Category: Just me

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.

 

 

 

Blackface

 

The face in the mirror

Is black

Not brown or cocoa

Or anything else

The too nice people

Might try to tell me

Since it’s about opposition

And the power of whiteness

The power they validate

By denying it exists

Comes only because I am

And must continue to be

Black

 

 

© Gayle Force Press 2005 

 

 

Ten Years Gone

I have lots of favorite days every year. Rachel’s birthday, Jake’s return from summer break, 46118 Christmas… They’re all beautiful days for me every year.

 

Today is always the worst.

 

My mom died on October 1, 2005.

 

Rachel and I bought a car that day. It’s the first and only new car either of us have ever owned. We drove to my parents’ house where Rachel, my dad and I talked about the car, discussed my new job at Brebeuf and had as normal a conversation as is possible when someone is dying of cancer in the big bedroom.

 

My dad and I spent part of the afternoon in that bedroom talking about our plans for the next stage of Mom’s care. We came to some decisions and made sure Mom was warm; shared some laughs and tears and rubbed Mom’s feet and arms; we talked about how well we could manage to continue making good choices for her and discussed how we could take care of each other.

 

A couple hours later, Dad called to tell me Mom was dead. My initial thought was confusion; I didn’t know what he meant. When he repeated himself (I’m so sorry I needed him to say it a second time…), I squealed. I groaned. I uttered a primal, urgent sound that I’ve never heard before or since. It was the sound of my soul being sucked out of my body.

 

I was on autopilot as I drove back to Mills Road and I sped as though I could somehow manage to hold on to something of my mother if I just arrived quickly enough.

 

The last thing I clearly remember from that entire day was thinking how mad Mom would be if I killed myself driving recklessly on 465. 
I think I slowed down.

 

In the intervening decade, I’ve lived a wonderful life. The gifts of love I’ve received have blessed me beyond measure. The heartbreaks of living have reminded me how much I continue to love the people in my life.

 

And every single day, I miss my mommy.

 

Today is always the worst.

 
 
 

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.

 

 

More Love for Venus

 

During last year’s US Open, I posted a simple request: Can we show some love for Venus Williams?

 

Now that she’s made her way to the Wimbledon semifinals and solidly into the top 10 of the WTA rankings, I want to ask again for a renewed appreciation of a legendary, perhaps iconic American athlete.

 

In case you’ve forgotten, Venus is one of the 10 greatest players in the history of women’s tennis. She’s won seven Grand Slam titles, four Olympic gold medals and revolutionized tennis with her unprecedented combination of power, speed and athleticism in much the same way Martina Navratilova once did.

 

The primary difference between those two is that Martina’s great rival was her foil, not her sister. The epic battles between Martina and Chris Evert elevated both players. The one sided finals Venus lost to her little sister, Serena Williams, seem to have added to Serena’s ledger of greatness but diminished Venus.

 

In my September post, I dug just a bit into the why of the Serena domination, but suffice it to say that Venus’ seven Grand Slam wins underrepresent her excellence. They also only scratch the surface of her historic importance.

 

Now that more eyes are on her again, let’s take a moment to recognize Venus Williams for her trailblazing brilliance.

 

Let’s go, Venus!

 

 

Once Were

 

Beyond our sight

So many spirits

That once were and now

Will only be ‘once were’

Their fruit, their seeds,

Rotted and buried

Surely as last years’

Over early apples

 

 

Unlike apples

Whose seeds may somehow

Find deep-rooted luck

And brand new expression

Of their purpose

These dead, once were men,

Women and children

Can only be ‘once were’

 

 

 

© Gayle Force Press 2005

 

 

World B. Free

This poem helps explain why I'll always be in love with basketball.

