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 50 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’ve 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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Raising Honest Children in the Age of Trump

January 25, 2019

As a first-time parent it’s been quite the trip watching my daughter’s cognitive development. I started charting it here on this blog but, at almost four-and-a-half, it’s just accelerated to a rate that seems impossible to chart. Last week she appropriately used air quotes and I felt like I had completed my job as a sarcastic father. She’s on her own. I’m quite confident I could drop her off at a faculty cocktail party and she’d be fine. She recently told me, “We don’t say that we hate Donald Trump. We say we don’t like him very much.” Touché, Cozy. Touché.

Which is why part of this stage of development has a troubling facet. Lying. Nothing too big, but she’ll say she washed her hands after going potty and they are perfectly dry. (A tell-tale sign.) Or I’ll ask if she’s picked up her toys and she’ll say yes and I’ll point out all her toys on the floor and she’ll proclaim, “I was just kidding!”

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I’m well aware this is normal for a little kid but biography occurs in the context of history and at the moment the free world is being led by one of the biggest liars in history. The challenge of raising a good child in the era of the bad president will surely be the stuff of many child psychology books to come. How can we bring our children up as decent honest people in the shadow of one of the most loathsome, dishonest, and buffoonish bullies to ever wrap himself in a flag? Even MAGA hat wearing parents must have to tell their kids, “Now just because the president does/says that doesn’t mean you can.” (Although there are probably a few MAGA dads that have said, “Grab ‘em by the pussy, son.”)

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The lies of Donald J. Trump are too voluminous to count. He just makes stuff up on the spot because it sounds good. Just ask him how much his useless vanity wall will cost. It’s something we’ve all done occasionally. We’ve inflated details in a story or thrown out numbers we weren’t 100% sure were accurate. “Yeah, 75 percent of people who vote Republican have never eaten sushi.” Sounds right. But Trump does it every single day. Fact checkers have died of fatigue.

Which makes it harder to convey the importance of truth-telling to our children. In this post-factual world full of massive whoppers (“Global warming is a Chinese hoax!”), fibs and white lies seem almost cute. Truth is a sliding scale. Stephen Colbert coined the term “truthiness” in 2005, but to raise a child in a daily onslaught of “alternative facts” seems impossible. There’s an “If you can’t beat ‘em join ‘em”” devil on my shoulder that wants to tell my daughter, “Kid, lie your ass off if it gets you what you want. Every one else probably is doing it.”

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Trump is the absolute worst role model for anyone, especially children. He’s a spoiled rich kid who throws tantrums when he doesn’t get what he wants. He lies pathologically. He bullies relentlessly. And he lives on buckets of KFC and gallons of Diet Coke. I saw him when I was in DC last month in the back of his limo heading towards the White House. I swear he had an Egg McMuffin hanging from his gullet. I haven’t heard what he’s done with Michelle Obama’s vegetable garden but I’m willing to bet that when he’s dragged off the property by the FBI, the CSI team will be digging it up. 

The good news is outside his weird cult of MAGA loyalists, Trump is the perfect boogyman. If I catch Cozy in a lie, I whip out the Donald. “Cozy, you told me you turned off the TV and you didn’t. You know who lies like that? Donald Trump.” The look of horror on her face. It’s also good at dinner time. “You want ice cream for dinner? Do you want to look like Donald Trump?” She races for the carrots. There was a boy who pushed her in her pre-school. I told her to tell him to stop acting like Donald Trump. It shut that shit down.

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I have to wonder about this generation of youth growing up under the specter of the Orange Menace. Whether or not those MAGA hat wearing prep school pricks from Covington Catholic were harassing a Native American elder, they were at a rally to end reproductive choice for women and girls in America (and caught on camera making jokes about rape, and harassing girls, and appearing in blackface at an earlier basketball game). The white parents couldn’t defend them fast enough. (The lead prick’s mother blaming the whole thing on “black Muslims.”) Is this the fate of Generation Z? Or are they the kids from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School taking to the streets to end gun violence? I’ll send Cozy off with them.

Obviously,  Trump’s otherwise occupied parents never told him the story of The Little Boy Who Cried Wolf, but we tell it in our house. We might have a president than believes science is a hoax, journalism is “fake news,” and math is whatever numbers happen to fall out you mouth, but here the ideals of the Enlightenment still matter and this kid will value the truth. “Don’t be like Trump, kids!”

