My capacity for empathy is really being challenged in 2021. The Delta variant is raging across the country, now putting children in hospitals. ICU beds are filled to capacity with unvaccinated COVID patients who are not vaccinated because they didn’t have access to immunization. They chose to be unvaccinated. Over 80 million Americans are still unvaccinated. A recent poll found that 29 percent of Republicans refuse to get vaccinated. (Side note: I’m old enough to remember when Republicans were private school snobs and Democrats were knuckle dragging factory workers. Now Democrats are the over-educated Volvo drivers and Republicans are the Neanderthals who believe whatever noted white supremacist Tucker Carlson tells them to believe. “The election was stolen!” “Tom Hanks is an alien pedophile!”)
Variants rage through America and kids are on ventilators because of these people. A North Carolina study found that the unvaccinated are 15 times more likely to die of COVID-19 than the unvaccinated , but there’s an anti-mask rally coming to your town. We’re 10 minutes away from another economy-crushing shutdown because MAGA Mike hates the CDC and thinks Dr. Anthony Fauci is out to destroy America. I’m not talking about cancer patients and other immunocompromised people who can’t tolerate the vaccine. I’m talking about people like Marjorie Taylor Greene who equate mask mandates with the Holocaust. I’m talking about people who claim they have “medical research” to back up their positions, but none of it is in peer reviewed science journals.
What am I supposed to think of these people?
The sociologist and educator wants to see these people as victims. They’ve been manipulated by right-wing media and self-serving politicians, like Florida governor Ron DeSantis. They’re the result of 40 years of defunding education that’s replaced scientific research with something you saw on YouTube. (Reading is hard.) We have failed these people and they are dying because they think the FDA’s full approval of the Pfizer vaccine is “fake news.”
Or maybe they’re just idiots.
These people don’t trust the “the science.” That is until they get sick and show up at the hospital asking those same medical scientists to save their assess. Heaven help you if you have a stroke or a heart attack right now. The hospital is chocked full of covidiots, who can’t say they were wrong because they have ventilators shoved down their necks. There is always prayer, I guess. Good luck with that heart attack! I’m praying for you.
I want to be compassionate, but I’m just angry. I’ve seen these Mensa Society members at town halls and school board meetings screaming about FREEDOM! They want to be free to unmask their kids in school and go to Dairy Queen for the Flamethrower Combo with their face uncovered. “I’m not anti-vaccine. I’m pro-freedom,” they robotically say. They’re dooming their children to the ICU and the rest of us to an endless pandemic. I’m free to walk down the middle of I-5. That doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. Freedumb!
Of course, there are endless stories of these folks ending up in the hospital, wishing they would have gotten the vaccine. A whole lot of them die. Should we laugh? Tweet, “I told you so!” Make a comment about Darwin and the thinning of the herd?
There’s an old adage in comedy that says, tragedy + time = comedy. It’s probably too soon to laugh at the anti-vaccine people who have died. That includes the pathetic conservative radio host Phil Valentine who regularly spread lies about the coronavirus and the vaccines on his syndicated show. He died last week of COVID. They say God has a sense of humor and I’ll just leave it at that.
I wrestle with this issue because my mother is one of these covidiots. I generally think of her as an intelligent person, but, now in her late 70s, she’s become influenced by whatever crap she reads on the internet. Her mother, once a psychologist, fell under the spell of televangelist and prostitute funder Jimmy Swaggart in her later years and gave the family inheritance to the Jesus Man on TV. Similarly, watching my mother’s magical thinking being exploited by internet based mis-information is just heartbreaking. “Well, I heard…” You know what I heard Mom? People like you are dying right and left.
While I was in the basement, making it through my mild case of COVID earlier this month (I had the Johnson &. Johnson vaccine), she was a comforting voice, calling from Georgia. She had refused to get vaccinated and I tried to explain to her that the reason I was sick was because the unvaccinated have created a petri dish that has allowed the much more deadly Delta variant to spread. I begged her to get vaccinated. Being 78 in Georgia and living with her (also unvaccinated) grandson puts her at high risk. Finally, out of frustration I told her not to call me until she was vaccinated. I haven’t heard from her since. She chose the lies over her son.
It’s like America is taking a national IQ test right now. I used to joke there were two types of people in the world, those that love cilantro and idiots. Just replace “love cilantro” with “got the vaccine.” I’m cool with you willing to die for your “freedom,” but I’m not cool with you putting the rest of us through hell to prove your stupid point; that you’re stupid. And your stupidity is upending my freedom to dive into a mosh pit or know my daughter is safe in her classroom from your disease (excuse me, I mean “hoax”).
Like I said, I’m wrestling with this. I’m 90% fed up with these idiots and want to deny them entry into the hospital when they get sick and realize they need some of that science. But 10% of me still is looking for ways to reach these folks. And that includes my mother.
NOTE: Within 24-hours this post had already attracted the righteous wrath of the QAnon bozos. Lordy.
I haven’t spoken to my father in six months. At the peak of the Black Lives Matter protests last summer, he posted on my Facebook page, “You can either support Antifa or be my son.” I replied, “You know I’ve worked to oppose fascism my entire adult life. I am, by definition Antifa – anti-fascist.” His response was to unfriend me on Facebook. Unfriended by my Trump-loving father.
I know this scenario has played out in thousands of ways in American families as the lines of division have been drawn up. “Trump cult” brother against “libtard” brother, QAnon daughter against “communist mother,” or in my case, Antifa son against “Anyone who listens to the mainstream media has drank the Kool Aid” father. I was going to call my dad after election day, and then after inauguration day. I keep putting it off because I don’t want to hear his fragile old white man “sky is falling/Joe Biden is too old” blather. (For the record, Joe is eight months younger than my father.) If I can’t heal my relationship with my old man, how can America heal this chasm that separates us? And is this how families felt before that last civil war?
Like a lot of Americans, while watching the January 6 storming of the capitol (It’s its own Wikipedia entry now) unfold on TV, I more than half-expected to see someone I knew (including my older-than-Biden father). We might have heard some great calls for unity on Inauguration Day but it feels like we’re more divided than ever. Trump still holds the reigns of the GOP from his gilded palace in Florida. A large percentage of the 74 million people who voted for Trump think that a large percentage of the 81 million people who voted for Biden were dead people. And complete nut jobs like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green are either seen as prophets or complete nut jobs.
