Open Salon Posts 2013

FEBRUARY 21, 2013 4:39PM

My dear Republicans of Color, Part 2

After listening to Marco Rubio’s response to the President’s State of the Union address, it became clear to me that Mr. Rubio, and probably his colleagues of color as well, may need some assistance in rebranding the Republican Party as a party for people of color. As many critics have noted, Mr. Rubio offered nothing different from what we heard from the GOP during the last election cycle – indeed, nothing different from what we’ve heard from the Party for the last thirty or so years. Since the election showed, however, that the message did not resonate with voters of color, regurgitating the same ideas – though in brown face! – is hardly a winning strategy.


As I indicated in my previous blog entry, I would honestly like to see Mr. Rubio and his colleagues come up with a winning strategy, even though I am not Republican and probably never will be. In my view, the health of our democracy cannot possibly be sustained if the Republican Party remains intent on becoming a twenty-first century White Citizens Council (of course, our ability to maintain a healthy democracy will also depend on our moving beyond the two-party system, an idea Republicans of color may have to reflect upon in their quest to transform the GOP). Thus, it is my hope that Mr. Rubio and others will succeed.


Having said that, permit me to offer this admittedly unsolicited but well-meaning advice:


Practice rethinking the Party’s policies from the premise that race matters– and not in that window-dressing kind of way (as in, “oh, let’s get Marco Rubio to respond to the President’s address”). I mean substantively, as in “let’s make sure that no one is denied the right to vote; thus, let us strengthen the Voting Rights Act.” Like that. Once you ground your analysis on the premise that race matters – indeed, that it has never ceased to matter – then the kind of policy ideas that your Party must embrace in order to attract people of color will become obvious.


Just to start things off (and I hope this encourages others to offer suggestions), why not take a “race matters” approach to negotiations on the budget – an approach that would necessarily have to target the absence of a level playing field in such areas as, for example, education, jobs, and business development? Your party might consider crafting a balanced budget proposal that ties some decreases in government spending to the attainment of clear benchmarks that you’ll set for the equal distribution of educational resources, the equalization of pay for women, the increase and expansion of businesses/start-ups by people of color – for a range of issues that hone in on the persistence of racism in the public and private spheres.


Setting such budget priorities would signal to people of color that your party is willing to face squarely a truth that can no longer be ignored: the persistent skewing of competition in the marketplace by racist practices (e.g., the deliberate reification of a separate and unequal education system, job discrimination, etc.) has bred a kind of dependency that has come at great cost to our economy – not to mention our social peace. To be more precise, white dependence on an unequal playing field in a variety of areas has distorted our economy and has often produced disastrous results.


Take the mortgage crisis as a case in point. As you now know, prior to the crisis banks engaged in the racist practice of giving prime mortgage loans to whites while steering African American and Hispanic borrowers into subprime mortgage loans – even though African American and Hispanic borrowers had similar credit profiles and were themselves qualified to receive the prime loans. Given this practice, I think an argument can be made that the very extension of prime loans to whites depended to a great extent on the extension of subprime loans to African American and Hispanic borrowers. The practice created enormous wealth for certain white communities, while in the end it decimated the wealth of many people of color. And as we can see, those who obtained prime loans have been less likely to face default or foreclosure than those who did not obtain such loans. Those who received prime loans are also better positioned to hold onto their wealth – wealth that they can build on and consequently use to strengthen their families and communities.


Had race not mattered, had there been a level playing field in mortgage loan lending, our economy might not be in the kind of shape that it is now in.


A race-matters budget would allow you to begin the process of eliminating the economic irrationality of racism and to help create the conditions by which the economy could expand, thus decreasing government spending. People of color, I guarantee, would take note.


So, start off your rethinking of the Republican Party from the premise that race matters, and then see what kind of substantive policy changes you can come up with (I think trade and immigration, for example, are absolutely ripe for such an analysis)!


Of course, you do realize that in order to effectively adopt “race matters” policies, you are going to have to craft legislation that undoes the colorblindness doctrine by which the U.S. Supreme Court – or, more specifically, your Party’s nominees to the bench – has blocked attempts by state and local governments to rectify the discriminatory impact of past and present racist practices. Because the Court’s colorblindness doctrine “in effect means that the government presumptively violates the Constitution whenever its actions convey the message that race still matters in our society,” as law professor William M. Carter, Jr. notes, you’re going to have to call out this doctrine as racismblindness. By so doing, you’ll go a long way in freeing your Party (and this country) from its southern-strategy-Dixiecrat-welcoming legacy.


You’ll also make your Party way more interesting to people of color.


MARCH 31, 2013 9:58PM

The execution of Jesus

If we were to be true to the spirit of both Good Friday and Easter Sunday, we would use these days to commit ourselves to the abolition of capital punishment.


His resurrection aside, Jesus was a man who was tried, convicted, and ultimately executed by the state for crimes that his accusers could neither name nor prove.