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Watching fragile men freak out over a Gillette ad

January 17, 2019

I’ve never been a big fan of Gillette razors. Gillette is owned by Proctor & Gamble, one of the least-socially responsible mega-corporations and I remember boycotting them in the 1980s over their commitment to animal testing. So imagine my surprise this week to learn that Gillette was launching an awareness campaign called The Best Men Can Be that acknowledged the issue of toxic masculinity. What wasn’t surprising was the backlash from snowflake “macho” men who saw the corporation trying to dismantle maleness itself.

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The ad for the campaign aired this week and it’s powerful, linking the issues of bullying and sexual harassment to the type of “boys will be boys” masculinity that for too long has gone unchecked. And when it is checked, for just one minute and 48 seconds, a lot of bros simply freak out, swearing they will never buy a Gillette product again. These men fall into three categories.

  1. Misogynists who think it is their (male) God-given right to harass women and bully boys and men they view as less “manly.”
  2. Men who think the term “toxic masculinity” refers to all forms of masculinity. (As I’ve written, masculinity isn’t toxic. Toxic masculinity is.)
  3. Men who don’t understand that gender is something that we learn. We learn different definitions of masculinity at different times in history and in different places in the world. Masculinity has very little to do with having a penis.

When gauging the freak out, you see plenty of all three types of men. They’ve already made response videos, which I can’t stomach to watch. And I’ve given up on trying to educate these men in the comments section on the YouTube video. They are in full defense mode, many hilariously claiming the Gillette is a “Marxist corporation.” Seriously.

Here are a few of the prize-winners just from today:

Gillette the gayest a man can get – kdubs_r

Legal system: Innocent until proven guilty. Gillette: Men, guilty until proven innocent. – Nathan Drake

You do know that feminists are quite proud to not shave right? – Ben Haworth

“Because the boys watching today will be the women of tomorrow ” – Taffe M

It’s Toxic Irresponsibility. Not toxic masculinity. Why would you inject gender into this? The fight is against social irresponsibility. There are just as many irresponsible women in society as there are men. Why is the tip of the spear pointed only at men here? – Nic 9Volt

And my favorite;

Men account for around 80% of suicides. Men are most likely to fall victim to violent crimes. Men work the most dangerous jobs. More men die on the front lines of war/ Men have shorter life spans. GTFO of here with your social justice propaganda this is not a man’s world in the slightest – Mickey Rourke

Mickey just made the case that toxic masculinity is killing men without even knowing it!

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I have a feeling that someone at Fox News or some alt right website told their mob of triggered bros to flood the comment section, because, it’s pretty hilarious/sad. Maybe I live in a Portland bubble where most men know there are many ways of doing masculinity that don’t include beating up “sissys,” harassing women, of going on shooting sprees for that matter. These mouth breathers seem to think Gillette is describing ALL MEN. Maybe they missed former NFL player and male feminist (and TV hunk) Terry Crews in the ad saying “Men need to hold other men accountable.”

The first category of men, the committed misogynists, are going to see what they want to see in this commercial. They’ve labeled it “anti-man,” “anti-white,” and “anti-American.” They are committed to their inherited rights to have their authority remain unchallenged and will be in high attack mode to prevent a woman from being elected in 2020. (Several of the negative comments on YouTube reference doughy rich boy Donald Trump as the paragon of masculinity.)

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The other two categories can be reached through education. Why is violent crime overwhelming committed by men? Toxic masculinity, but there are scores of men who model other forms of masculinity that resists the harm men do to themselves and others because “boys will be boys.” Where does this toxic masculinity come from? We learn it at an early age when we learn that “boys don’t cry” and you show a girl that you like her by punching her. If there was ever a time for a sociologist it’s right now!

This is the message that I’ve been sharing with my students for nearly thirty years. We can construct gender any way we want. I’ve been a stay-at-home dad and I love Marvel superhero movies. This week I called out a guy on Facebook for referring to a female elected member of congress as a “bimbo.” Another guy, a rather well-known former cop named CW Jenson, claimed that I must have “burned my man card.” I told him I proudly burned it in college. “It’s called growing up,” I said. I’m just as much of a man as Mr. TV Cop.

Terry Crews is right. It’s up to boys and men to shut this shit down whenever and wherever it appears, on Facebook and in the office. I was walking Cozy past a schoolyard to the park recently and two middle school boys were beating up a third. I broke it up but where were the teachers? Boys will be boys? Silence is permission and it’s time to get loud. THAT IS NOT COOL!