It seems so hard to cross this divide. The mother of one of my childhood friends (who I had a mad crush on when I was 12) just posted something about Biden letting in “illegal immigrants who carry diseases.” My first response was to call out her racism. That’s what we’re supposed to do, right? But am I just driving her back into her fragile white castle? I’m good on a Facebook smackdown. I’ve got links to New York Times articles, persuasive statistics, hilarious memes, and, if all else fails, a facepalm gif.
Then I remember what I’ve been doing for the last 25 years, helping people leave the white supremacist movement (WSM). There are two ways to think of the WSM. The first is a fractured subculture of hate groups, white nationalists, and anti-immigrant organizations. The second way is to see the white supremacist movement is as America writ large. The real advocates of making America white again are not Klansmen and Proud Boys, they are people like my friend’s mom who would never own her own racism. “I’m not racist, but…” So maybe the things I learned about extracting Neo-Nazi skinheads could be helpful to talking to people stuck Trump’s in narrow nationalist vision of “patriotism.”
How has this improved your life?
One of the questions that has helped to get racist to rethink their commitment to racist activism is, “Has anything about this choice you’ve made made your life better?” They’ll sputter a bit and maybe parrot some line about finding “pride.” But then you push them with questions about their family relations, their economic prospects, their legal problems, their love lives and they’ll start to see they’ve painted themselves into a corner. The silly “white utopia” that they are physically fighting for isn’t coming and they are increasing socially isolated. I had one troubled young skinhead tell me, “It’s so hard to be racially pure and know what to eat. I love Mexican food but I can’t eat it anymore.” He left the movement shortly after that.
I wonder how my father’s life has changed with his devotion to this failed businessman from Queens. He chose that over a relationship with his son. It must be hard to be a Trump loyalist, having to believe so many things that are obviously untrue; that COVID-19 is “just the flu,” that the January 6 insurgence was a false flag plot by Antifa, that Trump won the election. The emotional labor it must take to ride the wave of disinformation while everyone around you watches you fall down the rabbit hole must be taxing. Just like the QAnon cult that saw their prophecy fail when the “Storm” failed to materialized to prevent Biden’s swearing in, Trumpists must have to expend a lot of energy to just not look crazy.
We’re always telling racists that life is better on the other side, with our wide open cuisine and limitless playlist. Maybe an open invitation to Trumpists to break bread at the mosque and talk about Jesus in a black church would work. When you take off your Giuliani-stained blinders, so much great comedy, music, and NPR is there to enjoy. All that Ted Nugent and Scott Baio must get old. There’s so much celebration of life over here. Invite a Proud Boy to a Gay Pride parade. They kinda seem like overlapping circles anyway.
The power of the open hand instead of the clenched fist
I get it. It’s fun to fight. I’m always up for a few rounds with my high school posse, most of whom have become pot-bellied Trumpies. Sarcastic insults worked in high school so let them fly. I have a 50-something classmate who still calls me “Ballsack.” I won’t say he’s been emboldened by Trump’s bullying. This guy was always a prick. The political banter can take on a sport-like quality. Who gets the best jibe and obscure historical fact in last? I have dialed down my social media time (at the request of my wife and humanity), so I get a lot of “He stopped responding. I won.” Cheerio, desktop gladiator.
But the stories of haters leaving their racist lives have a similar element. Most had someone who they were supposed to hate reach out to them. A Muslim, a gay bashing victim, a black man harassed by Klansmen. In The Autobiography of a Recovering Skinhead, former skinhead Frankie Meeink tells the story of a Jewish boss who helped him out of a tight jam and how he never wore another swastika after that act of undeserved act of kindness. I published a book chapter in 2004 after numerous interviews with former Neo-Nazis remarking on the pattern that females in their lives (girlfriends, teachers, daughters) had helped them out by showing the hate that they experienced as females was no different than the hurtful hate their men expressed as racists, opening the door to empathy.
I’m currently reading The Opposite of Hate: A Field Guide to Repairing Our Humanity by Sally Kohn. She describes how both sides of the political divide are pretty good at dehumanizing each other. Internet trolls can lay some pretty hateful rhetoric on their victims, but referring to them as trolls makes them less human as well. Hillary Clinton’s 2016 “basket of deplorables” comment dehumanized Trump supporters who she accused of dehumanizing others. (We don’t put people in baskets, Hill.)
Remember when Barack Obama said in 2004 that. “The pundits like to slice and dice our country into red states and blue states”? In fact we’re all shades of purple. We’re not so divided as we pretend to be and there’s more that unites us. As a life-long anti-racist, I can have a pretty good conversation with a racist skinhead about our common love of Slayer albums or classic WWF wrestling stars. Then, if we have time, we can get to the deeper stuff. I promise you this; no Nazi has ever stopped being a Nazi because they were told they were wrong just the right amount of times. You’ve got to win hearts and minds. I have to remind myself of this fact when I’m armoring up for a Facebook battle with my Georgia homies.
Being a part of something that matters
The teenage skinheads and the old white men who stormed the Capitol have one thing in common. They all want to belong to something that matters. The skinheads I studied wanted to save American from Jewish communists and the Trump loyalists want to save America from, well, Jewish communists. The both see a country that is about to “cease to exist” because of perceived enemies of “real Americans” and feel the rush of engaging in a great historic cause to the “save the country.”
The left has a similar raison d’etre, as we call others to, “Man the barricades!” and burst into lyrics from Les Miserables and Hamilton. “We’ll tell the story of tonight. Let’s have another round!” When I was getting teargassed by the police last summer at the George Floyd protests, I had a feeling that I was a part of something that really mattered, a page in American history. A younger version of me might have seen fit to hurl a projectile at the symbols of oppression. (Older me has several friends who are cops.) We want to feel like we are bigger than just our small one man/women shows. That we can change the world for the better.
The Trump loyalists and Nazi skinheads feel the same way. They see an injustice, however upside down or lie-based it might be, and they want to set it right. “Raise a glass to freedom. Something you will never see again!’ as they sing in Hamilton. What if they were brought into our great cause, the cause that expands the rights millions of Americans, not one that expands the right of one bloated con-artist to become America’s first dictator?
