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Saturday, May 30, 2020

Aghast: the brazen murder of George Floyd

I have no doubt what my late daughter Danielle would have said about this latest travesty.

I am not normally at a loss for words (just ask my wife), but this is one of those times. I will try to have something honest and constructive to say ASAP. It's all a bit overwhelming (says the comfy "woke" retired white guy).

I want to share parts of the conversations I've had with friends over the past couple days about the footage of George Floyd dying face down on the street under the knee of a police officer in Minnesota.

The first is an email from a middle-aged African American businessman.

"Dude I gotta tell you the George Floyd incident in Minnesota hurt. I cried when I saw that video. It broke me down. The 'knee on the neck' is a metaphor for how the system so cavalierly holds black folks down, ignoring the cries for help. People don't care. Truly tragic."

Another friend of mine used the powerful song that went viral from 12-year-old Keedron Bryant to describe the frustrations he was feeling.

The circumstances of my friend and Keedron may be different, but their anguish is the same. It's shared by me and millions of others.

It's natural to wish for life "to just get back to normal" as a pandemic and economic crisis upend everything around us. But we have to remember that for millions of Americans, being treated differently on account of race is tragically, painfully, maddeningly "normal" — whether it's while dealing with the health care system, or interacting with the criminal justice system, or jogging down the street, or just watching birds in a park.

This shouldn't be "normal" in 2020 America. It can't be "normal." If we want our children to grow up in a nation that lives up to its highest ideals, we can and must be better.

It will fall mainly on the officials of Minnesota to ensure that the circumstances surrounding George Floyd's death are investigated thoroughly and that justice is ultimately done. But it falls on all of us, regardless of our race or station — including the majority of men and women in law enforcement who take pride in doing their tough job the right way, every day — to work together to create a "new normal" in which the legacy of bigotry and unequal treatment no longer infects our institutions or our hearts.

When you go to create a post, Facebook asks, "What’s on your mind?"

What is on my mind is the deaths of Breonna Taylor, Ahmad Aubery and George Floyd. While Minneapolis burns, most of the rest of the country remains sheltered; sheltered by COVID-19 because it's a great excuse to do nothing; sheltered by Whiteness because it's not your problem; sheltered by apathy because its just another news story.

I am not sheltered. I am afraid. Breonna Taylor was an EMT working to help and save people afflicted by the corona virus and was murdered in her home-a home that wasn't even the house the police were looking for. I have always been afraid of some of my neighbors with their huge American Flags and pickup trucks with gun racks but now I don't even like to take a walk around my neighborhood. 

This virus has only revealed how deeply rooted racism is within this country and how little Black lives truly matter.  Banners mean so little when people allow their Governments and Law Enforcement officers to impoverish and kill Black lives. We live under this constant fear and constant pain that so many pretend to sympathize with and yet do so little to change.

How can we look at our Black and Brown ministers, our Black and Brown co-workers, our Black and Brown teachers, nurses and nurses aids, companions and caregivers, our Black and Brown friends; and think reading a book will make the difference? How can we think that simply saying, "it's horrible" will really change our lives? How can we be paid less, treated with paternalism or condescension, allowed to clean your homes or keep up your property and expect us to be grateful for your "friendship."

Where are you when the brothers and sisters of my bones are being murdered? Where are you in my fear? No friends. I am not angry. I am just soul shattered.
Kristen was one of my late daughter Danielle's closest friends, and a fellow UU Minister. She posted this on Facebook. I asked her permission to post it here.

Kristen officiated at my grandson's wedding after his Momma died.

Keebo and KJ are soon to grace us with a baby boy great-grandson.


Our Great-Grandson Kai, born 7 weeks preemie, now a month old. Baby and Momma doing fine.

I can’t imagine having brown skin. I can’t imagine being treated as less than whole because I have brown skin. I can’t imagine being the momma of a little brown-skinned boy that grows up to be a brown-skinned young man that I have to be scared to death, every day, about what might happen to him when he goes out into this bigoted, racist America, to just live his God-given life.

I’m so sad, and so sorry.
Me too.

"Coons, 'Boons, Baboons, Jigs, Jigaboos, Jungle Bunnies, Spear-Chuckers, Porch Monkeys, Spooks..."
And, of course, the now-radioactive "N-word."

I was born a first-wave Baby Boomer WASP kid (Irish/English/German) to middle class parents in western Long Island NY in 1946, not far from the Queens borough, and then grew up in northern NJ where my Dad worked for Bell Labs in semiconductor R&D. I would hear those racial epithets all across my childhood years, carelessly spewed by relatives, friends' parents, and random proximate adults generally. Those kinds of slurs inevitably got assimilated into our own budding vernaculars.