It’s not surprising to see the Old Boys Club freak out over the Gillette ad. The writing is on the wall. The times they are-a-changing. And the genie is out of the bottle. Women are holding a mirror up to men’s faces and they don’t like what they see. Some men will change. Others will just try to smash the mirror. As Gloria Steinem recently told me, the moment when a woman is most at risk of being murdered by her abuser is when she finally tries to escape him. The abusers are fighting hard as we try to break free. I hope efforts like this will mean my daughter will be safer than my wife is and my mother was. In the meantime, I think I need a shave. Know any good razor companies?

2018 in Review – Grow up and see the world

December 31, 2018

It’s a universal truth – time passes more quickly as you get older. The span from 1970 to 1978 seemed to be a millennia when I was a kid. The jump from 2010 to 2018 was just a minute. And it doesn’t seem much has changed in those years (other than the fact we had a sane intelligent grown-up in the White House). The #1 song the first week of 2010 was Ke$ha’s “TiK ToK.” Think about the change of music from the beginning of 1960 to the end of 1968 – Marty Robbins’ “El Paso” to Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard it Through the Grapevine.” What was new in 2018?

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It’s hard to sum up a block of 365 days. When I think of every stupid thing Donald Trump has done in 2018, I also think of Black Panther, the March for Our Lives, and the massive blue wave that brought the grown-ups back to Congress in November. It seemed like this would be the year that Mueller brought down Baby Trump, but let the man take his time and do it right. There are currently 17 (known) investigations related to Trump. There have been numerous indictments, guilty pleas, and prison sentences so far in this “witch hunt.” Trump is the guy who famously said, “I surround myself with the best people. I know the best people.” 2019 will be fun.

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The madness of King Donald aside, 2018 on the home-front has been an exciting year that has seen my feet stepping on to more airplanes than ever. My work on extremism has taken me all over the world, including a UN workshop in Abu Dhabi, UAE, as well as scholarly meetings in Oslo, Norway and Washington DC. There were a few presentations in NYC, one in Chicago, and a ten-day community leader exchange to the UK to study countering violent extremism programs. My participation in DC on a congressional panel on hate groups was covered live on C-SPAN. And I did dozens of local presentations and trainings. Andrea came with me for the Oslo (via London) trip and I had a blast bringing Cozy with me on one of the New York trips. (That girl can now hail a cab.) So many highlights.

Every time I left the USA, people wanted to understand what’s happened to America? How could we let something like Donald Trump happen? I had to remind them that all countries have problems with isolationist nationalist demagogues. We just happened to end up with one who was a TV star. This also weighed heavily when Andrea and Cozy went to Mexico this year and we had to have multiple plans in case the racist Trump immigration policy (You don’t hear about any Canadians being deported) separated mother and child at the border.

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On a personal level, the search for full time work continues. But I seemed to be working a lot, regardless. I clocked in a full year of teaching at Portland Community College with some of the most amazing and dedicated students I’ve ever had in my almost 30 years of teaching. I conducted numerous diversity trainings and led workshops for teachers. This year saw the birth of Randy Blazak Consulting LLC, to facilitate the work I do on criminal cases and consulting projects for the city. And of course, there were the weekly educational bus tours with the Fair Housing Council of Oregon. The best part was the fact that Andrea began her teaching work at Portland State and we could grade papers together.

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I don’t know how to summarize a year. It seems like we started the year with a government shutdown and here we are again. I do know that Cozy went from 3 to 4, and that’s a light year in child development. She started the year ballet dancing in the living room and she’s ending 2018 by teaching us how to hula dance. My favorite new thing has been Andrea and my YouTube channel, Vinyl Fetish, where you can find us (often after too many drinks) discussing records. 2018 whizzed by like a whir of images; Finding Andrea in a record store in Oslo, Cozy heading off to see a Broadway musical (Frozen), me seeing Donald Trump in the back of his presidential limo, tweeting as he pulled into the White House. I have a feeling 2019 will be much more real, especially after the Democrats set up shop in the House.

I didn’t keep up my furious blogging schedule in 2019, but I did get some good pieces out (along with a piece for Huffington Post). Of the 43 articles on a wide variety of topics, my piece on Brett Kavanaugh and bro culture was the most popular post, followed by my Handmaid’s Tale-inspired “America is Becoming a Dystopian Nightmare: What Do We Do Now???” There will be plenty to write about in 2019 as Trump’s house of cards caves in, Cozy turns 5, Andrea and I settle into our roles as teachers, and patriarchy tries to desperately hold on to its violent reign of terror.