As the story goes, Jesus’ accusers – the high priests and elders of his community – “conspired to seize Jesus by trickery and kill him,” for not only did they envy his power and popularity with the masses; they also feared his liberating message that each and every one of us is mighty in our own right. “I swear to you,” Jesus once said to his disciples, that “even if you have trust no larger than a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. And nothing will be beyond you.”

Once they seized Jesus, the high priests and elders searched the community far and wide for anyone who would be willing to provide “false testimony” against him “so that they might issue a death sentence.” When no one came forward, Jesus’ accusers were forced to change tactics: they would interrogate him instead, with the hope that he would either confess or, at the very least, make a damning statement with which they could secure his execution. But when that tactic proved as well to be an utter failure, the high priests and elders abandoned all pretense of justice and accused Jesus anyway of the crime of “blasphemy,” then “bound him and led him away and turned him over to Pilate,” the fifth governor of Judea.

Though they were clearly unable to provide to Pilate any solid and reliable evidence against Jesus (when Pilate asked the priests what Jesus had done wrong, their only response was “Have him crucified!”), Pilate – more concerned with the growing mob than with justice – ordered Jesus’ execution anyway.

And so “the governor’s soldiers” took Jesus away; bloodied his head with a crown of thorns; led him out to the Place of the Skull; hammered nails through his feet and hands to a wooden cross; and, finally, hung him upright so that he would slowly and painfully bleed to death. In one version of this torture and execution, a soldier is said to have “pierced” the “side” of Jesus with a sword and cut out his liver.

Sadly, the story of Jesus’ resurrection too often serves to obfuscate this terrible injustice. No harm no foul, in other words, since Jesus “rose again.” His mother’s anguish, the grief suffered by his followers, the senseless killing of human beings (Jesus wasn’t the only man executed that day), can be glossed over because – alas! – he lives.

In fact, for many people Jesus’ execution was a glorious thing since without it Jesus’ role as savior to mankind would not have been fulfilled otherwise. If he had not been executed by the state – though innocent of any crime – he would not have been able to demonstrate his true power and glory (why his ability to heal the sick, to make the blind see and the “lame” to walk were not enough in and of themselves to signify his magnificence is beyond me).

What a terrible legacy the mystification of his horrific execution has left to us, for there was nothing glorious about the violence visited upon Jesus, and there is nothing glorious or right or just about capital punishment – whether visited upon the innocent or those guilty of capital crimes.

And this much is true: those in our country who have been wrongly convicted, condemned to death, and then executed by the state through lethal injection and other barbaric means – often under a legal process that seems not to be that much far removed from the “process” under which Jesus was condemned – have not resurrected (Carlos DeLuna, for example, an innocent man convicted and executed by the state of Texas, did not – as far as I know – arise). They are dead, and the torture and murder that they suffered was not some glorious affair by which we are redeemed.

They were not children of a lesser god.

As this Easter Sunday comes to a close, it is my hope and prayer that this holiday will someday be a day not only to speak out against capital punishment; but also ultimately to celebrate – and perhaps, in Jesus’ honor – the abolition of capital punishment.

Editor’s Pick

MAY 16, 2013 7:33PM

A Hunger for Justice: Guantanamo Day 100


Today I refused to eat.

On this 100th day of the detainee hunger strike at Guantanamo Bay prison, not eating was the least that I could do to acknowledge and claim as my own the detainees’ unimaginable suffering.

To be real, it was also the least that I could do to end my own complicity with the legal, political and moral travesty of indefinite detention – a travesty that our government has been carrying out in our name and generally with our permission.

By my complicity, I mean that I’ve watched the Guantanamo fiasco primarily from the sidelines, and with the passive hope that “we” would eventually do the right thing. Sure, I’ve signed a petition or two over the last decade, voted for politicians who’ve asserted their commitment to closing Guantanamo for good, and have listened and nodded to correct and righteously outraged political analyses.

And then I’ve gone about my business, until awakened for a moment or two by the occasional news update.

But this business of force-feeding men; this desire to keep them from dying in order to continue the project of killing their spirits; this bold assertion that these men have no rights, dignity, or humanity that we as a nation are bound to respect – all of this exposes my return to the ordinary (and perhaps yours) as both a terrible crime and a spiritual failing.

“We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.” This is no less an imperative today than it was when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke these words to declare his opposition to the Vietnam War. Of course, the prisoners are courageously speaking for themselves, so I would add that we are also called upon to speak with them, in one powerful voice.

Thus, from this moment on, I pledge to make at least one day out of the week a day of hunger, a day to put my body on the line and suffer with my brothers who clearly would rather die than continue the living hell of Guantanamo Bay imprisonment. Not much focuses the mind (and one’s intentions) more than an empty stomach.