One of the best weapons against hate is an organization called Life After Hate, made up of former extremists, like Frankie Meeink. They use their time in the rabbit hole of racist violence to pull others out and advertise the waste of the dead-end world of hate. There are plenty of former Trumpies, Proud Boys, and QAnon cultists who can serve a similar function. I’ve interviewed militia members and former militia members, and the formers have all said the same thing, “I wish I could meet my younger self and talk some sense into him.” The Life After Hate members are a part of something that matters. Former racists make the best anti-racists, because they understand the humanity of the racist.
Adapting to these times
We’re in strange times. The uncertainty of life makes the comfort of a perfect conspiracy theory seem all that more appealing. It creates a world that is easily understandable. But unfortunately it also creates a world where half of the country thinks the other half is brainwashed, and vice versa. This may be the time to reach out.
My friend’s mom felt like I was picking on her on Facebook and I responded that I loved her and that her ignorant comments broke my heart. I forgot that calling a white person in the South “ignorant” is essentially calling them “black.” (The phrase “ignorant black” has long been a part of the racist Southern lexicon.) She immediately shut down and ended the conversation. I forgot how to talk to fragile white people. I should have said, “I don’t think YOU are ignorant, but I find some of your racial comments not based in fact.” I apologized for my poor approach hoping to have another opportunity to reach out to her. Nobody said this would be easy. Part of me wonders why I should waste any time with people whose thinking is so entrenched in fear and hate and conspiracy theories and just incorrect information. But another part of me thinks that nothing is ever going to change unless we try. As Axl Rose once sang, “I don’t want a civil war.”
I understand this approach centers the haters and doesn’t address the trauma caused by the hate itself. But one way to allow the victims of hate to heal is to stop the wounding done by the haters.
There’s that “Seasons of Love” song from the musical Rent that asks how you measure the “five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes” of a year. “In laughter, in strife?” Or truths we learned.
You’d think that with all that pandemic lockdowns, I would have been blogging my ass off, but I only managed to get 19 posts out in 2020. Part of that was the task of moving a full time teaching schedule into a remote platform, part of it was spent rallying in front of the Portland Justice Center and dodging teargas canisters. But the truth is, we spent more time cocooning, ordering take-out and bingeing on endless episodes of 90 Day Fiancé.
It was somewhat of a blessing that I got to do my “What does it all mean?” and “Why Portland?” TV interviews from my living room, via Zoom. The world’s media was in Portland this summer, covering the protests. I was interviewed byLa Monde from France (an 80’s Randy dream), as well as by reporters from South Korea, Switzerland, Denmark, Turkey, and several others that are lost in the fog. From assigning White Fragility to my students to talking to CNN’s W. Kamau Bell for United Shades of America (after getting a COVID test), it was a great year for pushing the conversation about race and racism in America.
We did have some safe road trips to give us a break from quarantine, including to the heart of Trump country in Eastern Oregon. It really was a year to focus on family, marriage, home improvement, and all things close to home. Which was made easier since I spent a good third of the year in Facebook jail.
Watching the collapse of Donald Trump’s bid to become America’s first dictator was the most satisfying part of 2020. It’s too bad that his abdication from his Constitutional role was at expense of the the lives of 345,000 Americans (and more deaths to come). It will take decades to clean up the mess Trump will leave us when he is dragged out of the White House on January 20th. Trump will be gone but his sub-moronic base is sure pray for their orange messiah’s return. That will keep me busy on the right-wing extremism front.
Every generation has its snapshot memory, a historical event that is frozen in time. Talk to a baby boomer about the day JFK was shot. Ask Gen Xers about where they were when the Challenger Space Shuttle exploded. Younger “Greatest Generation” members talk about Pearl Harbor the way elder Millennials talk about 9/11. Like it happened yesterday. So much of the minutia of our lives is lost to the fog of time, but that event, like any snapshot, captures the detail of our lives and frames it in the historical context of that specific moment.
For me it was the morning of December 9, 1980, the morning I woke up to find that my beloved Beatle had been murdered.
Since this blog is dedicated the feminist influence of househusband John Lennon, I thought I’d try to recreate that snapshot. I understand, just like there are people alive now who have never known a world without a cold war or without the internet, there are billions alive who have never lived on the same planet as John Winston Ono Lennon.
First things first, in 1980 I was know as the biggest Beatles fan at Redan High School in Stone Mountain, Georgia. Even more than my obsession for the Ramones and all things punk was by fandom for the Fab Four. I bought solo albums the day they were released, including Wing’s London Town and Ringo’s Bad Boy in 1978, Wings’ Back to the Egg and George’s George Harrison in 1979, and Paul’s McCartney II in 1980, and most significantly John’s Double Fantasy in November 1980. John hadn’t released any new music in five years and it was a big deal. Yeah, it was really a “John & Yoko” album and yeah, I wasn’t mad about the Elvis-sounding “Starting Over” single, but I quickly fell in love with the LP (bought at Turtles Records & Tapes on Memorial Drive). There were rumors John would tour in the new year and rumors about the rumors that said Cheap Trick would be his backing band,
By the first week of December of I was reading every interview John was doing and, again, dreaming that the world was preparing us for the inevitable Beatles reunion, at that point, the very reason for living for any music fan. Both John and Paul sported Beatle haircuts on their new albums, That must mean something!
The country in late 1980 was in a weird place. We were a year into the crippling Iranian hostage crisis that played a role in Ronald Reagan beating incumbent Jimmy Carter. The 80s felt like they were about to bust loose on a new wave soundtrack, but there was a dark cloud hovering.
The guy that killed John went to Columbia High School, one of the Dekalb County rivals of my school. He was on some psychotic mission that changed the world at 10:50 pm when he shot John Lennon 4 times outside the Dakota, John and Yoko’s gothic New York City apartment. A spot I visit almost every single time I go to New York City.
John was known as being super accessible in the Big Apple, loving the freedom of movement he didn’t have in England. The fall of 1980 my friend Ed and I discussed going to NYC the summer of 1981, after graduation, and hanging out in front of the Dakota to meet John and thank him for all the great music he had given us.
