Category: Culture

Christmas in America 

 

 

I know you know 

about God‘s beloved 

shivering on the floor

Wondering how hope turned into terror 

Upon arrival in the promised land 

 

I know you know 

about swaddled babies 

ripped from their mothers 

born at the wrong time 

in the wrong place 

in the wrong skin 

 

I know you know 

about free flu shots 

waiting idle in boxes 

while the cough begins to spread

Among the Other 

Waiting idle in boxes

 

I know you know 

about the human crossing borders 

binding people into suffering

instead of protecting them from fear 

 

I know you know 

about our old lady 

Standing with the lamp 

Waiting for tired huddled masses 

yearning to be free 

needing to be White 

 

I know you know

about the stable 

Home to donkeys 

A new family 

And earthly bribes 

For a heavenly gift

 

I know you know 

about sanctuary in Egypt

A fearsome flight 

For first time parents 

hiding the light of the world

in Ill fitting clothes 

begging him to stay quiet

hoping for one more miracle 

 

I know you know 

Whether Mary would be safe 

In your care 

Or if you’d remind her 

That Jews don’t belong here 

Without looking into her eyes 

 

I know you know 

This is Christmas in America 

 

 

 

© Gayle Force Press 2019

A poem by Franklin Oliver

 

 

 

Neighborhood Watch 

 

It was raining like hell

 

When they cuffed me 

I told the cops

It was simple

 

An eye for an eye 

Leaves the whole world blind 

Just like Lady Justice 

Except that I have a smile 

Not a smirk

On my face 

 

See, Trayvon carried skittles 

But I packed heat 

When I followed George

From his house 

Until he idled 

At the drive through  

 

It’s hard to leave a Krispy Kreme 

Once you’ve seen the Hot light  

And it’s even harder 

After I’ve dropped my whole clip 

Into your chest 

 

I told the cops 

It was simple

Lady Justice is blind

But I can see clearly 

 

The rain is gone 

 

© Gayle Force Press 2017

 

 

If you’d like to hear this poem performed, please check out our podcast.

http://whodeannypod.libsyn.com/may-poetry-pod

 

 

Justified Use of Force (for Botham)

 

 

Every year there are

Untold more of us

An Amadou Diallo, Botham Jean,

Eric Garner, Tamir Rice or me

 

Then a loud clamor

Our broken faces on TV

We ask so many questions

That no one’s forced to answer

 

With sympathy’s short half-life

Most just wait for the noise to stop

So the questions

Can disappear once again

 

Just like us

In our lives

And our deaths

 

 

 

© Gayle Force Press 2019

 

MeatSaladSurprise, a poem

MeatSaladSurprise

 

Beto’s favorite word

is a meatsaladsurprise

Too thick for its guise

of healthfulness,

slightly indigestible

 

See, this is America

The land of the free

who refuse to be brave

 

Because comfort trumps conviction

and clarity yields

an automatic timeout

 

 

We’ll keep wading through disasters

on our raft

of thoughts and prayers

 

Convinced that if we’re

just polite enough

someone else will save us

 

 

From ourselves

 

 

 

A poem by Franklin Oliver

© Gayle Force Press 2019

 

 

 

Thank God for Ferguson

My US History classes are doing significant work on Thomas Jefferson right now. Thinking so much about Jefferson and his complexities keeps bringing Charlottesville to mind. That led me to dig into the archives for this reflection on Ferguson. We keep seeing. When do we start changing?

FDO- 9.21. 2017

 

There’s a massive difference between being seen and being invisible. That’s why I’m glad Ferguson has become not just a place but a thing. Ferguson is now qualitatively different than every other incidence of police brutality. Mike Brown’s murder was the catalyst for something bigger and potentially transformative.

 

In the past couple weeks the whole world has begun to see what Black people have experienced for decades; the use of state power to intimidate and suppress populations. The police are the clearest example but much of the infrastructure of our society has done the same thing for centuries. Ta-Nehisi Coates’ invaluable article ‘The Case for Reparations’ provides the clearest explanation of the mechanisms behind this reality.

 

Ferguson demonstrates that the police do not always work on behalf of the citizens. In fact, for many in law enforcement, people of color are presumed to be an enemy force. This reality has been astonishing to many Americans but entirely unsurprising to people of color. Very few people of color can really be shocked when we hear the story of Mike Brown or Eric Garner or Ezell Ford or Tamir Rice.

 

What separates Ferguson from previous police violence is that the public response has been handled in such an absurd fashion. Everyone should be appalled at the way the police have brutalized and intimidated citizens who have not done anything wrong. Perhaps more than anything else, it’s the scale and openness in Ferguson that has garnered such attention. However, the idea that this style of policing is new or limited to a single police force is ludicrous. There’s already been some amazing reportage on this.

