Thank You, President Donald Trump

The title of this blog are words I thought I would never say. If you know anything about me and my political and social views, you know that I think the man is an abomination.

Trump’s racist views, his total lack of respect for other people (even his own family), and so many other hurtful and uncivilized actions have caused many Americans to avoid calling him “my President.” And yet …

… his very actions, as well as ones not mentioned that you might be thinking about right now, and his lack of action in other areas have created conversations in our country that have never occurred to the extent we have them today. Sure, in the past we had some of these conversations, which included racism, but it is different today.

How are the conversations different now? I can speak only for myself in this regard, not others, but the difference in my own life is the basis for this blog.

In the past my view of a racist was one of two stereotypes. The first was that of an older white person, traditionally from the southern part of the United States. This person claimed to be a Christian, yet openly exhibited rabid hatred for anyone with dark skin, or at the very least saw themselves superior to those people. Half a century ago that would have meant black people, African Americans. In more recent years, however, it has included Mexcians (though anyone Latin American would do); and, after the 9/11 attacks, Muslims.

The second stereotype about racism entered my life when, as a single, gay, white male, I purchased a home in a black neighborhood adjacent to Atlanta, Georgia. Here I experienced what the uneducated refer to as “reverse prejudice.” Because I was white, I was vilified by the majority of my neighbors (with the exception of those on either side of my home) as being the beginning of a wave of whites that would gentrify the neighborhood.

Allow me to digress for a moment to explain my views on “reverse prejudice.” My view is this:  There is no such thing.

Reverse prejudice is still prejudice. The same is true for racism; it is not just for white folks. Reverse prejudice is a term that provides whites a convenient way to complain they have been discriminated against for the color of their skin. Quelle horreur!

It has the implication that the white American now fully understands the plight of the black American because they did not get what they wanted or was denied something they feel they had the right to have or do. It is an “oh poor me,” pity pot phrase that I have eradicated from my speech. I believe it is a slap in the face to black people and what they have had to endure in this country.

While in the past these two stereotypes of a racist sufficed for me, I now know there is a third. The third stereotype is neither fictitious nor generalized. It is a racist that lives, breathes, and exists in the divided society in which we find ourselves.

That racist is me.

A few years back I wrote a piece entitled, “I’m a Racist.” I published it on a ministers’ listserv and it was not received well by some whites in that group. In it I described why I felt compelled to say that, but the prevailing attitude was one of outrage that I would describe myself as something to be abhorred. I was chastised for admitting some of my world views had been colored (no pun intended) by my upbringing and society in general. I was publicly expressing my shame (even though the majority of it was from internal thinking) and my understanding that I needed to change.

I am not proud of the unconscious bias I have in my thinking which includes prejudice and racism. To combat that I have studied writings about those issues. I have taken diversity trainings and learned how to be more inclusive. I have completed courses in unconscious bias and endeavored to question my beliefs about people different than me, no matter how long-standing or sacrosanct.

After doing all that I am still left with questions. I have achieving over twenty-five years as a spiritual leader and minister. I have earned a master’s degree in social work and a doctorate in holistic theology, both which one might think would give me all the tools necessary to accomplish my goal of eradicating prejudice, racism, and harmful bias from my life.

Yet, I feel as though I have not even scratched the surface. I am aware of the societal problems we face in these areas. I am aware of where I need work in my own life. But I feel stuck and impotent at times in my interactions with non-whites.

If I compliment a young woman on the beauty of her hijab, am I being overly appreciative just to attempt to show her I am not a Muslim-hater? If I call it a hijab will I be seen as some non Arabic-speaking guy who wants to use an Arabic word to appear inclusive? Or, if I call it a headscarf will I be corrected?

Conversely, if I mention a man’s yarmulke (the Yiddish word for the cap observant Jews wear) will he angrily correct me saying it is his kippah (the Hebrew word for the same cap)? And, yes, this happened to me.

I see such beauty in others as I travel around the country and the world. Two of the most beautiful women I know, Kecia and Melissa, are women of color. Both of them have the skin color of milk chocolate porcelain. Kecia has an ethnic background which includes African American, Chinese, American Indian, and others. Melissa comes from the Irish on her father’s side and Bahamian from her mother’s family.