The night of December 8th, for some reason, I had been gone to bed early. Sportscaster Howard Cosell interrupted his broadcast of Monday Night Football to tell the world that Beatle John Lennon had been shot. Friends began calling our house to share the shattering news but my mother chose to let me sleep. Instead she laid the morning copy of the Atlanta Constitution on the kitchen table the following morning.
Like most Tuesday mornings, I woke up and turned on 96 Rock, pleased to hear a Beatles song on the radio. I showered and got dressed to more Beatles songs. Perhaps it was a “super-set.” I went into the kitchen for breakfast, first turning on my parents 70s console hifi (96 Rock was obviously on a Beatle binge.) The 1967 classic, “A Day in the Life,” began to play. The line “I read the news today, oh boy” came out of the speakers just as I looked down at the newspaper. “John Lennon Slain by New York Gunman.”
The headline was next to a picture of John in a suit and tie from his 1976 immigration hearing. My first thought was, “Wow, there’s another John Lennon” thinking the clean cut gent was a politician or businessman who shared a name with MY John Lennon. Then I realized it was my John Lennon and it felt like the floor fell out from under me. I quickly turned on Good Morning America and saw the scenes of thousands of fans sobbing outside the Dakota in New York. My head was reeling. I wanted to go to New York. I wanted to murder the man who murdered John Lennon.
Instead I ran to my room. “Watching the Wheels” was playing on the radio. I fell on my bed, surrounded by Beatle and John posters, and sobbed. “I just had to let it go.”
My mother reminded me I had to go to school, so I put on a John Lennon Walls and Bridges t-shirt (that I got at Beatlefest ’78) and carried myself to Redan. I only made it through three periods. I had become the wailing wall for the Beatle fans at school. Where before I got abuse for my weird music tastes, now I got hugs. Girls, who would never talk to me, came up to me in tears to say they were sorry. My English teacher, Mrs. Patsy Zimmerman, told me she had taught John’s killer when she was at Columbia. We both burst into tears and I decided to leave. I put the school’s flag at half mast and walked home, vowing to never laugh again, a punishment for the world stealing this peacemaker from us.
The week was spent playing records and piecing together what happened. I sat in my room, playing Double Fantasy and thinking I would suddenly wake up to find it had all been a nightmare and that the dream was over. Instead of a funeral, Yoko asked fans to gather that Sunday, December 14, for a 10-minute silent vigil. I ended up in Piedmont Park with thousands of other Atlanta-area fans. Without direction, at 2 pm the crowd moved to the center of the field on the south side of the park, grabbed hands and then formed a massive circle for ten very long and quiet minutes. Then someone began singing “Give Peace a Chance.” We all joined in and moved back to the center and hugged each other for the next hour. Peace. “Ah, this is what John was talking about,” I remember thinking.
“Starting Over” shot to #1 on the charts and six weeks later Ronald Reagan was sworn in, launching an era that we REALLY could have used John Lennon to help navigate.
I was 16 on that day and I am 56 today. It seems like a minute ago. John’s served as a model for mine, the evolution of a man. He died at 40, so I will now always be older than him, but I still feel like I learn from him in new and surprising ways. This “househusband blog” has been a part of that lesson. We all shine on in our own way.
I miss you, John and if I had gotten to meet you in the summer of 1981, I would have thanked you for showing me how to grow.
One of my guilty pandemic pleasures (besides watching 90 Day Fiancé) has been making playlists on Spotify. I’ve made playlists that chart Prince’s album chronology and playlists loaded with songs about denim (“Forever in Blue Jeans”). I started doing month-based playlists, beginning with cuts from albums released in January, 1973. I was traipsing through 1979, month-by-month, reliving all the LPs I bought, borrowed or stole in my 15th year on earth. My top three favorite bands that year were, in order, The Who, Blondie, and The Police. It was the year of new wave.
It was also another year of disco.
While 1979 gave us The Cars, Gary Numan, and Nick Lowe, the radio was still dominated by dance tracks by Chic, the Bee Gees, and Donna Summer. The summer radio of ’79 was an ongoing battle between “My Sharona” and “Ring My Bell.” I was deeply into my “Randy Ramone” phase by that point. Even though I camped out for tickets for the 1979 Kiss Dynasty tour, I had already sold my soul to punk rock. But whether you were a mod or a rocker, a Clash fan and/or a Ted Nugent fan, all guitar disciples could agree on one thing, disco sucked.
In 1979, I sported a t-shirt that said, “Disco is Dead, Rock is Rolling” that I ordered from the back of Rolling Stone magazine. I was full of theories about how musicians were losing gigs because clubs were hiring DJs instead of bands (even though I wouldn’t get my fake ID until 1980). I graffitied “Disco Sucks” on the bathroom stalls at Redan High School and dreamed of burning copies of Saturday Night Fever.
I wasn’t the only kid hating on disco in 1979. Chicago rock radio station WLUP organized a “Disco Demolition Night” between games at a White Sox doubleheader. Over 50,000 rock fans showed up with their kid sisters’ Sister Sledge albums. The plan was to blow up the albums on the field. The explosion caused a riot as the rock fans stormed the field and proceeded to destroy the stadium, forcing the White Sox to forfeit the cancelled game to the Detroit Tigers. I had heard about it next day and thought it was a glorious blow against the disco empire.
Looking back on that era from over 40 years later, there certainly was some super crappy music (Who let Elton John make a disco album?). There was also some crappy punk and metal and “arena rock” records. But a lot of those disco tracks are now on replay, like “Get Up to Get Down” by Brass Construction. I’ve even warmed up to 70s-era Bee Gees. It wasn’t the cock rock of Van Halen, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t sexy. But the hatred of disco was vicious. The Chicago riot was just part of the disco backlash. Was this a just a fanatical devotion to “any guitar and any bass drum,” as The Jam sang, or something else?
I don’t doubt there was some real imbedded racism in the “Disco sucks” trend. Disco had its roots in black and Latin dance clubs in New York. Soul music became R&B, then became the most banal disco. Somehow Barry White went from make-out music to the Hustle, with actual dance steps. Early Saturday afternoons in 1979 spotlighted white couples on American Bandstand who were trying to mimic the steps of the black couples dancing on Soul Train later in the afternoon. White rock fans in ’79 could dig Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley and Led Zeppelin channeling ancient blues cats, but somehow Chic’s “Le Freak” was too much. Dance music was about black and brown bodies moving in choreographed synchronicity while individualistic white bodies were either head banging or slam dancing.