And for that day or those days of hunger, I pledge also to act. I will at least do one or all of the following:

  1. Write letters to or call my representatives.
  2. Attend events/meetings addressing Guantanamo Bay prison.
  3. Share information about the prison with friends, family, acquaintances and strangers.
  4. Where and when appropriate, engage in acts of nonviolent civil disobedience.
  5. Volunteer at organizations that for years have been seeking justice for detainees.
  6. Write and agitate and agitate and agitate….

I also pledge to meditate and “walk and talk in the manner of love” – and not just for the days of hunger, but also for the days that follow. And I will not stop until these men are given justice befitting a democracy.

I invite you to join me. Let’s close this prison down.

FYI: check out the Center for Constitutional Rights website for other ways to get involved:

Also, sign on to a day of hunger! Check out:


MAY 28, 2013 8:57PM

Closing Guantanamo – One Meal at a Time

As the hunger strike continues at Guantanamo Bay prison, I challenge us all to join the hunger strike in some way, shape or form. Perhaps you will refuse to eat breakfast, or you’ll fast on Sundays, or you’ll support someone you know who is fasting. Whatever you choose, set aside a Day of Hunger, that is, a day in which you take notice of the atrocity that is Guantanamo Bay Prison, and enter that day fully with mind, body, and spirit.

If you so desire, you can take the pledge below or something similar that meets your needs. Copy the pledge, paste it to your computer, your refrigerator, your bathroom mirror. Sign it and send it to your representatives, friends, to the lawyers representing the prisoners. Paste it on Facebook. And then follow it with joy.

The pledge form is modeled after the “commitment card” that the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) created – during the heyday of the Civil Rights Movement – for volunteers who wished to serve in the “nonviolent army” that SCLC was organizing for the purpose of challenging racial segregation in Birmingham, Alabama. For reasons that are (I hope) self-evident, I’ve retained some of the original commitments.



  1. HUNGER STRIKE at least one day out of the week.
  2. REFLECT DAILY on the conditions at Guantanamo Bay Prison.
  3. PARTICIPATE in activities and events geared toward both rectifying conditions in the prison and ultimately closing the prison down.
  4. SHARE with family, friends, acquaintances and strangers information about the hunger strike at Guantanamo Bay Prison.
  5. ENGAGE in nonviolent acts of civil disobedience, with the intent to transform conditions at Guantanamo Bay and to transform the hearts of those committed to injustice.
  6. SEEK to perform regular service for others and for the world.
  7. REFRAIN from the violence of fist, tongue, and/or heart.
  8. STRIVE to be in good spiritual and bodily health.
  9. READ AND/OR LISTEN to works that inspire hope, confidence, and optimism.
  10. WALK and TALK in the manner of love.

I sign this pledge, having seriously considered what I do and with the determination and will to persevere.

NAME: ________________________________________________

STATE: __________

Visit to share your pledge!

JUNE 11, 2013 4:55PM

GITMO questions from the far left: for you, Senator Inhofe

Dear Senator Inhofe:

In your recent statement in support of keeping Guantanamo Bay open, you accused “the far left” of using the prisoners’ hunger strike to “revive” our “continuing obsession with closing the base.” You also posed a few questions to the “far left” in which you suggested that we would be “letting the terrorists win” if we succeeded in closing Guantanamo down.

Specifically, you wrote:

“It appears to me this latest push to close GITMO is because the terrorists have begun a hunger strike. Specifically, the far left has used this as a rallying cry to revive their continuing obsession with closing the base despite strong support from congress to keep GITMO open. But this misses the fundamental point. Is this hunger strike not a political act designed to attempt to change American policy? My question to the far left is: if you close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay are you not letting the terrorists win?”

Well, Senator, as a citizen who embraces such “far left” ideas as Due Process, I have a few questions for you:


  1. What proof do you have that the hunger strikers are “terrorists”? And if you have that proof, Senator, why have you not provided it – or insisted that it be provided – so that these men might be tried in a court of law?

You see, Senator, it is my understanding that 86 of the 166 men imprisoned at Guantanamo “have been cleared for release” and yet remain confined. Forty-six are “slated for indefinite detention without charge or trial.”* And yet you make the assertion that these men are “terrorists,” as if that is all that needs to be said for their confinement to pass constitutional muster.

The test, Senator, is not whether there is “strong support from congress to keep GITMO open.” After all, congress has been known to give “strong support” to a broad range of egregious and corrupt policies – the Patriot Act is a case in point.

The test is whether indefinite detention is both morally and constitutionally defensible.

Indefinite detention utterly fails that test.

  1. You suggest that the “fundamental point” of the hunger strike is “to change American policy.” What “American policy” do you think that the strikers are specifically dying to change?

Since you did not identify what “American policy” you are referring to, I am left to glean the policy from the wording of your statement. Do you mean to say, Senator (without saying outright, of course), the “policy” of indefinite detention? And if so, in what ways is that policy “American”? By which Article of the U.S. Constitution is such a policy blessed?

I think it is telling, Senator, that not once in your entire statement do you make reference to the U.S. Constitution – which leads me to assume that you do not consider it relevant to your analysis. And if it’s not relevant, sir, then I have to say that I can’t support the “American policy” either.