 

The biggest difference between the public recognition level of Rodney King (an instantly recognizable name for most Americans older than 35) and Sean Bell (who?) ….. is not that King lived but that we saw happened to him. It’s not the outcome of these situations that creates public recognition, it’s the coverage of the situation. Even in the murder of Mike Brown, the authorities have attempted to create a counter narrative that reduces the level of blame for Darren Wilson. Since we didn’t see Brown being shot, we don’t know precisely what happened.

 

Fortunately, we do know what the response to the mostly peaceful protests in Ferguson has been. Those images will linger because they are chilling and astonishing and might well be repeated in dozens of communities across America. The overwhelming militarization of the police makes the visuals more stark and citizen fear more understandable. That clarity matters. Ferguson is likely to provide the most important visuals of 2014 in America. We are Mike Brown and we are Afghanistan and we are Iraq and we are not far enough from being Pakistan or Guantanamo.

 

America is still intensely separated when it comes to race but that often has little to do with where you live, what you like or how you spend your time. Instead, that divide is usually about understanding and experience; the lenses through which you view the world. Those lenses often aren’t chosen by any of us individually; they are usually provided for us. None of us choose what America will expect of us or how America will respond to us.

 

It’s very hard to say this and I need to be clear that I’m deeply grateful that Mike Brown is the only person to have died at the hands of the police in Ferguson. But I am very happy that White America has the chance to see more of the realities of being a person of color in the USA. Now comes the hard part.

 

 

 

American Mythology (#1)

 

 

The history lessons I received in school

Have very little connection to the stories

My grandfather waited until I was 25

To begin sharing with me

 

School sounded a lot like the TV shows

Ads and movies that were produced

As Saturday morning serials in his day

And kiddie cartoons in mine

 

This should have made me nervous as a kid

Since FDR and MLK, the Cold War and Vietnam,

Sputnik and Neil Armstrong, crack and AIDS,

Computers and nukes, Coltrane and the Greatest

 

All changed history between my generation and his

But since there were bright colors and waving flags

I tried hard to believe the myths I was taught

After all, what else could possibly be true  

 

 

 

© Gayle Force Press 2015

 

A poem by Franklin Oliver

 

 

 

 

Barry Bonds Making History

 

Fifteen years ago, Barry Bonds broke what used to be one of the most hallowed records in American sporting life. He hit 71 and 72 home runs in a single season. 

 

When, in 1998, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa launched their epic chase to breach Roger Maris' 61 HR mark established in 1961, the nation rejoiced. America began falling back in love with baseball its ugly strike led to a 1994 season with no World Series. Even when most of us recognized something deeply suspicious about the Hulking physiques of these sluggers, we all smiled and kept watching

 

Three years later, the greatest (and surliest) player in recent memory hit bomb after bomb in a whole new world. Steroids were perceived as the worst destructive force the game had ever seen. The luster of the home run was gone. And outside his home park in San Francisco, fans mostly watched Bonds with begrudging eyes. 

 

I, instead, marveled. Sure, Bonds had enhanced his body dramatically. That seemed de rigueur in that era. I didn't hold him more responsible for steroid use than any other player. His excuses of using the BALCO derived "cream" and "clear" without knowing what they were seemed absurd and childish though perhaps they were a necessary fiction. The reality is that no one else was pursued for using steroids in quite the way Bonds was. Far more than his newfound power, Bonds' disdain for reporters and media etiquette was always his real crime. 

 

Let's remember, baseball is a game that requires exquisite timing and nearly instantaneous decision making, especially in the batter's box. Due to Bonds' unprecedented hitting acumen he was the recipient of astonishing numbers of walks, intentional walks and pseudo intentional walks. (This pattern only grew. In 2004, Bonds reached base 376 times on only 373 plate appearances. NOT a typo.) Despite seeing so few pitches because of the (understandable) desire of pitchers to avoid him, he maintained an unbelievably high rate of success. 

 

Now that the dust has settled and Bonds has been fired from his only post-retirement job in baseball, let's please take a moment to acknowledge the real life history we were able to watch a decade and a half ago. Let's remember when the greatest player since Willie Mays did what no one has ever done in the history of baseball. And enjoy it. 

 

 

FDO 

 

Trump as Empire Builder?

Numerous prominent Republicans have long suggested that Donald Trump is unwilling to release his tax information because he’s hiding something important, maybe even a “bombshell”. Perhaps his reticence is about having an even lower effective tax rate than the one Mitt Romney revealed in 2012 or using the kind of barely legal tax havens he’s bashed in the past. In an attempt to head off the kind of controversy that now swirls around Trump, National Review published a piece declaring that if “Trump won’t release his tax returns prior to the GOP convention, the delegates pledged to him on the first ballot should abstain” from voting for him. The implications were that something devious or even sinister lurks in the paper trail.