But there was black music that was off limits to the anti-disco hate in 1979. Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall LP, with it’s Quincy Jones horns workin’ day and night, was dynamic in the way that rock sought to blow your head off. Prince’s debut single, “I Wanna Be You Lover” was so provocative, it was punk. (I’ll never forget his performance on American Bandstand, sporting a very small tiger print Speedo and thinking the 70s were officially dead.) And there was this weird hippity hop music coming out of the Bronx. But rock fans would still rather blast AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” then sort out what “Rapper’s Delight” was all about.
There was also a healthy dose of homophobia reflected in disco hate. After all, those dance clubs in NYC that birthed the coked up disco scene were mostly gay clubs. Few things seemed gayer in 1979 than the Village People and dancing with your hands in the air. Real men kept their hands at waste level to play air guitar to Aerosmith. Working class boys, terrified of revealing any feminine attributes, were required to bash anything that wasn’t macho macho, man.
But there was plenty of gender-nonconforming in rock in 1979, from David Bowie (“Boys Keep Swinging”) to Queen’s Freddie Mercury (“Don’t Stop Me Now”). The B-52’s “Rock Lobster” was a big ol’ southern gay dance party and Lou Reed was femming as Patti Smith was butching. The rednecks in my high school would harass me for liking “that fag music from England” (usually referring to Devo, who were from Ohio) which gave me the privilege of being gay-bashed without actually being gay. I was bonded the mythical urban queer (I imagined him/her walking into CBGB’s while “Walk on the Wild Side” played), but I still hated disco.
Best I can figure is the Disco Sucks crusade was an example of intersectionality. Both black and gay were devalued in 1979, but tolerated. Everyone was convinced Bowie was “queer” but Freddie Mercury was “straight” (figure that one out). But they knew how to rock. Bands with black members, like Thin Lizzy, Mother’s Finest, and the Doobie Brothers cranked the guitars above the bass. Black or gay could find a place in white boy culture. Black and gay could not. Disco was black and gay and that was a bridge too far. Play that funky queer music white boy. Or bash it.
The hatred was all contextual. Rock acts were allowed to release disco-ish records. (Kiss’ “I Was Made for Loving You,” Blondie’s “Heart of Glass,” Wings’ “Goodnight Tonight,” The Kinks “Superman,” and Rod Stewart’s “Do You Think I’m Sexy?” to name a few.) But if the act had any connection to the dance club scene (think Alicia Bridges’ “I Love the Night Life”) it was deemed “disco” and must be blown up at a baseball stadium. Disco sucks wasn’t really about the intersection of black and gay, it was the intersection of racism and homophobia.
I’ve missed out on a lot of great music because of learned bigotries. (Why didn’t anyone tell me that Mariachi music was 100% brilliant?) The 15-year-old me would have been musically richer and ethically deeper if I had been open to disco in 1979. It was a time of discovery but somehow small town culture stopped me. Two years later (at 17), I would be hanging out in Atlanta gay bars with the other misfit punk refugees from suburbia, but in 1979, anything without a power chord was a threat to my forming masculinity.
It’s been fun discovering these songs over the years. A lot of it is the worst culture human civilization has ever produced (Humanity should have cancelled for “Disco Duck” alone), but much of it is a joyous release. (Currently playing, “Beat of the Night” (1979) by Fever.) It didn’t all suck. Racism and homophobia suck. Shaking your groove thing will set you free.
If there was ever a time America needed a leader, it’s now as COVID deaths surge past a quarter million. But sad Donald Trump is in his bunker, tweeting madly that he won the election “by a lot.” No stimulus program for Americans falling into homelessness. No national mask mandate to save additional lives. Just Baby Donald having a temper tantrum and a circus of sycophants too afraid to tell the Emperor that the world is laughing at him.
The pathetic end of Donald J. Trump is not only a lesson in how not to be a president. It’s also a vital lesson in how not to be a man. Of course, Mr. “Grab’ em by the pussy” has provided that service for years.
The lockdowns of 2020 have certainly presented challenges for single people, but there have been challenges for those of us that are boo’d up as well. The pandemic has forced many of us married and “coupled up” (as they say on Love Island) to learn how to truly co-exist in a confined space, without the easy exit hatch of “let’s just go out.” There’s only so much Netflixing you can do. At some point, it gets real. And as if providing (finally) some kind of national service, there’s President Hissy-fit giving the men of America a perfect example of how not to handle this moment.
From the very beginning, Trump has made it all about him. From his word-salad lie-fests before his adoring cult crowds to his denial of the Biden victory, “America first” has always been code for “Trump first” and you almost feel sorry for the schleps that still fall for this con man. (“Quick! Donate to President Trump’s legal team so he prove those black votes in Detroit and Atlanta were illegal! We take PayPal!”) Trump always centers himself and you don’t have to look at Melania’s face to see that that’s his fatal flaw.
But this isn’t about Trump. It’s about all us men who do the same thing. We’ve been socialized to believe it’s a man’s, man’s, man’s world and women are there as our support system. (BEHIND every great man… is a woman who should be out in front.) The world is about our male hopes and plans and adventures and successes and failures and wet dreams. That’s why Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique (1963) resonated with so many women. It simply asked, but what about me? Arn’t I a person, too?
Sadly, the second wave feminist movement that Friedan helped launch did not fully humanize females in America. It made a lot of progress (Thank you, Title IX and hello Vice President Harris!), but it still looks like a penis-centered culture. At least American Ninja Warrior puts the the top two female contestants through to the finals. We can find plenty of reasons to find cracks in patriarchy. (I’ll credit Nancy Pelosi for keeping Trump’s nuts in a vice grip and the daughters of NFL fans for prioritizing Beyoncés BLM anthems over Go Daddy commercials and cheerleaders in halter tops.) We can see progress all around us (if we turn blind eye to the epidemic of rape in the country), but there are still people who want to make America “Father Knows Best” again.
We can talk about this on a societal level (RBG was right. We’ve had generations of all-male Supreme Courts. When do we get an all-female Supreme Court?) But this is about the personal journey of men stepping away from the destructive (including to men) effects of patriarchy.