Consequently, I will continue to “obsess” – that is, agitate, hunger strike, vote, and disobey laws when necessary – about closing Guantanamo down. Indeed, our “inability to arrange an order of priorities that promises solutions that are decent and just,” to quote Dr. King, requires that I obsess until we embrace a decent and just solution for our imprisoned brothers.

  1. You also suggest that “the left” will be “letting the terrorists win” if Guantanamo is closed.

Win what, Senator? Or perhaps more precisely, what do we lose? And what and how do we “win” by keeping Guantanamo open? What victory for Americans does Guantanamo represent? Again, Senator, you did not say – so I must conclude that, for you, indefinite detention and all the injustice that it represents is itself a triumph.


Which leads me to the next set of questions, Senator:

  1. Are not your efforts to keep Guantanamo open and to deny GITMO prisoners due process connected to your vote in support of, for example, a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage? Or your vote to prevent the inclusion in hate crimes legislation those hate crimes that are committed because of a victim’s sexual orientation? Or your vote to loosen restrictions on cell phone wiretapping? Or your vote against ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which sought to ban discrimination against people with disabilities?

In other words, Senator, my question to you is this: by continuing to embrace policies that undermine our democracy, whose win, and what kind of victory, are you helping and hoping to secure?

*Quote from “Gitmo by the Numbers” (Center for Constitutional Rights, GITMO picture also from this website.

JUNE 30, 2013 3:17PM

A funny thing happened on the way to Gay Pride: VRA & GITMO

Although it’s been years since I’ve gone – or have had any desire to go – to San Francisco Gay Pride, I’m making an exception today. The SCOTUS ruling on DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act) is worth celebrating, even though the Court’s inability to utter the words “discrimination against lesbians and gays, period, violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 5th and 14th Amendments,” gives me great pause. The same goes as well for the Court’s failure to state that any ban on gay marriage violates the Due Process clauses of those amendments.



I guess I shouldn’t expect much from a Court that deems those long lines of African American and Latino voters during the 2012 election as democracy at its best. Where were the Bull Connors? the Court asks. The fire hoses and bombed churches? The violent white mobs? (I imagine some of them might very well be holding office or working at the polls. Times have changed, after all, and why wield a metal pipe when you could simply press a button and eliminate voters with the last name of Lopez? Or come up with a genius redistricting plan)?

Racism-blindness – the Court’s true stance on questions of race, and which those who remain invested in racial subordination insist on calling “color-blindness” – continues to serve as the backdrop against which the Court expands or contracts the rights of others, as has historically been the case. The cynic in me believes that, had the justices been asked to consider the case of an old black lesbian forced to pay over $300,000 in estate taxes upon the death of her loved one (a truly unlikely scenario, by the way), Justice Kennedy – fresh from his Voting Rights Act concurrence – would have been hard pressed to recognize the “harm” or “dignity” interests that made him veer to the other side when it came to DOMA.

Let’s not fool ourselves: the wealth/property and whiteness interests that informed Citizens United lurks somewhere in Kennedy’s DOMA opinion, just as surely as they serve the color-blindness doctrine by which the Court gutted the Voting Rights Act.


I’m just sayin’.

But I’m going to Pride, nevertheless, because when I marry my partner (from time to time she likes to say “if” – if I marry you), I can at least look forward to her social security when she’s dead and gone. Assuming, of course, that the Republicans won’t have succeeded in raiding the Treasury by then.

And as inclined as I am to party my ass off today, I’m going to take it easy because today is also Sunday, a day that I refuse to eat. Since May 16th – the 100th day of the Guantanamo Bay hunger strike – I’ve dedicated my Sundays to no food, a choice I’ve made to express my solidarity with the prisoners at Guantanamo.

The 150th day of the strike is fast approaching, and with all the promises about prison closure coming from President Obama and my representative, Senator Dianne Feinstein, there seems to be no end in sight to the terrible injustice that is Guantanamo. So I’ll be celebrating Pride, though on an empty and wailing stomach.


And since we’re on the subject of Gay Pride:

I wonder if there are any gay prisoners in Guantanamo, if any of the men on strike is negotiating the terror of the closet with the terror of everyday life in that awful prison.

I wonder if any of the soldiers guarding the prison are gay. In my mind’s eye I can see a young, white working class soldier reflecting on a phone conversation that he had with his partner earlier in the week about the SCOTUS decision on DOMA. I can hear their excitement about the decision and then their somber discussion about what it might mean if he’s deployed to another dangerous part of the world. I can hear them become suddenly disappointed when they both realize that, as Oklahoma boys who want to remain in Oklahoma, they’re not quite within the decision’s reach.

I wonder if any of the guards is a Mexican American lesbian, and if she wonders whether or not her family in Texas will be able to vote. Or whether she’ll be able to vote when she returns.