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Let me revisit one of my favorite moments of 2018, meeting Gloria Steinem at a event I was speaking at in Manhattan. I asked her how she was explaining the whole Trump thing. She said, very clearly, that the moment a women is most at risk of being murdered by her abuser is when she is finally breaking free of him. We won’t be murdered. Let’s break free in 2019.

 

2018 WTW Posts

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Let’s End Duality: Make America Grey Again (January 4, 2018)

In Defense of the Classroom (January 12, 2018)

Our White Supremacist President (January 16, 2018)

Gender – Nature vs. Nurture 7: Baby – Toddler – Girl (January 25, 2018)

Confronting Ableism by “Looking” in the Mirror (February 5, 2018)

On becoming the working poor or How I robbed Peter to pay Paul (February 9, 2018)

The Vinyl Fetish Club is here for your sexy music needs (February 14, 2018)

America is eating its young. Maybe it’s time to get the hell out. (February 15, 2018)

Generation Z will turn this gunship around (February 23, 2018)

My Conversation with Gloria Steinem (March 2, 2018)

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Masculinity Isn’t Toxic. Toxic Masculinity Is (March 9, 2018)

Dad Love: An Open Letter to Non-Breeders (March 19, 2018)

What Do We Give the World? (March 29, 2018)

Jukebox Hero 3: Right Here, Right Now Watching the World Wake Up (April 5, 2018)

Dropping F Bombs and White Privilege (April 12, 2018)

Talking About Gender and Violence in the Middle East (April 19, 2018)

Incels: Just the latest chapter in the war on women (April 26, 2018)

Jukebox Hero 4: I’m Wide Awake – U2 (Part 2) (April 29, 2018)

Get out of your country! (May 15, 2018)

Entering the Phallic Phase: Psychoanalytic Feminists, Help! (May 24, 2018)

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Guest Essay: The Status of Women by Andi Barrios (May 31, 2018)

Thinking about Racial Reparations (June 10, 2018)

Watching America die, I sent a Statue of Liberty to Donald Trump (June 20, 2018)

America is Becoming a Dystopian Nightmare: What Do We Do Now??? (June 28, 2018)

We’re all intersectional (just some more than others) (July 6, 2018)

Witnessing the end of the American Century from the former British Empire (July 14, 2018)

Imagining a Time After Nations (July 20, 2018)

What I’ve Learned about Countering Violent Extremism (is the opposite of what I’ve been told to believe) (August 3, 2018)

What Do We Do About the Nazis After Charlottesville? (August 11, 2018)

My best friend is 4 (August 17, 2018)

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Can I be a feminist, too? (August 24, 2018)

She ain’t heavy, she’s my daughter: Trying to understand child abuse (August 31, 2018)

Are you “friends” with a Russian bot? Taking a stand against idiocracy (September 13, 2018)

Stop saying racists are bad people (September 21, 2018)

Brett Kavanaugh and Bro Culture: Let’s Look in the Mirror (September 28, 2018)

Columbus Day: Celebrating child rapists (October 7, 2018)

Taking Manhattan with a 4-year old (October 23, 2018)

President Trump is not smart enough not to throw America into a civil war (October 29, 2018)

At which mass shooting will your loved ones be killed? (November 8, 2018)

I’ve been given a small space, against the wall (November 19, 2018)

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Stone Mountain is a rock with a lot of racial baggage: Finding solutions (November 22, 2018)

“I just had to let it go…” On Parenting and Mortality (December 8, 2018)

Dad’s Top 10 Favorite New LPs of 2018 (December 20, 2018)

2018 in Review – Grow up and see the world (December 31, 2018)

 

 

Dad’s Top 10 Favorite New LPs of 2018

December 20, 2018

Does the music of 2018 sound any different than the music of 2008? I’m just asking. The top three albums of ’08 were Lil Wayne’s The Carter III, Coldplay’s Viva la Vida, and Taylor Swift’s Fearless. The music of 1978 (Best selling LP: soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever) was light years from records of 1968 (Top seller: Are You Experienced? by the Jimi Hendrix Experience). Is new music new in any way? I mean there’s good stuff but it seems like we’re in a stylistic holding pattern. Maybe I’m just getting old and don’t know where to look. Other than Greta Van Fleet (who sound more 1968 than 2018), there wasn’t any new music that I went apeshit over.