More than that, this about me learning how to love my wife.
If patriarchy, on a macro-level, is about centering men’s voice and minds in society, on a personal level it’s about doing the same Goddamn thing in our relationships. Hi ladies, welcome to my world. Can you make me a sandwich? Feminist Dorothy E. Smith has written how women are given control of the “domestic sphere” so men can have pretty much everything else on earth. And that can include the space in a relationship.
Now, to be clear, I have claimed feminism as a core value in my life since the 1980s and proudly left my job to become a stay-at-home dad, inspired by my favorite househusband John Lennon. I can thrill you with stories of escorting women into abortion clinics past the screaming banshees of Operation Rescue and challenging students to accept that God is most likely female, but I still internalized patriarchy in the same sad way I internalized white supremacy.
That became most clear this year during long, under quarantine, conversations with my wife. Like most people, we’ve had our fair share of COVID-magnified conflicts; about money, about parenting, about who is going to wash the dishes. She was quick to point out how quickly I would go into defensive mode and try to “prove” my case, like we were on opposing debating teams. We’re on the same team! I forgot! But it became all about me and how I was somehow aggrieved.
What I should have been doing is asking questions. Why do you feel this way? What can I do to help? I should have centered her and put my amazing wife first in the discussion, but instead I retreated into “Randyland,” wondering why she had a “well, fuck this shit” look on her face. Maybe if I slept downstairs I could comeback, refreshed with an even clearer articulation of my position, complete with PowerPoint slides. Meanwhile, my wife felt more and more alone as I plotted strategies in my head instead of re-coupling (also a term from Love Island).
This is going to sound completely basic to many people (and maybe a few men), but I have literally burned through every relationship by doing this. By making it about me. That’s not how love is supposed to work. You’re supposed to put your partner’s emotional well-being before your own, but in patriarchal America I didn’t get that role modeling, not from my father and not from Starsky & Hutch. The result was relationships crashing and burning and me thinking that I was just a “psycho-chick magnet.” If they were psycho, it was because I centered myself instead of them.
There is a parallel phenomenon here with regard to race called White Fragility. America has the handbook and is starting to figure that out. (Thanks, Robin!) It’s not about you, Karen, so stop centering yourself and start centering black voices. Maybe, we need a book called Male Fragility: Why Men Get Their Panties in a Wad.
My wife is strong as hell and sure enough doesn’t need a guy like me who doesn’t put his partner before himself. I should have gotten that lesson a long time ago. I’m not the king of my castle. But somewhere, between long, hard conversations with her and watching Baby Trump center himself instead of the nation we hired him to lead, I got it. Don’t be like Trump. Hey Donald, it’s not about you. It’s about America. She’s trying to tell you how she feels. Please listen.
I’ve been absent from this blog in October largely because I’ve been talking to the world about right wing extremism and the looming threat of impending civil war. Pandemic lockdowns, fears of America becoming one big “anarchist jurisdiction” like Portland, and Donald Trump telling fascist fighting clubs, like the Proud Boys, to “stand back and stand by” had already elevated fears. And then a militia group in Michigan, taking Trump’s “Liberate Michigan” tweet to heart, hatched a plot to kidnap and execute their governor and overthrow the state government. I’ve talked to news teams from France, South Korea, Switzerland, Italy, Turkey, and several others about Portland leading the country on one path or another. Standing at the crossroads.
What will happen after Tuesday, regardless of which candidate wins? I’ve seen pick-up trucks with rebel and Trump flags driving through black neighborhood in Portland, with semi-automatic weapons on full display. Is this their promised “Boogaloo” at our doorstep?
The organization I chair, the Coalition Against Hate Crimes, issued the following statement urging law enforcement agencies to take this moment seriously. I will be back here to follow up this week.
Our country is passing through a time of great division. The voices of extremism have been growing and the threat of violence centered around the presidential election has raised anxiety levels in many communities. The includes communities who have long been the targets of hate and scapegoating, as well as federal workers, and even law enforcement. The Coalition Against Hate Crimes (CAHC) would like to use its collective voice to urge our partners in law enforcement to enact a cohesive strategy to protect Oregonians from those who have pledged violence around and after the election. This threat ranges from voter intimidation to acts of massive domestic terrorism.
We call on our coalition law enforcement partners to ensure the safety of the citizens and residents of our state by doing the following;
Have a clear plan about how law enforcement will respond to election related violence, including by those civilian groups that claim to be “pro-police.” This plan should be a collaboration between local, county, state, and federal law enforcement, and should be presented to the public. The priority of confronting domestic terrorism must be high through the new year.
Law enforcement should reach out to vulnerable communities who have been the target of hate in the past, including BIPOC and LGBTQ+ communities and those subject to religious bigotry, to develop security strategies and encourage the reporting of bias related behavior. The Department of Homeland Security should provide resources to protect to communities who have been threatened by right-wing extremists.
All levels of law enforcement must make clear that any member who participates in right-wing extremist activities will be removed from armed service.
Law enforcement must engage in a public effort to both address the threat level and create a mechanism by which the public knows how to properly respond. This can include utilizing the state’s new bias crime hotline to report potential threats and plots, leading to immediate investigation.
The last few years, the right-wing extremist movement has returned to the forefront of our body politic. Jeremy Christian, the anti-government activist posted an ode to Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, on his Facebook page before his 2017 murderous attack on a Portland Max train. Armed Proud Boys have been roaming Portland and Salem, looking for confrontation. Militia groups, like the Oath Keepers, have promoted themselves as soldiers in a coming civil war. The race war McVeigh hoped to spark has been rebranded as the “boogaloo,” with armed adherents, both on line and in the street, promising violent conflict if their man in the White House is not re-elected. The recent arrests of the militia members in Michigan who were plotting to kidnap (and execute) Governor Whitmer and overthrow the state government demonstrate how real these “patriot” visions for massive social disruption are.
Communities in Oregon have been traumatized by the presence of white-nationalist, fascists, and anti-government extremists, many regularly sporting weapons of war. This should not be normal in our state or in America. People are in fear of what a Trump victory or defeat could mean for public safety. This fear is magnified by the perception that many in law enforcement condone, or even participate in this form of oppression and domestic terrorism.
