Silence Is Not an Option

SilenceI know I am not the only one that has continued to read and think about the death of George Floyd and the protests that continue to spread around our nation. Just about everyone has had something to say and you cannot spend any time online at all without encountering something related to Floyd’s death and /or the protests. But in the past 24 hours I have been intentionally seeking and reading what African Americans have to say about it all. I have been doing that not because I think they have a monopoly on offense at the actions of Derek Chauvin, because I do not. Nor have I been doing it because I think that African Americans somehow have a more valuable or more relevant perspective or insight on the tragedy of Floyd’s death. I do, however, recognize that many African Americans have a different perspective and different insight into the situation than I do, and considering them has value.

Herman Cain began his May 31 commentary with this statement:

Everyone who saw the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis is right to be incensed by it. It’s one of the worst and most obvious instances of police brutality we have ever witnessed as a nation.

I agree with Mr. Cain completely and I specifically appreciate his use of the word “everyone.” There is no way that anyone, regardless of skin color, could watch what happened to George Floyd and think it is possible for it to be justified or necessary–or that it should not result in the full punishment the law allows.

Also on May 31, Ben Carson’s Facebook post began with this: “The blatant callous murder of Mr. George Floyd is one of the most heartless acts of cruelty ever recorded.” Again, I agree.

Senator Kamala Harris, who is at the other end of the political spectrum from Cain and Carson, released a statement on May 29 that said that the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor are “the result of broader systematic racism that exists in our country.” Her statement concluded,

Police brutality is a matter of life and death for Black people in this country, and we have to be clear about the injustices within our criminal justice system and demand accountability to the communities law enforcement are sworn to protect and serve.

Do you notice a difference in what Cain and Carson said and what Harris said? Cain and Carson addressed the death of Georg Floyd as a terribly evil act without any reference to race. Harris made race and racism the foremost issue in her comments.

Oprah Winfrey posted a statement on Twitter on the same day that Harris released her statement. Winfrey pointed out what was going through her mind as she went through the motions of her day, “I think: he doesn’t get to do this.” She concluded her statement:

#GeorgeFloyd, we speak your name. But this time, we will not let your name be just a hashtag. Your spirit is lifted by the cries of all of us who call for justice in your name.

There was not a single mention of race or racism in her post. There was no mention of a Black community or any institutional racism. Instead, she used the words “all of us.” That is as broad and as inclusive as Herman Cain’s “everyone.”

On June 1, Dawn Staley, the women’s basketball coach at South Carolina, posted on The Players’ Tribune an editorial entitled “Black People Are Tired.” With a title like that, it is hard to interpret her us of the word “us” as meaning anything other than African Americans. And that is unfortunate, because I agree with much of what she has to say. Staley shared a very personal story about her mother having to leave South Carolina as a thirteen-year-old because of her grandmother’s concern that she might be lynched. Staley said that happened about sixty years ago. That is tragic and there is no excuse for it.

That’s why I both appreciate Staley’s post and dislike it. She says that Black people are angry. They should be. But all people should be angry. Being white does not give me a pass on being angry about George Floyd’s death or about the fear of Dawn Staley’s grandmother.

Staley goes on to write:

When you are privileged — when you are the privileged race, you don’t have to think about what we think about daily.

You just see the world through your own eyes. And it’s a lot different than it is through a black person’s eyes. A lot different. Say what you wanna say, but it’s a lot different.

I cannot dispute that. I have only ever been white and I will only ever be white. Accordingly, I can never experience life through a black person’s eyes and can never approach life with the experiences and history of a black person. And while it may be appropriate and helpful for me to understand and acknowledge that, it is not helpful for Dawn Staley or anyone else to suggest that because of that I cannot contribute to the solution. Staley writes,

That’s why I have to constantly ask myself: Am I doing right by our players?

Are they learning? Are they understanding? Are they being equipped to navigate the world as a black woman in our society?

That’s a problematic line of thinking. First of all, as she acknowledged earlier in her piece, Staley does not coach black women only. Thus, to equate doing right by her players with being equipped to navigate the world as a black woman is drawing an unhelpful line on her own team.

She seems to recognize the problem there, because she immediately writes this:

And that’s not to divide our team by race. It’s just a statement of reality that as human beings, we see color. Yes, we see color. We feel color. Without a doubt. And it’s a shame, but that’s how we have to navigate the world.

This is the second problem with her line of thinking. It is not how we have to navigate the world. To suggest that it is is to suggest that we cannot do better. Early in her piece Staley says, “People are mad because NOTHING HAS CHANGED.” Saying that continuing that way is “how we have to navigate the world” is to assert that nothing can change.

I may not be able to agree with him on much, but Mokokoma Mokhonoana was spot on when he said, “Racism is one of the most common results of the combination of stupidity and the ability to see.” We do not want to deny people the ability to see. Not literally, anyway. A world full of blind people would have quite a few problems. What we need to do, then, is try to fix the “stupidity.” It’s been widely said—and I’ve said it myself—that you can’t fix stupid. But that is not really true. Racism is a learned behavior and any learned behavior can be changed.