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This was a great year to pick up vinyl but my long-standing tradition of weekly record shopping went right out the window as the finances tightened.  The high point was buying vinyl all over the world, including New York, London, Leeds, Oslo, Chicago, Washington DC, and even Abu Dhabi. All of it ended up on Andrea and my new YouTube channel, Vinyl Fetish. The channel gave us a great opportunity to talk about our favorite records, often after a night out on the town. There was more vinyl consumed than CDs this year, but most of it was old jazz sides.

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We also really dialed back the live shows. There was a point in my life when I saw live music six nights a week. (The seventh night was cheap beer night at the Stein Club in Atlanta.) Between the traveling, the budget, and the fact that our babysitter went and had a baby of her own, there weren’t too many nights rocking out. But some of the highlights were seeing Mexican greats Café Tacuba in Portland and jazz legend McCoy Tyner at Blue Note in Greenwich Village. We saw the great Bowie tribute band, Bowievision, twice. One of my most blissed-out moments was seeing the classic ska band, The Dekkertones, in a London pub full of skinheads. Yes, I skanked.

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Regardless of all the new music I missed in 2018, the top two are albums I played to absolute death. The first was the “new” John Coltrane album, Both Directions at Once. The tracks were unreleased gems from 1963 that were found on a shelf somewhere and turned into an album by his son Ravi. The pure thrill of  hearing a new Coltrane album full of brilliant improvisation by his greatest quartet (including McCoy Tyner) was beyond measure. The packaging on Trane’s old Impulse! label was top notch. And my video review did pretty well, too!

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The other was Paul McCartney’s Egypt Station. I’ve bought each new McCartney album on the day of its release since Wings’ London Town (Friday, March 31, 1978). Some have been brilliant. Paul at age 76 is still brilliant. Like all his albums, I was unsure at first listen but it just grew and grew on me and I’m still not tired of playing it. His epic tune “Despite Repeated Warnings” (in the vein of “Band of the Run”) is the perfect take-down of Trump (“Take away the keys and lock him up”) and an affirmation of the will of the people (“Yes, we can do it!”). When most geezers are making peace with their maker, Paul is firing on all cylinders, creating an album were each song is chocked full of insight and tasty treats. I just wish he didn’t feel the need to take the act on the road again with the same old band and a voice that is no longer built for three-hour concerts. You’re good, Paulie. The studio is your domain. Show the kids how it’s done.

So I didn’t have enough this year for a Top 20, but here are ten albums I absolutely loved this year.

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  1. Paul McCartney – Egypt Station
  2. John Coltrane – Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album
  3. Paul Weller – True Meanings
  4. Kacey Musgraves – Golden Hour
  5. Greta Van Fleet – Anthem of the Peaceful Army
  6. Janelle Monae – Dirty Computer
  7. Bruebeck Brothers Quartet – Timeline
  8. Pistol Annies – Interstate Gospel
  9. Darling Machines – Darling Machines
  10. Father John Misty – God’s Favorite Customer

And it’s next on my “To Buy” list so I fully anticipate that Elvis Costello’s Look Now belongs on that list somewhere. Here’s to a better income in 2019 and the joy of purchasing more new music. And to something interesting happening.

 

 

 

 

Stone Mountain is a rock with a lot of racial baggage: Finding solutions

November 22, 2018

Should Germany erect statues of Adolf Hitler because it’s their “history”? Is their banning of the swastika “erasing history”?

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When I was in third grade at Atherton Elementary in Stone Mountain, Georgia, if I couldn’t immediately name the three Confederate heroes carved into the face of the mountain, I would get punched. Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and Stonewall Jackson. We moved to Stone Mountain in 1972, after a year living in Boca Raton, Florida. But before that, my family lived in Cleveland, Ohio. I quickly learned that the Civil War didn’t end in 1865, and if there was one thing worse than a “yankee” it was a “damn yankee.” The refugees of the rust belt were the new carpetbaggers.

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I loved growing up in Stone Mountain. In the 1970s, it was just starting to transition from a rural southern town to a suburb of Atlanta. We got our milk from a dairy, fished in a pond, road horses, and played in endless tracks of woods that were quickly being cutdown to make way for new subdivisions. We had brand new schools (Woodridge Elementary and Redan High for me) and new grocery stores and even a new Hardee’s hamburger joint. But there were some old demons that caught a few of us damn yankees off guard.

Let freedom ring?

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I didn’t hear Martin Luther King’s 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech in school for probably the same reason that (unlike other students across the country) we weren’t encouraged the watch the groundbreaking 1977 miniseries Roots. There was a subtle message that black lives didn’t really matter and neither did their experiences in white America. I saw the speech on PBS one day (a habit I picked up during the Watergate hearings) and was dumbstruck. Amid the rightness and righteousness to King’s call for a “symphony of brotherhood,” was a shout out to my podunk town. “Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California. But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!” Woo!