 

Now that we're just a few weeks away from Election Day, Trump has now offered to trade his tax returns for Hillary Clinton's deleted e-mails while still pretending his audit status prevents him from releasing his returns. He hinted that he might not actually even pay taxes at all!

 

In the first Presidential debate, Clinton raised a host of speculative theories about why Trump refuses to make his tax returns public. My theory is much simpler. See, I think the only thing that might truly diminish Trump for his supporters is his bottom line number. How much money does he actually have?

 

We’ve all seen the story play out before. A celebrity appears to have an immense amount of wealth but it’s illusory. Michael Jackson used to own an amusement park house for goodness sake!

 

This is why perception matters:

 

Trump’s primary appeal is his status as an empire builder. He describes himself as a winner and people believe it. After all, the strongest association we have with Trump is as ‘rich person’. In an America devoid of culturally significant dynastic families, it’s people like Donald Trump and the Kardashians who represent the 21st century image of American wealth. (We know nothing about most of the Vanderbilts, Carnegies, Kennedys and Rockefellers in our midst today.) We’ve already looked behind the curtain at the Kardashians and seen the ‘momager’ Kris Jenner herself. We know she’s the wizard.

 

We have no idea what we’ll see when the curtain is pulled back on the ‘Trumpire’. If there’s far less wealth than we’ve been led to believe, it will be disastrous for Trump. Not because he’s funding his own campaign, despite what he says. But because the core premise of his candidacy will be gone. It’s only his wealth that resonates as successful. Without it, he’s just another reality show star with bad hair and a bizarrely attached following.

 

Now that I think about it, I wonder if Todd Chrisley would have been a better choice?

 

 

-FDO

 

 This is an update of a post I wrote several months ago.

Where Do You Stand?

 

Every spring, my US History classes learn about the Vietnam War. For most students, it’s a new experience to study Vietnam. Invariably, students have an important misconception about the war: they presume most Americans were opposed to fighting in Vietnam. When I share evidence that the war was incredibly popular for years and never became statistically unpopular, they often feel shock. The reason is simple. People lie about their support for the Vietnam War. It’s now the cultural norm to acknowledge it as a bad war. People want to be on the right side of history in their memory, if not in their actions.

 

We are already seeing a similar process unfold regarding the Iraq War. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has repeatedly lied about opposing the Iraq War. Why? Again, it’s culturally preferred to acknowledge that Iraq was a bad war. That means average citizens rewrite their positions in much the same way Trump does. These kinds of lies have become both ubiquitous and casual. Unless you’re a public figure, who will take the time to go back and discern where you actually stood on Iraq more than a decade ago?

 

But, do you remember? Do you remember what you thought a year after the September 11 attacks when President George W. Bush insisted Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and was part of an axis of evil? Do you remember Donald Rumsfeld telling us all that Iraq was intimately connected to al-Qaida? Do you remember whether you told your family, friends and co-workers that we needed to invade Iraq or that it would be a horrible mistake? I’m guessing you do. I’m guessing that sending Americans to fight, kill and die in Iraq mattered enough that you thought about it and made a choice.

 

Well, what about now? If someone asked you about Iraq, would you tell them the truth? Would you acknowledge the wisdom or folly of your choice?

 

You already know where I’m going with this, right?! 2016 features the clearest choice between Presidential candidates in modern times. We have major party candidates with stark differences in experience, temperament, perspective and vision. The hallowed middle ground for which presidential campaigns usually compete is a void this year. And at the ballot box, America will make a genuinely historic choice between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

 

A decade from now, there will be an established cultural norm about this election. And in the referendum of history, Americans will have a story to tell their friends and family about where they stood at this decisive moment. What story will you tell? Will that story be true?

 

In 2016, where do you stand?

 

 

 

FDO

 

 

 

 

Dennis Green: An Appreciation

 

I was saddened to hear about the death of former Minnesota Vikings Head Coach Dennis Green. According to all, Green truly was what we thought he was: a damn good coach.

 

He was also an important public figure in the great White north of Minnesota. I remain convinced that Green helped ready the Twin Cities for a host of Black leaders. To the best of my knowledge, Green was the Black person t0 ever lead a major element of the Metro community’s public life. (Some might suggest Clem Haskins, but U basketball rises and falls with its winning percentage and has a much smaller social footprint.)

 

Since then, the Cities have had prominent Black civic leaders like Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton, Bobby McFerrin, Representative Keith Ellison & head coaches of both the Timberwolves & Vikes. They have all built on Green’s success.

 

My adopted homeland owes him a tremendous debt.

 

RIP, Mr. Green.