Herman Cain wrote,

…we make a mistake if we see this entirely in the context of race. Statistically, black-on-black crime is a much bigger problem than white-on-black crime. Statistically, police officers are much more likely to be victims of deadly violence than they are to be the perpetrators of it.

None of that gets better if we view each other with suspicion and hostility.

That’s another way of saying that we cannot see and feel color…and he is right. What we must learn to do is see human. There is nothing inherently wrong with seeing and taking notice of skin color. In and of itself, it is no more wrong than noticing if someone has brown, green, blue or gray eyes or blonde, black, brunette or red hair. The problem is not in the noticing. The problem, rather, is in the notion—the belief—that skin color matters.

It is not wrong for there to be genuine and healthy differences of opinion. It is not wrong for me to think that the comments by Kamala Harris and Dawn Staley are not all that helpful. It is not wrong for me to think that Sarah Parcak was in the wrong when she tweeted instructions designed to help rioters know how to tear down monuments or that celebrities paying bail for “protestors” is not helping address the real problem. It is not wrong for me to think that Billie Eilish’s Instagram rant was a waste of cyberspace or for me to think that Reese Witherspoon’s use of Instagram to urge parents to talk to their children about racism was worthwhile and helpful. It is not wrong for me to find some of Natasha Cloud’s piece “Your Silence Is a Knee On My Neck” to be offensive while also agreeing wholeheartedly with her conclusion that “if you’re silent, you are part of the problem.”

I am not going to stop intentionally seeking to hear, read and understand the black perspective. I do hope, though, that there is also an intentional effort for all of us who are furious about what happened to George Floyd to seek to understand each other and to work together to achieve real change. The collective “we”—all of humanity—will never agree on everything. Nor would we really want a world in which we did all agree on everything. What we must do, though, is agree that all human lives matter and every human being deserves to be treated with respect. That the problem can be resolved peacefully. And that silence is not an option.

Tulsi Who?

Tulsi_Gabbard_(48563636361)Super Tuesday did not go so well for Michael Bloomberg and today he, too, dropped out. The DNC plan to have Joe Biden win the nomination went quite well yesterday and though Bernie Sanders still won several states and is, for all intents and purposes, tied with Joe Biden in the delegate count right now, the race is not over. There are four candidates remaining, though you would be hard pressed to know that from the limitations one of them is facing. Tulsi Gabbard, congresswoman from Hawaii, has not given up her quest for the Democratic nomination—and frankly, I doubt she will anytime soon.

If you are thinking, “Who is Tulsi Gabbard?” you are not alone. In fact, according to a businessinsider.com article on February 28, only 44% of likely Democratic voters have heard of Gabbard. Until last night, when she was included in the reporting only because there were so few candidates remaining, she had received scant attention from the major news networks and opposition from her own party. But last night she was included. In fact, Donna Brazile was trying so hard to make the point that the DNC is not favoring any candidate that she insisted on FOX News that Karl Rove list Gabbard and her one delegate from American Samoa on his little dry erase board. That little exchange was dually noteworthy since Karl Rove had said, earlier in the day, that Elizabeth Warren was the only woman left in the race. But Gabbard is very much a woman and very much still running. In fact, she later took to Twitter to address the swipe, posting, “I’m not quite sure why you’re telling FOX viewers that Elizabeth Warren is the last female candidate in the Dem primary. Is it because you believe a fake indigenous woman of color is ‘real’ and the real indigenous woman of color in this race is fake?” (That was a dig at Rove and FOX but also at Warren, who famously, and erroneously, claimed to be Native American).

Earlier this week, in The New Yorker, Andy Borowitz wrote a satirical piece that began this way: “Representative Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) is under intense pressure to drop out of the 2020 race for the Democratic Presidential nomination, her nine supporters announced on Monday. The announcement from Gabbard’s nine followers surprised many Democrats, who had been unaware that the Hawaii congresswoman was still running.”

Of course satire only works when it has an element of truth, and it seems that even many of those who are aware that Gabbard is running are simply choosing to ignore her. Consider, for example, Andy Kroll’s March 2 piece for Rolling Stone, entitled “Operation Bernie Block Is in Full Effect.” It said:

The Democratic field is now down to five candidates: Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Mike Bloomberg, and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard. One way to organize the field is into two camps: the progressive flank (Sanders and Warren) and the moderate establishment flank (Biden and Bloomberg). Going into Super Tuesday, there is a leader and secondary figure in each flank — Sanders for the progressives and Biden for the moderates.

Did you notice that? Kroll acknowledged that Gabbard is still a candidate and then immediately discarded her. She was not included anywhere in the rest of the article.

