Since I Started High School

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I’m starting a post about the state of the US when I started high school. I hope others will write their own. I’ve found it interesting to look back and see what was going on when I started high school. It’s amazing how much I didn’t know about the world then, so going back and looking at all the news highlights, knowing what I know now, is a journey. I didn’t actually intend on this being anything but a fun post, but reality set in as I started to write.

I started high school in the year 2000. Bill Clinton was president, but as we all know, it was an election year. THE election year. Bush versus Gore. The outcome would shape everything I’ve known since.

When I started high school:

  • Y2K turned out to be just a big party
  • The US had a $232 billion SURPLUS not a deficit
  • Gas was $1.26 per gallon
  • Unemployment was at 3.8% (an absurdly low rate)
  • The Yankees won the World Series, the Rams won the Superbowl
  • Survivor was the number one show (can’t believe that show is still around)
  • Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears, Eminem, blah, blah, blah

We should have known things were brewing. In 2000:

  • The Pyrenean Ibex went extinct
  • The Dot-Com bubble burst
  • Vladimir Putin was elected president of Russia (I mean, damn, he’s still there)
  • I’m sure I was wearing ridiculous clothing held over from the 90’s

I started high school before the Supreme Court put George Bush in office, changing the next few decades of military and political roles and influence. It was before 9/11, an event that taught Americans that our isolation can be violated. It reopened the wounds of those who lived through Pearl Harbor and taught a new generation that the days of our invulnerability were gone. For a moment in time, though, it united the country as we tried to heal.

When I started high school, I thought the idea of war was cool (having not learned what war really was). The invasion of Iraq had my full support. I didn’t understand then, when I started high school, that my country was capable of mistakes.

We started the year 2000 with hope. Hope for our booming economy. Hope for global partnership. We were boosted up for a new millennium, so full of energy that anything seemed possible. If the year 2000 taught us anything, it’s that things can change.

Since the year I started high school, things have changed. The victor of the 2000 election was handed one of the worst situations our country has ever faced, and he handled it well…at first. He attacked those we thought were responsible, then abused our blank check to start a war with someone else.

In 2000, our economy was so good that we couldn’t know that a combination of 90’s mortgage policies and labor union exploitation would set off a major economic disaster. We couldn’t know that our hopes would be dashed by 2007, but renewed in 2008 when we thought racism was on its way to defeat. Our first black president would bring us together, or so we thought.

Since 2000, a hurricane in one of our oldest cities taught us that underlying racial tensions can lead to delayed assistance for those who need it the most. Since then, race has taken center stage. Trayvon Martin, Freddie Gray, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Walter Scott. Ferguson and Baltimore. In my home state, a sick and deranged young man murdered nine African Americans in Charleston. In a church. I wish he was alone in his thinking, but after what we all just saw in Charlottesville, Virginia, we know better.

Black Lives Matter was born because of much of this, though we should have never gotten to a place where we had to be reminded that anyone’s lives matter. How is it that we don’t know, don’t realize, that every single life should matter?

Just a thought, but most of that happened under a black president.

How could we know, in 2000, that a real estate businessman, a reality TV joke, would become president of our country. We should have known. We would have known, if we had been careful in monitoring just how much certain groups in this country were looking for an answer to the hate they had been building. We’d have seen those who were just waiting to hear their dreams spoken by a demagogue who could disguise their ideals inside the guise of patriotic nationalism. Too bad we never paid attention to 1930s German history.

Yes, we’ve had trouble since 2000.

And damn, here’s what’s happening now:

But we’re not going to give up. I didn’t know about these issues when I started high school, but now I do. I know how to write, so I’ll figure it out that way. I would never have come out back then, but now I have. We’ll make it through this okay. Just hold on tight, it’s going to be a wild ride.

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White People Should Stay Silent?

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(Photo Credit: Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

It won’t happen often, but I want to deviate away from the normal type of blog posting to discuss some current events. We all know what is going on in Charlottesville, VA. White Supremacists have proven once again that they have a strong support group and are willing to commit violence to back their cause. Full disclosure: I am a white liberal and not at all a Donald Trump supporter. This post will not go into politics. I want to talk about the anger some, and I stress the word some, black people have towards white people right now and give my take on it.

I’m active on Twitter, but I try not to get goaded into any crazy Tweet battles. Unfortunately, I have seen many posts from some black people who are angry about whites using the hastag #ThisIsNotUs, or similar expressions, in their efforts to disavow the supremacists. Here is just one of many examples I have come across.

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As I started to look around Twitter for similar themes, I was met with a barrage of similar responses. Unfortunately, they did not offer a common solution. Some blacks expressed outrage like the one above and some said that whites are responsible for everything and we are not owning up to it. Therefore, they conclude, we should not speak out. Ignoring the logical fallacy of statements like that, I want to discuss their argument.

I taught high school history, so I wish they wouldn’t presume to think all whites do not understand. While I’m not black, we share a common history. My history was just on the other side. To say that I can never reach a point of understanding that will satisfy you is basically saying there is no hope for the future. So, let me, as a white guy, tell you what I do understand.

I understand that our slavery began in the 1600s and was the most brutal, long lasting institution the US has ever used. I understand that it was not ever humane, no matter how well some people claim slaves were treated. Slavery is never humane. I understand that whites in this country fought to keep slavery long after every other global community disowned it, but I also know that whites fought hard on the other side to rid our country of the horror.

I understand that slavery ended in 1865, but it ended in name only. Oppression was just getting started at that point. I understand that the end of Reconstruction in the South opened the way for Jim Crow laws, Black Codes, and the most incredibly inhumane treatment of people that was possible. Lynching, dragging behind horses, torture. And that’s just the physical treatment. I understand the KKK was and still is the worst hate group this country has produced and that whites could have ended this at any time, if they wanted. If they had the collective will. They didn’t. While not all were extreme racists, most though of blacks as inferior.

I understand that it took the incredible bravery of a generation of black Americans to begin the change that we have yet to complete. I understand there were many camps in the Civil Rights Movement, and I do understand why they were all necessary. Martin Luther King and Malcom X vastly differed in their approach, but both men’s methods were born of a long, weary road of pain. I understand but cannot comprehend the courage it took Oliver Brown to muster to sue and overturn Plessy v Ferguson, one of the worst decisions in our Supreme Court’s history. I understand but cannot fathom the earth shattering fear those nine girls must have experienced walking through the doors of Little Rock Central High School.

I understand that we’ve reached a tipping point once again and I understand why.

I grew up white, not black, but I know that every black person faces things that I will never face. Walking into a store, they will be watched closer than me. White people may cross the street to walk on the other side when they see a young black man coming towards them. Entire black communities try to survive day after day without their men because the laws in this country, created almost solely by white men, have incarcerated them at incredibly high rates, causing irreparable systemic damage. Single black mothers fight for their children, only to see society often treat them as lesser. I’ve personally seen teachers make the mistake of presuming a black child can’t possibly know as much as a white one and I’ve seen a group of black girls at a church event get called the “n” word by a group of white boys as those boys rode by in their jacked up truck. I couldn’t find the words to say to apologize to those girls, but I know they will never forget that.

I’ll wrap this up because I know this is getting long. My point is this – I will not stay silent and I don’t care who gets mad at me, white or black people. Don’t presume to understand me and what I know. I’ll listen to you and you listen to me. We beat this together, not divided. Trust me, there are plenty of white people like me. It’s just a loud minority that’s making noise right now, and we’ll see it fixed.