 

 

Twenty-five years ago

I went with my dad

To an old stadium

Gone and dearly departed

If not regretfully

To see my Indiana Pacers who

I loved stridently

At home

In the new Curtis Mathes set that

How were we to know

Lasted far too long

 

 

But there in person

For the first time

Was a different kind of feeling

Since they were bad

And most of my focus

Started and stopped on a man named

World B. Free

Although I’m not sure how much of

This poem

Is true

I have no doubt

About World B. Free

 

 

It started with his hair

Though it was not exceptional

Except in its lack of exception

Stuck in a time

I may never understand

But all the rest fit too

How much he loved the game

Even when it was an awful game

And tried without ever looking

As if he were trying

 

 

Mostly though

The shooting

Like little orange only rainbows

Up and down

With no gold at the end

Only more orange

And then at its beginning

The look that might have been a smile

If he’d known no one was watching

 

 

At the end of the game

It seems that no one else noticed him

Because watching him play

Might have kept someone from skipping school

As it did me from stealing gum

Off the too short racks

Meant to taunt me

At the store

But lots of kids did that

And their parents drank too much

Cheated with a waitress

Then left home

(Not because of the children)

Even though they’d seen World B. Free

On the court downtown

 

When I asked later on

My dad said he used to be called Lloyd

That may well be

But he was always World B. to me

  

 

© Gayle Force Press 2002

 

 

Perception Matters- Trump as Empire Builder

Some prominent Republicans have 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 the kind of effective tax rate Mitt Romney revealed in 2012 or using the tax havens he’s bashed in the past. 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 are that something devious or even sinister lurks in the paper trail.

 

My theory is much simpler. I think the only thing that might make a difference for Trump supporters is the bottom line number. How much money does he 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 Kris Jenner will show up at the Republican convention?

 

 

-FDO

 

 

Perception Matters- Durant Is Clutch

 

We’re a week removed from one of the best NBA games this season. In many respects it was an instant classic. Golden State’s 121-118 overtime victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder had everything you’d want in an NBA game. There was star power, including the last two MVPs (Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry) and 5 2016 All-Stars. There was tremendous execution (239 dynamic points). There were three point shooting records (Curry tied the single game record with 12 makes and broke his own season record). Above all, there was drama as Curry hit an absurd, contested 32 footer to win the game at the horn.

 

What we didn’t see though, was winning, crunch time basketball from one of the five best players in the world and apparently no one else noticed. The reality is that Durant failed massively in the last few seconds of regulation. While the Thunder were up two with a few seconds left, Durant caught the ball and instead of waiting to be fouled or trying to escape the trap, he instead threw an awful, long pass that was intercepted by the Warriors. (Klay Thompson and Draymond Green both played the defensive possession extremely well.)

 

Then, after this turnover and with less than a second left, Durant fouled Andre Iguodala while he was shooting a desperate jumper. @Andre then hit the game tying free throws to send the game into overtime. Now, going to OT does not mean Durant lost the game in this sequence but had he made the right play either time, his Thunder would have won the game.

 

This is why perception matters: Everyone thinks of Durant as a clutch player. Since his rookie year, he’s been a consistent big shot taker and maker, including some spectacular game winners. The perception is that he’s a fantastic player when it matters most. So the talking heads on TV basically ignored those last few seconds. Virtually all the follow up stories about this game were only about how awesome Steph Curry is, not about why he had extra opportunities to win this game, thanks to Durant.

 

But just imagine if it had been LeBron James or Dwight Howard who’d failed as spectacularly as Durant did. The narrative afterward would have been entirely different. It’s about perception.

 

 

FDO

 

 

In the New World

 

As Black History Month comes to a close, I want to share this poem I have had the good fortune to read at some Black History events.

 

"In the New World" was initially inspired by the 2008 Presidential campaign. It continues to be inspired by the loving, good works of people all around the world. We are becoming the change.

 

-FDO

 

 

You can feel the changes

As the people begin to move

From Earth’s every corner

Bringing with them hope and strength

Knowing their dreams can soon take flight

In the new world they will create

 

You can see the changes

As the people begin to rise

Loosed from the shackles of fear

Breaking the bonds of ignorance

Rejecting the power of separation

In the new world they will create

 

You can hear the changes

As the people begin to sing

Songs of courage and strength

New as a baby’s cry

Old as the language of life

In the new world they will create

 

You can be the changes

As the people begin to build

Bridges from one to all

Forged from peace and justice

Raised on love and truth

In the new world we will create

 

 

© Gayle Force Press 2008