I should point out here that I am not a Tulsi Gabbard supporter. I have admired a number of things about her over the past few months but I am not aware of a single political issue that we agree on, so I certainly would not vote for her. But a considerable part of my interest in Gabbard has been how completely and obviously she has been shut out by the Democratic party. On paper, Gabbard checks every box one would think the DNC would love to have in a candidate. Specifically:

  • She is a combat veteran. She deployed, voluntarily, twice—to Iraq and to Kuwait—becoming the first state official to voluntarily step down from public office to serve in a war zone. She currently holds the rank of Major in the Hawaii Army National Guard.
  • She is the first Hindu to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives.
  • She is the first-ever voting member of Congress who is Samoan-American.
  • She is young – only 38.
  • She is, obviously, female.

In addition to all of that, she holds views consistent with the Democratic party in just about every area. She is a combat veteran who opposes war. She favors increasing the federal minimum wage to $15/hour (and even a universal minimum income). She wants to abolish the death penalty and do away with private prisons. She thinks college should be free and existing debt-relief plans for student loans should be fixed and expanded. She supports universal background checks and banning assault weapons. She favors Medicare for All and opposes restrictions on abortion. She wants to legalize marijuana.

So, what’s not to like?

Well, Gabbard is a rebel. Just over four years ago she resigned her position as vice-chair of the DNC in order to endorse Bernie Sanders for president. She gave the nominating speech putting his nae forward at the Democratic National Convention. She openly criticized the DNC’s handling of the 2016 election and accused it of rigging the election so that Hillary Clinton would be the 2016 nominee. In November 2017 she said, “The DNC secretly chose their nominee over a year before the primary elections even occurred.” She said the DNC and federal campaign finance laws need to be overhauled.

Earlier in 2017 Gabbard faced considerable backlash after she revealed that she had met with Bashar al-Assad while she was on a fact-finding visit to Syria, though she said she had no intention of meeting with him when she originally planned the trip.

Last summer, in one of the debates she has actually been allowed to participate in, Gabbard harshly criticized Senator Kamala Harris, at that time considered one of the leading Democratic candidates, for her work as a prosecutor in California. Matt Taibbi then wrote in Rolling Stone, “Having wounded a presumptive frontrunner [Harris] backed by nearly $25 million in campaign funds, Gabbard instantly became the subject of a slew of negative leaks, tweets, and press reports.”

In December, Gabbard voted “present” on both articles of impeachment against President Trump. Gabbard said that she had reviewed the 658-page impeachment report and decided that she could not vote against impeachment because she thought that Trump was “guilty of wrongdoing” but that she also could not vote for impeachment “because removal of a sitting President must not be the culmination of a partisan process, fueled by tribal animosities that have so gravely divided our country.” In other words, Gabbard accused her own party of a politically-motivated impeachment.

In January 2020 Gabbard filed a lawsuit against Hillary Clinton for defamation. Clinton had referred to Gabbard as “a favorite of the Russians” and even a “Russian asset”—and Gabbard alleges that Clinton made that allegation as “retribution” for her backing of Sanders in 2016 and that Clinton “holds a special hatred and animosity” for Gabbard. Gabbard is suing for $50 million. She is not backing down from the suit, either; according to a February 12 interview with Maria Bartiromo, Gabbard says the first court date has been set.

Then, in February, after Trump had been acquitted on both counts of impeachment, Gabbard said that Trump was acting within his prerogative when he decided to fire Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, who had testified against him during the impeachment hearings, from his position with the National Security Council. That, of course, rubbed many Democrats the wrong way. Joe Biden, for example, said that Vindman deserved to be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

I do not know that Tulsi Gabbard is likely to win many more delegates than the one she picked up last night from American Samoa. And her continuation in the race will continue to bring criticism from those that choose to acknowledge it at all. (Anderson Cooper and others have suggested that she is auditioning for a place on FOX News). She might find herself gaining considerably more support from those who dislike their choice between the 77-year-old Joe Biden and the 78-year-old Bernie Sanders. Gabbard is, after all, literally half their age. Even setting age aside, some might not like the choice between “socialism and senility” as Marc Thiessen put it last night. But the only way Gabbard has any chance of gaining much support is if the DNC actually lets her participate in debates. She has been excluded from the last five—and took considerable umbrage to the fact that the DNC changed its qualifying rules to allow Michael Bloomberg to participate in the last two—but she does, at the moment, qualify for the next debate, scheduled for Sunday, March 15. In order to be a part of the last Democratic debate, candidates had to have one or more of the following: at least 12 percent support in two DNC-approved South Carolina polls, at least 10 percent support in four DNC-approved national polls, or at least one delegate from any contest that had been held so far. With her delegate from American Samoa, Gabbard now qualifies. But remember, I said at the moment. That’s because Xochitl Hinojosa, the communications director for the Democratic National Committee, already tweeted that the qualifying threshold “will go up” before that debate. And if it does, Gabbard will be left out again.

 

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)