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There was a reason MLK mentioned my town. Stone Mountain is the birthplace of the modern Ku Klux Klan. A methodist preacher named William J. Simmons saw the film The Birth of a Nation in 1915, an insanely racist epic that glorifies the Reconstruction-era Klan, and thought, “That looks like a good idea.” He assembled a group of like-minded white men, including a local quarry operator named Samual Venable, whose son, James Venable, would become the Imperial Wizard of the national KKK in the 1960s. Simmons, Venable, and 13 others, including 2 elderly members of the original Klan, climbed the mountain and lit a 16-foot cross and a new Klan (and a new Klan tradition) was born.

As a kid in Stone Mountain, it was well known that the Klan was still a presence. A good friend of mine in sixth grade’s father was in the Klan and would “delight” us with tales of nightriders who would keep the town white. There was no counter narrative about the horrors of lynchings, rapings, and sheer terror inflicted on black Americans under the Klan’s warped reign. Every Labor Day, the Klan marched through our little town before their annual rally on the Venables’ property. There was no Antifa to oppose them. The fall of 1980, my senior year in high school, as our student body experienced an increase in African-American kids, Klan flyers popped up on lockers. There was no response from the white administrators. The following fall a 23-year-old black army private named Lynn Jackson was found hanging from a tree in nearby Social Circle, Georgia. There were no marches. Everyone knew that we lived in Klan territory.

I carry great shame that as a young person I never spoke out against this insanity. The truth is I was told the Klan had my back against the “invasion” (that word should sound familiar) of black residents moving out from Atlanta, looking for a better life in the burbs. We were told they were bringing crime and lower property values. My northern-born parents would never use the N word, but I heard “jigaboo” more than once. I was conflicted but acquiescing to the Klan-view of the world was easier. I now wonder how hard it was for the black kids in my class to operate in the face of this normalized white supremacy. When one white kid did something positive, another would say, “Mighty white of you!” If you tried to reach out to a black student for friendship, you were called a “nigger-lover” (so you didn’t). I had a great black friend in my guitar class named Cheryl who turned me on to dub reggae and the very first rap records. I want to find her and beg her forgiveness for not being a clear voice against the daily micro aggressions she must have endured as a black kid in white Stone Mountain.

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Stone Mountain has changed dramatically. White flight accelerated in the 1980s and when I go back now it feels like aliens just rounded up all the Caucasians. They fled farther into the hills and complain about “what happened” to “their” town. (The truth is my old neighborhood is now a nice middle-class black neighborhood. Cars on blocks have been replaced by Mercedes and landscaped lawns.) My nearly all-white high school is nearly now all-black. My brother and I recently visited our elementary school to take some pictures and the black principle came out to confront us, probably worried that we were Aryan soldiers planting a bomb.

“Get over it!”

But Stone Mountain still has a race problem. It’s the mountain itself. Or at least the carving on it. When the Trump-hat wearing alt right was rallying in Charlottesville, Virginia last year, chanting, “You will not replace us! Jews will not replace us!” they were defending a statue of Robert E. Lee. We were moving forward in our national history and putting these vestiges of our dark past in museums where they belonged. I remember thinking, “Um, we’ve got a Confederate memorial the size of a mountain to deal with. What do we do about that?”

It doesn’t make much sense to blast Lee, Davis, and Jackson’s faces off the giant hunk of granite that is our mountain. There’s some hysteria coming from white folks who think that’s even possible. These are the same white folks who, in 2008, worried that a newly elected President Obama would ban the N word and force white people to pick cotton. But those three faces loom over an increasingly black part of the country, watching over black families who picnic where the Klan burned crosses.

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Many southern whites say, “Get over it. It’s history! Stop looking to be offended!” I’m guessing that German Christians don’t say that to German Jews. These southern whites must be willfully ignorant of the centuries of rape, torture, mutilation, murder, family separation, and endless bondage that was a historical fact of the regime Lee, Davis, and Jackson fought to preserve. “The Civil War wasn’t about slavery!” these whites claim. This is the biggest lie of all. The leaders of the Confederacy made it quite clear that they were quitting the United States of America over the issue of slavery. Georgia’s proclamation of secession, signed January 29, 1861, referenced slavery 35 times. Confederate president Jefferson Davis routinely cited Lincoln’s attempt to abolish slavery as the reason for the war (as did Lincoln himself). It’s an Orwellian rewrite by whites wishing to diminish the savage and divisive nature of slavery to try to claim the war was about “state’s rights” (to preserve slavery) or the “southern way of life” (built on slavery). This what you get when people think Gone With the Wind was a documentary.