I wonder if any of the guards is an African American gay man, who’s ecstatic that he and his partner – recently married in D.C. – will finally reap the benefits provided by the federal government to heterosexual married couples. I see him worry for his grandmothers – both of whom live in Florida, both of whom waited eight hours on a hot day in November to vote for Baraka Obama – who say that they plan to vote in the next election.

God willing.

I wonder what the prisoner and the soldiers would say to each other — privately, of course, and perhaps out of earshot of the NSA — about freedom, democracy, and pride in America.

But I digress.

Happy LGBT Pride.



JULY 4, 2013 11:10PM

July 4th & why Frederick Douglass wouldn’t go to a Tea Party

Since Tea Partiers have decided to appropriate Frederick Douglass (the great Abolitionist who, as a former slave, could speak well to the injustice of slavery and Northern racism) in order to champion political positions that he would have abhorred – steeped as they are in racism and class warfare – I thought that it would be best to revisit Douglass’ Fourth of July address to bring these folks back to reality.

Actually, I thought I’d just take the liberty to update Douglass’ address – add a little bit of the twenty-first century, change a phrase here and there, just so that we can be clear about what Douglass stood for, and why Tea Partiers would no doubt stand accused if Douglass walked amongst us today.

Entitled, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”, Douglass’ 1852 address was a searing indictment of this nation’s hypocrisy. How could you celebrate freedom, Douglass asked, though millions in your midst are in chains? And by the way, why ask this escaped slave to celebrate it with you, given that my brothers and sisters are not free?

So, without further ado, I present – with some poetic license, of course – Douglass’ July 4, 2013 address:

Fellow citizens, I shall not presume to dwell at length on the associations that cluster about this day. The simple story of it is that, 237 years ago, the people of this country were British subjects. Your fathers esteemed the English Government as the home government. But feeling themselves harshly and unjustly treated by the home government, your fathers, like men of honesty, and men of spirit, felt themselves the victims of grievous wrongs, wholly incurable in their colonial capacity. With brave men and women there is always a remedy for oppression. Just here, the idea of a total separation of the colonies was born!

But I need not enter further into the causes which led to this anniversary. My business, if I have any here today, is with the present.

So fellow-citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask: What have I, or those whom I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and natural justice, embodied in the Declaration of Independence, extended to us? Am I to presume from your Court’s blindness on questions of racism, as made so boldly clear by its gutting of the Voting Rights Act, your desire to include me in your celebrations of “freedom”? Should I presume that your present difficulty in imagining this nation of immigrants as including our immigrant brothers and sisters from the southern regions, is justice demanding my allegiance? Am I called upon to celebrate this nation because Barack Obama was elected, while black and brown men (which includes me, of course) cannot walk the streets of New York City without being accosted by those charged with protecting us all? And am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for the blessing resulting from your independence to us?

Would to God, both for your sakes and ours, that an affirmative answer could be truthfully returned to these questions!

The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me and mine. Look to your unequal schools! Your segregated communities! Your 99% and your 1%! Your overfilled jails and your unemployment lines!

Indeed, my fellow citizens, above your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the wail of millions! whose imprisonment – whether at Guantanamo or San Quentin or INS holding cells or the ghettos of Chicago or East L.A. – are, today, rendered more intolerable by the jubilee shouts that reach them. To forget them, to pass lightly over their wrongs, and to chime in with the popular theme, would be treason most scandalous and shocking, and would make me a reproach before God and the world.

I do not hesitate to declare, with all my soul, that the character and conduct of this nation never looked more disheartening to me than on this 4th of July!

Would you have me argue that men and women are entitled to liberty? That she is the rightful owner of her own body? What, am I to argue that it is wrong to make men and women brutes, to work them on subsistence wages, to keep them ignorant, through your media, of their relations to their fellow men and women? At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed.

So, what, to those whom I represent, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to us, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which you are willing to subject your brothers and sisters. To us, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to us, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy – a thin veil to cover up crimes which should disgrace a nation founded upon the idea of freedom.

You glory in your refinement and your universal education; yet you maintain a segregated and unequal educational system as barbarous and dreadful as ever stained the character of this nation. You are all on fire at the mention of liberty for Egypt or for Syria, but are as cold as an iceberg at the thought of liberty for the men you’ve decided to detain indefinitely at Guantanamo, or the men and women who’ve withstood long lines just to vote, or the men and women who’ve braved the dangers of border crossing and have labored hard in this country, for your wealth and prosperity….

Fellow-citizens! I will not enlarge further on your national inconsistencies. The existence of these injustices brands your republicanism as a sham, your humanity as a base pretence, and your Christianity as a lie. It destroys your moral power abroad; it corrupts your politicians at home. It saps the foundation of religion; it makes your name a hissing, and a by-word to a mocking earth.

