and the slaughter of innocents. Saturday afternoon I was on with Ana Cabrera, who wanted to discuss the rambling 70-page “manifesto” of the shooter. I just wanted to talk about how it takes a sociopath to shoot children my daughter’s age in the head. And how the world of right-wing extremism is a magnet for sociopaths. If you get your kicks from cruelty, who better to idolize than Hitler? The shooter referenced various fascists (and Trump) in his rambling declaration of war on non-whites. 

I had a foot in this world long before I began my field work on Nazi skinheads in 1988. I grew up around Klan members in Stone Mountain. I know exactly what kind of bullies gravitate to that darkness. They think the earth (or America or New Zealand) belongs to them, and everyone else is an “invader.” Invaders from Mexico, from Turkey, or like 4-year-old Abdullahi Dirie, from Somalia. This is “their land” and the invaders must be vanquished by any means necessary.

On Sunday, I was a guest on a radio show in New Zealand and begged them not to let the divisive rhetoric of the United States infect their small country. Keep the focus on what unites people.

We don’t know enough about sociopathy to cure it or prevent it, but we know plenty about the world that magnifies it. Contrary our clueless president’s claim, the counterculture of white nationalism is growing at an alarming rate. There will be more victims. Timothy McVeigh ended the lives of 19 children in a daycare facility when he ignited his truck bomb in front of a federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995. Like the Christchurch terrorist, he did time in the sick world of white supremacy and believed the white race was “endangered.” Neither were “lone wolves” but products of a global subculture of hate.

There is no white race, only a human race. But there is a race war and our children are being slaughtered.

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