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But I go back to the trauma. The experience of that black family having their picnic under the gaze of the Confederate “heroes” who defended lifetimes of torture for their ancestors. As Dr. Joy DeGruy writes about in her brilliant book, Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome: America’s Legacy of Enduring Injury and Healing, it is unrealistic to expect African-Americans to just “get over” the traumatizing effects of generational slavery when the reminders of that campaign of dehumanization are all around, from Confederate flags, to increasing hate crimes, to police brutality, to the simple micro-aggression by whites who deny that racism is still a problem. Black lives don’t matter. The fact that we are even having this conversation is proof.

I had a white student once tell me, “Racism ended in the 1960s. Black people are just complaining now.” I responded, “What day? There must have been a day that racism ended, so what day? I mean we should make that day a holiday! The day racism ended in America and black people just started complaining. What day was that so I can mark it on the calendar?” He didn’t say anything after that. If these white people (and they aren’t just in the South), bothered to ask an actual black person about the persistence of racism, their fragile picture of a “post-racial” America would crash.

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So what to do about Stone Mountain? Nobody’s going to blast off any faces. Half of the guys up on Mt. Rushmore owned slaves (Washington and Jefferson). Do they get blasted, too? These whites who worry that any of this is “erasing” history obviously don’t know what the fuck a book is. There are thousands of books on the Confederacy. But don’t worry, those three ghosts will be on that mountain long after we’re all gone.

My solution has always been to add to the carving. Leave Lee, Davis, and Jackson up there, but add Martin Luther King, Jr. to the mountain. He’s from Georgia and it was his “I Have a Dream” speech that put my little town on the map in a way the KKK only dreamed about. Maybe a larger MLK wagging is finger at LD&J or just looking down on them with pity. Racist rednecks can have their carving and African-American families can be reminded that progress happens. This country is not stuck in the past.

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I’ve been hanging out on a Facebook page called I Remember Stone Mountain When… It’s populated by those of us who grew up there and it’s mainly reminiscing about cruising the K-Mart parking lot or eating fried catfish at Rio Vista Restaurant. But bring up the issue of race and suddenly we’re back on James Veneble’s property with crosses burning. I’ve been called a “stupid liberal” more times than I care to count, just for asking people to acknowledge the truth about the carving and the pain it causes.

Amid all the yeehawing about “preserving our heritage” and my failed attempt to raise the issue of white privilege came the most sane rational post from a guy named Tom Malone;

May I invite you, gentlemen, to join me in an idea I’ve been developing over the past few years? To enhance Stone Mountain Park by making one of its missions to serve as a center for racial reconciliation. How? Not by removing anything, but rather by adding statues, historical markers, and a museum, etc. honoring and remembering the contributions, sacrifice, and suffering of the slaves who were also an integral part of the Confederacy. This way, the WHOLE story would be getting told, and we could all go there for honoring, reflecting, and reconciling.

Bam. There it is. Problem solved. The carving stays as a recognition of the horrific sins of the past and our dedication to right those wrongs. We desperately need a real national conversation on race and Stone Mountain, Georgia could be where this could happen. It’s not beyond the pale that Johnny Reb embraces the depth of his implicit bias in the shadow of Jefferson Davis. And it’s entirely possible that little black boys and little black girls may be able to transcend the trauma of racism from a mountaintop in Dekalb County where the KKK burned its first cross. That would be the realization of Dr. King’s dream. There have been incredible racial reconciliation projects in South Africa, Rawanda, and the former Yugoslavia that have brought real healing. We need this in America and we could start it in Stone Mountain.

It’s so funny when I hear white people blather about “heritage.” If you are a European-American, your heritage includes everything from Neanderthals to the Renaissance. The fact that you fixate on the disgusting eras of slavery and Jim Crow says an awful lot about your values. You know what is a part of your “southern heritage”? The civil rights movement! Where Americans put their bodies on the line to fight for justice and equality. Preserve that history. Be proud of that history.

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In 1997, Stone Mountain elected its first black mayor. Mayor Chuck Burris ended up moving into the house once owned by KKK wizard James Venable. To bring the point home, Burris put a freedom bell in the town square to celebrate the progress of MLK’s dream. That’s the Stone Mountain I love. I don’t have to wax nostalgically about fried catfish in the good old days. Stone Mountain’s good old days are straight ahead and I’m proud of where it could go. I have a dream, too.