Notwithstanding, however, the dark picture I have this day presented of the state of the nation, I do not despair of this country. There are social justice forces in operation, which must inevitably work the downfall of your systems of subordination. I, therefore, leave off with hope….The fiat of the Almighty, ‘Let there be Light,” has not yet spent its force. No abuse, no outrage whether in taste, sport or avarice, can now hide itself from the all-pervading light.

For my father.

JULY 15, 2013 12:43AM

Dear George Zimmerman

Dear George Zimmerman:

This is what I know: now that a jury has found you “not guilty” for killing Trayvon Martin, you are, nevertheless, now faced with the daunting task of coming to terms with both your guilt and with this unbearable life sentence: the realization that you killed a child, whose only crime was walking through your neighborhood with a bag of skittles.

Before you read on, I want to assure you and those who are reading over your shoulder that this is not a flame. In fact, as I am writing this letter I am also extending to you my compassion. How could I not? If I can, in one breath, offer my compassion to prisoners on death row, many of whom, like you, have killed a child, then how could I, in the next breath, withhold compassion from you? Especially knowing that, although you are not, like the inmates, awaiting your execution while on lockdown twenty-three hours of the day, you are indeed in a prison of sorts, hemmed in, on the one hand, by the hate of some who believe that you are guilty; and, on the other hand, by those whose hate comes in the guise of love. The latter will celebrate you, congratulate you, and welcome you home, all from their sense that you share their commitment to racism and vigilante violence (perhaps you do, but that commitment itself is a prison).

Moreover, I am aware that you will always be known as the man who got away with killing a child, and most probably because he was black and male and always already suspect. And finally, I know that outside the din of our tortured conversations about race and crime – in your quiet moments, in other words – the fact of your killing will keep you company, letting you know that there is simply no escape from what you’ve done, not even for a moment.

I write this letter to you, then, with complete understanding that this prison of yours will be a difficult place for you to occupy. This understanding on my part, however, does not by any means lead me to celebrate or gloat or wish you harm.

So why do I write? It is for this reason only: to say to you that life has presented to you, in quite terrible ways, an opportunity to remake or rehabilitate yourself as someone who can serve as a force not for hate, but for reconciliation. I believe that this is possible for you just as I believe it is possible for those who sit on death row. Part of the travesty of execution is the belief that a person who commits a heinous crime is forever lost and unworthy of love, community, and a laying on of hands. To banish people from our hearts, and then to kill them, is a spiritual crime of the highest order (and one that you will also have to answer. Trayvon never deserved your disregard. I offer you what you could not offer him, with the hope that you will in turn come to embrace young African American boys, and African American people in general, as your own).

To help you on your way, let me offer to you a story told by Jack Kornfield in After the Ecstasy, the Laundry. It is the story of a young boy who shot and killed an innocent peer. “After the verdict was announced,” the murdered boy’s mother rose in court and said to the guilty boy, “I’m going to kill you.”

After some time passed, the mother began to visit the young boy at the jail in which he was incarcerated. She’d talk to him, bring him food and money for cigarettes – provide him generally with support and care. This went on for the entire time of his incarceration. And when it was finally time for his release, she took him into her home, cared for him, and helped him to get back on his feet.

A few months passed and she invited the young man to sit down. She asked him if he remembered her promise that she would kill him. Of course, he remembered it well. And this is what she said:

“Well, I did. I did not want the boy who could kill my son for no reason to remain alive on this earth. I wanted him to die. That’s why I started to visit you and bring you things. That’s why I got you the job and let you live here in my house. That’s how I set about changing you. And that boy, he’s gone.” She then asked his permission to let her adopt him; he consented, and she “became the mother of her son’s killer, the mother he never had.”

My question to you, Mr. Zimmerman, is this: What would it take for you to become for yourself – for all of us – the mother who kills the man in you who killed Trayvon Martin? And what would it take, precisely, for you to become a man whose life is one to which we could all aspire?

Your answer to these questions is the difference between prison and freedom, and it is these questions that life, with great urgency, requires you to answer.

Permit me to make a suggestion, which itself might be flawed given that I have questions of my own to answer, not the least of which concerns my own inclination towards violence. In fact, the desire to do violence comes in waves when I contemplate the pain of Trayvon’s parents or the legal system we insist on calling “justice” or the hate in this nation’s soul that your case has utterly laid bare. So keep all of this in mind when you read my suggestion. If, at your core, you feel the suggestion to be motivated by my own unspeakable and unattended animus, then I invite you to reject it completely.

Mr. Zimmerman, look squarely at the wreckage left in the wake of your terrible crime and ask yourself, with nothing but a complete commitment to sit in truth, what role you played in creating the wreckage and how you might serve as a force for healing.

If you are honest, then you will acknowledge just how thoroughly you have embraced violence as a way of life. How could you conclude otherwise? Your killing Trayvon was the culmination of violence in thought, word, and deed, and it is this that you must disavow in order to kill the man in you who thought so little of Trayvon’s life. To do so is more than a notion, however, especially since you will no doubt be surrounded by some who will cheer you on as a hero and insist that there is no alternative to violence. But make no mistake about it: this is precisely the path that you must take if you are to kill the murderer in you and thus to release yourself from the prison that you have created.