If a community member sees a threat being made to a mosque, synagogue, LGBTQ+ center, Black frequented venue, members of immigrant communities, or a federal building on social media, they should 1) believe that law enforcement is going to take it seriously, and 2) have a clear avenue to report it to authorities. Our partners in the justice field can help build community resilience in the face of growing fears of grievous violence.
Law enforcement partners must speak in a unified, clear voice that the threat posed by right-wing violence is at odds with our democratic values. It must be dealt with and not allowed to grow. There are those that are calling for a second civil war to begin in the next few months. We must stand together against the calls for violence and division and law enforcement must play a role in preventing this catastrophe.
CAHC/Law Enforcement Background
The CAHC was formed in 1997 in the wake of the Oklahoma City Bombing. The actors in that 1995 terrorist act killed 168 innocent people, including 19 children, and injured another 759 civilians, all who were inside the Murrah Federal Building. The goal of the bombing was to ignite a race war in America. They had spent time in the militia movement in Michigan, training with right-wing extremists who hated federal and state government agencies. Following the bombing, Attorney General Janet Reno requested that federal, state, county, and municipal law enforcement agencies form partnerships with community-baed groups to prevent further domestic terrorism from the radical right.
The CAHC was created as a partnership between advocacy and civil rights groups and law enforcement and government agencies to do this work. For 23 years, we have collaborated on better reporting of incidents, supporting the investigation and prosecution of hate crimes, community-level education, and providing resources to the victims of hate. Since our founding, we have had active participation from all levels of law of enforcement, from the Portland Police Bureau to the FBI. The partnerships have, at times, been tense, but have allowed for open channels of communications around key issues of public safety in our state.
It’s sort of pointless to argue whether or not Donald Trump is a racist. His lifetime record of words and deeds proves it. Saturday night he rambled on about how is white crowd in Minnesota had “good genes.” He can pimp out Herschel Walker (who has had his fair share of blows to the head), or suddenly throw $13 billion at Puerto Rico, but 99% of black and brown people know what’s up. The Trump loyalists who don’t think he’s a racist are not going to be convinced by me that he is. Anyone with an a IQ over 80 and a minimal understanding of twentieth century history understands what’s happening in America right now.
And we don’t have to go all the way back to Germany in the 1930s to see the populist swing to authoritarianism returning. Trump is straight up Nixon ’68, revisiting the racist “southern strategy” as he madly tweets at “suburban housewives” that black people (and Antifa!) are coming to destroy their bucolic worlds. The fear mongering worked for Nixon as race riots gripped American cityscapes. Things are different in 2020. The suburbs are different and most of those “housewives” are the primary breadwinners in their families. I doubt Mr. “Grab ‘em by the pussy” and his racist drumbeating is going to frighten them more than COVID-19 killing their children.
So then what to do? How do we deprive this racist lover of dictators of his oxygen? How do we kill the threat of Donald Trump to America?
It will be our veterans that show us the way
The absolute key to this racial mess is understanding the nature of trauma. Liberals and conservatives, antifascists and “patriots” all have a basic understanding of trauma. So here’s how it works.
Step One: Veterans – When was the last time we heard of someone coming back from a war zone and being spit on? We don’t do that anymore. Even hard core anti-war left wingers would never even think of doing that. My father used to joke about torturing a “shell shocked” Korean War vet who was his high school teachers in the 1950s. In the 1970s, tweaked Vietnam vets were the subject of derision. “Dude’s in his own private ‘Nam.” What changed?
In 1980, the American Psychiatric Association recognized Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a very real and life-lasting cognitive condition. Because of the suffering and sacrifice of a lot of vets, we understand how acute trauma, like getting shot at, alters the brain. And we learned that trauma can lie dormant and be triggered by something random, like fireworks going off on the 4th of July. In 1998, I went to a special screening of Saving Private Ryan that honored surviving WWII vets. The opening scenes of the Normandy landing had men in their seventies convulsing like they were back on that beach 54 years prior. They nearly had to stop the film.
We’ve learned that PTSD has a whole host of ripple effects, like depression, substance abuse, and elevated suicide rates. That’s why there is near consensus on helping our vets heal instead of adding to their trauma.
Step Two: Rape victims – Rape is epidemic in our society. Depending on the measure, as many as one and four women in this country will be sexually assaulted at least once. Rape knows no political boundaries, no race or even age. We exist in a rape culture which traumatizes women with sexual violence and the looming threat of sexual violence. Even typing the word rape will traumatize some of the women reading this. I was lecturing about rape statistics in my criminology class at the University of Oregon and a young woman burst into tears and left the class, never to return. I re-traumatized her without even trying. It’s the impact not the intent.
We also have a mountain of research that shows rape victims suffer from PTSD just like our veterans do. The difference is women don’t walk off the battlefield. America is the battlefield, with the next potential attack just around the corner, or, more likely, in the next room. And having entertainment, like Game of Thrones, that turns rape into spectacle and a president who brags about his sexual assaults doesn’t help.
Even the most right-wing asshole dude has a mother or a sister or a daughter or a favorite teacher or a lover who has been wounded by sexual violence. Just like he would never tell an Afghan war vet to “just get over it,” it would be hard to imagine he would tell his wounded rape victim to “just get over it.” Even assholes have hearts.
Step Three: People of Color – I know there are white people who think racism magically ended in 1865, or 1964, or 2008 when Obama was elected. But anyone who has watched the 8 minute and 46 second execution of George Floyd knows that the trauma of racism continues and is a daily reality for people of color. Seeing grown black men, weeping on live TV, begging for black lives to matter was a wake up call for many white people.
Think of the cumulative trauma that results from slavery, Jim Crow, lynchings, mass incarceration during the phony “War on Drugs,” redlining, educational discrimination, white flight, police violence, and on and on. Where is the opportunity to heal when the traumatizing impacts of racism are still coming, while white people chant, “just get over it”?
Black, brown, Asian, and indigenous people are marginalized in ways that are often completely invisible to white people. It could be a simple micro-aggression (“So, what are you?”) or a lack of representation (How many black male teachers have you had?). The rising rate of hate crimes based on race is the icing and Trump’s attacks on black athletes as “sons of bitches” are the cherries on top.