I meet families of Arab descent exhibiting the same joys and struggles of the white family from Milwaukee. One such family of seven spoke almost no English, and had two older women and a teenage boy with Down’s Syndrome in wheelchairs. They arrived late in JFK attempting to make a connection to Doha in another terminal. Google Translate was my friend. What was not so friendly was the Jamaican and Ethiopian workers who pushed the wheelchairs and the Puerto Rican customer service agent who all refused to assist the family to another terminal.

In the end I used what my family refers to as my “flight attendant voice” and got the family the help they needed. That voice is not the tone people normally hear from me, but it does seem to exact compliance. I highly recommend not to be at the receiving end of that communication. My family can vouch for that as well.

But I felt sad. Tears are in my eyes now as I remember the cruelty I saw directed by other employees toward this struggling family. I think of Kecia and Melissa and can only attempt to imagine some of the struggles they must have had simply because their skin is not white.

It took my graduate studies at Temple University to get me to admit I was privileged. Growing up in the 1950s and 1960s at poverty level in a trailer park did not equate in my mind as anywhere near privileged. What I discovered and ultimately admitted, with no small amount of reluctance on my part I might add, is that I am indeed privileged. I have white privilege through no conscious choice of my own. I am male, I am tall, I am not the most gorgeous guy in the world, but I am not grotesque either, and I have worked myself from the poverty level to acceptably middle class.

Doors swing open to me that do not open to many other people, in particular, people of color and women in general. It is not because I am better than anyone else, but because of my skin color (white people get the benefit of the doubt in America), my height (tall people are more easily trusted), my looks (people in our society are more likely to trust someone with reasonably good looks), my gender, and my bank account (success in our society is also linked to our possessions and monetary prosperity).

These are my insights, and difficult as it is for me to say, I sincerely doubt I would have had these stark and upsetting realizations about my world and myself without the current administration and corresponding hatred Americans have expressed or experienced in the past few years. Perhaps I am seeking to find the good in a seemingly impossible situation., but there you have it.

Whatever the case, all this inner reflection, training, and self-scrutiny has resulted in me feeling like I am walking on eggshells. I fear I am not giving those most affected by this atmosphere the respect, the love, the understanding, or compassion they deserve. I do not want to assume because someone is black that they have had a harder life than me, though all too often I have found that to be true. And, this same conversation goes beyond racism.

I do not want to be condescending to those who are not fluent in English – though they might speak three, four, five, or more other languages – and think they need my help more than someone else.

I do not want to dishonor someone who is sight or hearing impaired, uses a wheelchair, or is differently abled than me by assuming they need to be treated any differently than the person who sees, hears, and moves about without those characteristics.

I want to embrace the diversity around me. I want to honor all people. I want to learn from other cultures and societies how their ways of doing things can change my life and my way of thinking, for the better; and, how that change can enhance my ability to help others do the same.

And, I want your help.

This blog is not a complete idea. It does not have an introduction, body, and conclusion. It does not pose a problem, then suggest a final solution, and finally, wrap it all up in shiny paper with a red bow. No. It is quite unwrapped and abundantly messy.

It is my hope that this blog begins yet another needed conversation. It is my intention to have you respond below, to perhaps disagree with me and tell me why, or to share your own struggles in dealing with so many and sometimes conflicting world views. And, somewhat selfishly on part, to teach me to be a better person, a better man, a better husband, a better friend, a better teacher and educator, a better human.

I know I am not everyone’s cup o’ tea. I get that. I am not trying, nor will I try, to be everything to everyone. I am perfectly comfortable being the thorn in someone’s side or even being despised as I was on the ministers’ listserv by a small number of people who apparently felt personally threatened by my disclosures. I believe ministers are supposed to be as adept at comforting the afflicted as they are in afflicting the comfortable in an effort to assist us all to be better people.

What I do want to do is serve. I want to support. I want to open the dialogs we need to have that will change our thinking from anger, fear, confusion, and hopelessness to communication, cooperation, understanding, and acceptance with love, even if we do not agree.

We need to stop hurting. We need to stop worrying that it is too late to save our species from extinction due to global warming. We need to be more loving without appearing condescending or patronizing.

Please comment in the section below if you are so moved. Let us open up a discussion, a conversation, a healing for our souls as we let those different than us know how we want to be treated, and what we want others to understand. Let us heal. Let us love. Let us understand on a deeper level how we are all one and that, in spite of, or because of, our differences, we are together in this thing called life.

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