Thus, you must both embrace a life of nonviolence and insist on making it your lived reality. Ferret out the racism in your heart so that you can ferret out the racism in your community. Make of your life an example as to why we need gun control – nay, step forward as one committed to complete disarmament. Admit that you had no ground on which to stand and work tirelessly to overturn the legalization of vigilantism. Create a neighborhood committee that actually polices hate, whether within the gates of your neighborhood or without. Offer yourself, your home and your community as a safe haven for children. And for those who would encourage you to believe that your murder of Trayvon was just, offer your willingness to help them kill the murderers that they harbor in their own hearts.

But even this is not enough, Mr. Zimmerman. As Howard Thurman wrote, “one cannot, merely by a personal attitude of nonviolence, effect reconciliation in a violent system.” At some point in your journey, you will have to serve the project of dismantling all systems of subordination, for the end that you must seek, in order to be a force of reconciliation and thus to free yourself, is this: a world where all Trayvon Martins can walk freely, skittles in hand, and grow to be old men whose lives were valued because they were understood to be both desired and necessary.

I hope for your sake – for all of us, really – that this is a journey that you will undertake. And with that hope in mind, I wish you well.

OCTOBER 3, 2013 4:15PM

The Furlough Monologues: Installation #1

Trust me when I say that being on furlough as a result of the government shutdown is no joke (for me, it’s actually partial furlough because I am “somewhat” essential in an essential department. So I am “fortunate” in that regard, though whether I will eventually get paid is still an open question. After all, pay for the work that I do through this period will need to be approved by Congress. I’m not holding my breath).

The mortgage/student loan/electricity/water/waste bills and the need to buy food don’t go on furlough as well, thereby leaving me and many others at financial peace until the Teapublicans – many of whom are rich beyond measure and will still get paid by you and I – come to their senses. No, the bills will still need to be paid when due, the body will still need to be fed – and guess what? The work that needs to get done for the American people – for all of us – will still need to get done. But it won’t get done – not most of it, anyway – which means that your needs don’t go on furlough, either. Consequently, they’ll soon become pretty insistent – like a bill collector for a student loan servicing center. Insistent like that.


Being on furlough, however, does have this one amazing benefit: it gives me time and space to think, to write. To agitate. So, here I am.

And what I’ve been thinking on lately is, of all things, the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Briefly (and inadequately, I admit) for those who don’t know or remember: this 1962 crisis emerged as a result of the United States’ discovery that Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev and Cuban Prime Minister Fidel Castro had secretly agreed – in order to deter U.S. attempts to invade Cuba and overthrow its government – to locate nuclear missiles on Cuban soil (in fact, several missile sites had actually been under construction. This is what alerted us to Khrushchev and Castro’s plan). President John Kennedy let Khrushchev know that under no uncertain terms would the United States permit missiles to be placed on Cuba, and he demanded that the Soviets dismantle the missile sites without delay. This led to a series of moves and countermoves (naval blockades, negotiations, etc.) that truly brought the world to the brink of a nuclear war. Kennedy and Khrushchev, however, eventually reached an agreement that resulted in the removal of the missiles and the United States’ promise not to invade Cuba.

I remember reading about this frightening event in a political science class that I took some time ago, and in this class we focused specifically on the tense, behind-the-scenes discussions between President Kennedy and his advisors. What struck me most about what I read is this: almost to a man, these advisors were willing to annihilate all life on Earth if it meant that they could prevent the communists from achieving this obviously awesome strategic victory. In other words, given the choice between killing everybody and losing “our way of life” to the communists, killing everybody was, for too many of these advisors, the better choice to make.

Now, since the class was political science, the whole point of reading this stuff was to discuss game theory and all of that. But I wasn’t in the mood to play. This is what I wanted to know: by what authority did these men think that they had permission to blow up the world? How did they come to the conclusion that the American people would prefer annihilation over communism? Why did they prefer annihilation, and how in the world did we end up putting such thinkers in charge of things? Did they believe that when we elected President Kennedy, we gave him and his advisors permission to kill us all in the name of democracy and capitalism? Did Khrushchev actually believe that the Soviet people preferred annihilation over a democratic and capitalist way of life? And what about the American people? What had we done to suggest that such a decision would in fact be in our best interests? Did we actually prefer death?

I did not want to downplay the political stakes involved, and I don’t want to now, but jeeeeze. Annihilation? Just to keep the other side from winning?

Questions like these didn’t go over well, and as you can imagine, I wasn’t the most successful political science student. I’m okay with that. Sometimes one has to refuse to be a master of crazy.