If we can understand the trauma of veterans and rape victims, why can’t we understand the trauma of racism victims? As a dude on American Ninja Warriors recently said, “Ignoring race doesn’t fix racism.”
An embarrassing story about myself
Two years ago I was taking my daughter, Cozy, to her preschool. I got there early and saw a young African-American male sitting on the steps to the school. His hood was up and he was on his phone. Something ticked in my head, that said, “Danger Will Robinson!” so I took Cozy in a different door, giving the young man a wide berth.
When I came back out, I saw him getting on a school bus, doing what we want every teenager should to be doing. The preschool steps were his bus stop. I felt incredibly embarrassed about my assumption and as he got on the bus, he shot me a look that I will never forget. It said, “What do I have to do? I’m going to school and you still think I’m a thug.” I had wounded him and his day was just starting.
What happened? I grew up in racist America which means I internalized white supremacy, including the belief that black men are threats to our safety. That internalized white supremacy turned into implicit bias, that gut feeling that had me choose to walk in a different door. That young man experienced that as a micro-aggression, he knew I was walking in the far door because he was black. And that micro-aggression was a small but meaningful traumatizing event. Instead of helping him to heal, I gave him YET ANOTHER reminder that being black in America is to be marginalized. I wounded him. And I’m sure there were plenty more woundings that followed that day.
Our president thinks discussing concepts like internalized white supremacy, implicit bias, micro-aggressions, and racial trauma are anti-American. He’s come out hard against the New York Times 1619 Project that tries to undo the whitewashing we’ve done on the history and impact of slavery on America. He wants to institute some Orwellian “patriotic education” curriculum to indoctrinate kids back into the white washing. (School curriculums are mandated on the state level, so he’s just playing to his racist base, again.) I’m waiting for Trump to sign an executive order replacing Black History Month with Slave Owners Had Good Genes Month.
If “All lives matter,” then black lives matter. That’s how words work.
The road out of this backsliding moment is to talk to white people about trauma and healing. If they can understand the experience of veterans and rape victims with PTSD, they can understand the traumatizing impacts of racism and marginalization. If it makes sense that a wounded warrior might be triggered by firecrackers or a rape victim might be re-traumatized by another news report of a sexual assault, than a white person should be able to understand the cumulative impact of another unarmed black person who was killed by the police on black people in general. In 2020, it seems like black lives just don’t matter yet.
Except for sociopaths (and I understand the ranks of neo-Nazis and “Pro-Trump” activists have plenty of those folks), all human beings are capable of empathy. I’ve written about how my road from white supremacist kid from a Klan town to anti-racist educator started with the recognition of how I traumatized a black janitor in my freshman dorm at Oxford College by ripping up a book by Martin Luther King, Jr. and throwing it in the toilet. Good people don’t want to cause trauma. Good people want to help people to heal from their wounds.
The problem is that white people are so damn fragile. They run away from the term “racist,” thinking it only applies to cross-burning Klansmen. We’ve all internalized white supremacy, full stop. Myself included. The switch has to flick from, “I’m not a racist!” to, “I am racist but I want to reduce the harm that’s caused. How can I help the healing?” I think when white people understand the depth and length of racial trauma, they will want to be helpers instead of hurters. Take down your Confederate flag and unclench your white fist into an open hand.
Donald Trump has cast himself as the savior of white America. It might work. There are are still a lot of anxious white people that can’t handle a black football player who cares about justice, let alone people taking to streets, demanding to dismantle racist institutions. Trump’s racism has been unleashed in his desperate eleventh hour attempt to salvage the train wreck of his presidency. Perhaps calm conversations about the wounding racism has caused to people we care about can end his reign of injury.
I guess I’ve been a crummy blogger this year. When Cozy was a baby, I could squeeze out a couple of blogposts a week on everything from housework to feminist cowboy movies. In 2019, I only managed 22 posts. To be fair, I actually taught full-time the entire year. It felt good to be back at work. My wonderful students got to be the recipients of my random thoughts about the state of the world. And now that Cozy is a kindergartener, typing up cohesive essays is more of a luxury. Plus, I’ve spent much of my spare time chasing squirrels out of our attic.
I was excited that my writing still had an audience even though every single post wasn’t about Trump’s racism. My tribute to my late friend (and Atlanta punk icon) David Dickens had the most reads (1,900). My piece on the Christchurch killings was reprinted in The Peace Chronicle, which was a great privilege.
2018 was a year of global travel. For 2019, I managed to stay mostly on the West Coast, with a few weeks in Mexico to give a couple of lectures in my favorite anthropology field school. I still managed plenty of world media appearances (especially CNN International), but my favorite media interview was when a rare tornado came right down our street. Under my name, instead of usual “HATE CRIME EXPERT” it said, “LIVES NEAR DOWNED TREE.” Much more exciting than an appearance in Turkish TV (which I also did in 2019).
Of course the driving theme of the year was growing blackhole being created by our idiot president, culminating in his impeachment on December 18. By that point I had written so many posts about his inevitable impeachment that the actual thing was anticlimactic and I didn’t even bother to comment on it. (I do wonder what will happen to all the ITMFA t-shirts that are so common here in Portland.) I’m sure I’ll have plenty to say as the divide widens even further in 2020, with Trump loyalists promising civil war if they don’t get their way. It’s like the country is being taken over by hordes of fascist babies.
For me, the focus of 2019 was on my family. Working steadily gave me a better foundation to be grounded in the real and not the endless yammering on social media. My classes Portland Community College and my CLE trainings for attorneys gave me the professional connections I craved and I got to work on a few murder cases that let me to put my skills to work in very important arenas. This allowed me to not worry too much about financial issues, and focus on being present for Andrea and Cozy. Maybe the best moment was taking Cozy on a surprise trip to Disney in LA that included a stop at their animation studios where a friend showed her the work he was completing on Frozen 2. There was also a trip to Las Vegas to see The Beatles’ LOVE, twice! Family times was its own reward.
The coming year will have plenty challenges. I imagine I will be commenting directly on the rise of anti-Semitic violence and the Trump cult’s threats to peace and equality. But my personal agenda will be focused on making good educational choices for my daughter, showing my wife how much I cherish her, and finally getting the squirrels out of the attic.