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Columbus Day: Celebrating child rapists

October 7, 2018

Who discovered America? The correct answer is NOBODY! It’s estimated that there were 10 million people living in North America in 1492. They knew they existed. When Columbus first arrived in the Bahamas, the local Arawak didn’t the think, “Holy crap, we’ve been discovered! Now we really can start living!” More likely they thought it was the apocalypse and for them it was. The indigenous population of the Americas was virtually erased in the next 300 years.

I still find it shocking that we celebrate Columbus Day knowing what we know. But then again, in this country with President Pussy Grabber and Supreme Court Justice Kavanbro, perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised we exalt the father of rape culture. My hope is that the year-old #Metoo movement will take on this genocidal maniac that made Harvey Weinstein look like Al Franken. (I’ll admit that is a weird joke, but you get the idea.)

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Over two million people have read Howard Zinn’s earth-shattering book, A People’s History of the United States of America (first published in 1980). I’m guessing it’s a lot more than two million. That book gets passed around like a rap mix tape. I was first handed a copy in my freshman dorm by a sophomore who just said, “Start reading.” The first chapter, “Columbus, the Indians, and Human Progress,” forever ended my Eurocentric mythologizing of the little Italian that could. The brutality of the invaders to the Americas made me wretch. Local people who would not engage in the white man’s obsessive search for gold had their ears, noses, and hands hacked off or were ripped to shreds by the explorers attack dogs. And it just gets worst from there.

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Columbus was the world’s first slave master. On his first voyage, he recognized the bountiful supply of free labor among the unarmed Arawaks, needed to replenish the slave supply on the Canary Islands, writing, “We could subjugate them all.” He sent 500 captives back to Spain and another 600 enslaved were to serve the Spanish men remaining island. Those that fought back or escaped to what is now Cuba were slaughtered or chased and the inhabitants of the next island experienced the same fate. Those that weren’t murdered by the European invaders, were killed by the diseases they brought, or committed suicide rather than live under the brutal subjugation of the white Christians. By the time of his fourth voyage to the region in 1502, there were barely any indigenous people left.

The savagery of Columbus includes documented widespread rape of local women and girls. Columbus routinely “gifted” women to his men, whose rapes produced the first mestizos of the Americas. One such rape was recorded by Michele de Cuneo on Columbus’s second expedition. 

While I was in the boat, I captured a very beautiful woman, whom the Lord Admiral (Columbus) gave to me. When I had taken her to my cabin she was naked — as was their custom. I was filled with a desire to take my pleasure with her and attempted to satisfy my desire. She was unwilling, and so treated me with her nails that I wished I had never begun. I then took a piece of rope and whipped her soundly, and she let forth such incredible screams that you would not have believed your ears. Eventually we came to such terms, I assure you, that you would have thought she had been brought up in a school for whores.

Because of the growing problem of sexually transmitted disease, Columbus and his men began the sex trafficking of younger and younger girls. This great American hero wrote to a friend in 1500, “A hundred castellanoes (a Spanish coin) are as easily obtained for a woman as for a farm, and it is very general and there are plenty of dealers who go about looking for girls; those from nine to ten are now in demand.” This pimp is upheld to school children as our first great hero.

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This fall I’m having my students read Lies My Teacher Told Me (1995) by James W. Loewen. His chapter on Columbus asks a provocative question – If Columbus is the true discoverer of America (and Loewen details all the travelers who arrived before Columbus, including Africans and Vikings), then why don’t Latin American countries celebrate Columbus Day? The answer is these countries don’t identify with the European conqueror but the indigenous conquered. They include the millions of mestizos who are the result of the raping and pillaging of the Columbus and the subsequent waves of European invaders. In the United States, we identify with the conquering rapists.

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I’m waiting for President Pussy Grabber to tell us what a “very fine man” Christopher Columbus was and promising to make it safe to say “Happy Columbus Day” again. In the meantime, the truth is out about Columbus. As our nation becomes more brown, the white-washing of history is falling apart. Already five states, Alaska, South Dakota, Vermont, Hawaii and my own Oregon, have ended the celebration and many cities have renamed the occasion Indigenous Peoples Day. Columbus Day has only been on the books since 1937, so we should be able to rid ourselves of this shameful observance long before it hits 100.

Now if we could just do the same with the rape culture that defends it.

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