I realize of course that there have always been instances throughout history when men holed up together somewhere and decided, often in the most egregious fashion, to do things that left the fate of all hanging in the balance. And it’s certainly happening as we speak. In some corporate board room or on Wall Street or in some mountain hide-out or in a building shaped like a pentagon or in some secret agency conference room or on K Street or in the chambers of Congress, men are holed up and proceeding as if they have our permission – or as if our permission doesn’t matter – to visit upon the world much pain and suffering (like, for example, permission to close down government and let the nation default on its obligations because the American people, presumably, would prefer a trashed economy to affordable health care. Or a successful black president. No Cuban Missile Crisis, certainly, but a politics of catastrophe nonetheless for the entire world).

And they will continue to do this until we say “NO.”

But we have to say “NO,” and we have to mean it and we have to enforce it. We have to hit the streets and organize and create a climate that raises the stakes for men who hole up and decide in our name to do crazy. Because when we don’t say anything, we make clear that we don’t care about what they do and thus make clear that we don’t care about ourselves.


So that’s what I’ve been thinking about on my furlough days.


OCTOBER 8, 2013 10:03PM

The Furlough Monologues: Installation #2 (The nonnegotiable)

On what basis does one negotiate underlying and unspoken racial animus? The belief that there’s a Muslim Kenyan – and a mediocre beneficiary of racial entitlement to boot – occupying the Office of the President, and that the White House is…well… it is called the White House on purpose? The assumption – encoded for decades in the Republican platform – that Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and now Affordable Health Care are programs for the undeserving Others? How does one negotiate voting rights for some, higher education for some, equal employment for some or citizenship for some? What would it take, precisely, to come to a meeting of minds about the permanence of white minority rule in a country undergoing a seismic demographic shift? At what point do you simply put on the table: this is our country, not yours, as was originally intended and constitutionalized by our (not yours) founding fathers?

And will you really be surprised to learn that none of this is negotiable?

At some point we just have to let the elephant in the room speak — indeed, let her call out the other elephant in the room, as well as those donkeys who sit politely and quietly beside her, hoping that she will just go away. And we have to let her speak because, if we do not, we will continue to have dishonest conversations about what is going on here and may find ourselves ignoring signs of very dangerous political developments. Men in power who are afraid of change are men we have to look after. Their fear should break out hearts but it should also clear our heads.

So what the elephant has to say is this: racism is not an important issue.


It is the issue.

For having redefined (again, over the course of decades) their policy positions through the coded language of race, the Republicans have effectively made their policy positions the means by which they speak race as well as articulate their investments in the racial order.

Thus, it is for a fading racial order that we are being held hostage. Period.

If we continue to minimize or keep silent about this, we’ll be doing so at our peril.

OCTOBER 16, 2013 8:40PM

The Furlough Monologues: Installation 3 (racism support tax)

By now the photo above should have disabused you of any notion on your part that the federal government shutdown and the default drama that ensued have not been, to a significant degree, about race. The confederate flag speaks eloquently of the truth, does it not? And come February, when we get to go through all of this once again, race will not have been displaced as the driving force behind congressional – excuse me, Teapublican intransigence. By then, I predict, it will have brewed a more noxious scheme, one that will make the eleventh hour/last minute deals of the present look like the good ol’ days.

Remember the good ol’ days when we sent those government workers home and brought our economy only to the brink of disaster? Remember that those workers missed making payments on only a handful of their bills (no big deal!) and we only made the international community a little bit nervous? (Those crazy Chinese!) Remember how we were almost downgraded by Fitch, but the good ol’ boys on Wall Street (bless their hearts!) nevertheless rallied all Nero-like, playing the markets like a fiddle?

Those were good-God days, weren’t they? Just can’t figure out how we got to this point…

And by now, you surely have resigned yourself, finally, to the fact that the vitriol directed at Obamacare has been, by and large, about race. After all, it was just fine when it was HeritageFoundationCare and later, RomneyCare. But then it became entitlement care, lazy care, undeserving care, those people’s care. WelfarePresidentCare.

I could go on and point out the costs of this racial drama to our democracy, to our sense of community, to our commitment to each other as human beings, and at some point I will. But for now, just ponder these costs and ask, is it worth it? I mean, just at the level of the dollar – is it worth it?

Bill of Expenses for Recent (Spoken and Unspoken)

Racist Purchases

Items Costs

Federal Government Shutdown $160 million/daily

Gross Domestic Product 0.5% decrease for the fourth quarter

Business Opportunities Losses, but not easy to measure

Consumer Confidence Lowest since 12/2011

Hiring Delayed

Corporate Short-Term Debts

Higher interest payments

U.S. Short-Term Borrowing Costs Increased

International Good Will and Investor Confidence “it is perhaps a good time

for the befuddled world to start considering building a de-Americanized world”


Oh – and just so you know: the costs have been coming out of your pocket. Just add them to what you are already paying now for the mortgage crisis debacle, a crisis that was itself driven by…well…racist thinking. Now, I’m sure that neither your W2 nor the 1040 form that you’ll fill out next year will have a line indicating “racism support tax.”


But you’ll pay it nevertheless.


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