My own parents' bigotry was relatively subdued and passive (polite suburban "plausible deniability"). e.g., in Hillsborough, during my 7th grade through high school years, according to my Ma, our black mailman, Herbie, was "one of those nice negroes" (as opposed to those Uppity "N" troublemakers in Newark, etc).

Prejudice was by no means restricted to African-Americans. Italians were "Ginnies" or "Wops," Puerto Ricans (eventually extending to all Hispanics) were "Spics," Asians were "Chinks," and Jews (irrespective of ethnicity) were "Kikes." Gays? Need I elaborate?

Eventually, I would hear Native Americans referred to as "Timber Niggers."
These days we can add "Ragheads," "Camel Jockeys," and "Sand Niggers."
Fall 1960: I began high school (Somerville NJ) and went out for the freshman football team (on which I would absurdly become the starting Center, given that no one else wanted the position). We picked classmate Bill Dorsey (then 17 yrs old, and black) to be our starting QB. It was scandalous; QB was a white kid's position. Blacks could be linemen or fullbacks, period.
Times have indeed changed, but, the NBA Boston Celtics joke is not all that old: "How many blacks can be on the court at the same time? Two at home, three on the road, five when you're behind." And, black NHL hockey players still get bananas thrown at them on the rink.
After we ran roughshod over our entire schedule and went handily undefeated, most of the bigoted football fanatic parents pretty much just grudgingly STFU. "State Champs in 4 years? OK." (It would not happen.) Us kids were just having fun, without a shred of racial hostility. (I am often reminded of the hilarious movie "Varsity Blues.")

By the time I was a senior (and still starting Center [#50 above] for the now-21 yr old Bill Dorsey [#16 above] ), the U.S. was increasingly deep into the heated struggle for black civil rights. Me, my football Jones was fast waning. I was only 5'10" and 165 lbs and was tired of getting the crap knocked out of me week after week by dudes outweighing me by 40-60 lbs or more (we went 6-3 that year, and nowhere close to a state title). I just wanted to be a guitar player.

Playing black R&B music, in particular. Which some viewed as "cultural appropriation" (and not without some merit). We'd sneak into blues and jazz clubs in Newark and Manhattan on fake IDs, usually the only white faces in the crowds. We may have been playing the likes of Chuck Berry, but we were diggin' on the likes of Jack MacDuff, Maynard, Sonny Stitt, and the Oscar Peterson Trio.

My parents were not amused, to put it mildly. Neither were my coaches ("hanging with the wrong crowd"). I'd been accepted to Kent State, with a partial football scholarship. Right.

Nonetheless, straight out of high school, I headed out on the road in a bar band, commencing a mostly hardscrabble "living" of 21 years, guitar in hand.

By 1967 I'd wound my way to California. In 1968, I joined a local San Francisco start-up band: Italian-American drummer Fred Abruzzo, Mexican-American bass player and standup comic Jose Simon, black lead singer Rick Stevens, and me, the "Irishman." We called our band "Four of a Kind,"--or, jokingly, "the Spic, the Spook, the Wop, and the Mick."

Only Fred and I survive. We remain steadfast friends. He quips, "well, Bobby, we're down to Two of a Kind now."

I moved on to Seattle. On July 27th, 1970 my second daughter was born. And, racially speaking, as they say, Shit Got Real.

Danielle, ~ age 3

April 27th, 2018: Holding my daughter's hand the day she died.

Were my Danielle still alive, there's no doubt she'd be all up in my grill over the George Floyd murder and its aggregate upshot.

While we frequently lamented and laughed SMH about racial bigotry, Danielle and I would sometimes heatedly disagree over what I often viewed as her over-the-top paranoia about Keenan (my grandson) during her repetitive admonitions while iteratively having "The Talk" with him from early on.

She was right; I was wrong. It does not suffice for Cheryl and I to be "post-racial non-bigoted white progressives." Her concerns were real, they were warranted, as we yet again unhappily see. We discussed it again shortly before she died. I apologized. Benign intentions are not enough. And, while I had no say in being born white, I have a subsequent say when it comes to actively promoting justice. I vow to Keenan and KJ (and our soon-to-arrive great-grandson and our extended multiracial tribe) to henceforth do better.




Washington DC, blocks from the fenced-off White House, on the newly-named "Black Lives Matter Plaza."


More to come...

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