Crashing the Parties

party mask

This week in American Politics has been quite the week.  The daily news cycle has left behind and forgotten all about abusive over-policing tragedies and sociopathic gunmen responding to them and dove head-first in to the national political conventions of the Democratic and the Republican Parties.  This is an official start of the 2016 General Election, which will culminate with one party controlling the White House.  All week long, we’ve heard how the Democrats, lead by Secretary Hillary Clinton and Virginia Senator Tim Kaine, have ruined and will ruin America.  Now, we’ll hear how the Republicans, with Donald Trump and Indiana Governor Mike Pence, are a danger to America and the rest of the world.  With the back and forth and in-fighting between each party, it’s hard for normal people to tell which side is right… or which side is… left?

Thought I was going to say wrong?  As if one side actually has the definite truth.  Well, as a wise man once told me, “you’ll find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly from a certain point of view.”  And it’s that point of view that has caused several self-professed Democrats to levee criticism at Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine as not being “progressive enough” or not even really Democrats to begin with.  Similar criticism has been given to Donald Trump in consideration of his history supporting abortion rights and government-backed social programs.  But it’s like some have forgotten what makes the “Democrat” in the Democratic Party and vice versa.  I can’t help but to wonder do they know what actually is a Democrat?  Or what is a Republican for that matter?  How is the Party of Abraham Lincoln now the Party of Donald Trump?  Why is the Democratic Party, the party that fought for the expansion of slavery now the party that fights for every social and civil right humanity desires?

To understand how these political parties became the parties we know today, you have to look back how our nation began.  Believe it or not, we were not always like this.  Our first President, George Washington never affiliated himself with a political party.  But from the very beginning, we were a nation wanting to determine how best to run a new democratic state.  Coming from an more authoritarian monarchy of Great Britain, many felt such centralized control was doom to tyranny.  They were called Anti-Federalist or Democratic Republicans.  Others, who were called the Federalist, believed that having centralized authority could be provide order and rule of law.  Throughout President Washington’s first term, the division between the two sides was minimal.  However, by his second term, Vice President John Adams and Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton lead the charge for for the Federalist while Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson and then Congressman James Madison opposed them in the Democratic-Republican Party.  If you know your history, you might know what happened next.  After John Adams lost re-election to Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton lost his life to Jefferson’s Vice President, Aaron Burr, the Federalist begin to lose power and relevancy.  From 1801 to 1829, the Democratic-Republicans held power throughout Congress and the Presidency.  But because of a pretty nasty election(even for today’s standards) in 1824, Andrew Jackson, who was defeated in his bid for the White House that year, was renominated by a new opposing party in 1828, the Democratic Party.

When the Democratic Party helped get Andrew Jackson elected President in 1828, it must be noted that this was not the Democratic Party that we know today, nor was it anything like the former Federalist Party before.  This Democratic Party was the heir to the former Democratic-Republican Party, and like it’s predecessor, it opposed a strong federal government and supported individual economic interest.  This interest, of course included the enslavement of African-Americans.  For almost 30 years, the Democratic Party was opposed by another party that supported a strong federal government, the Whig Party.  And they collapsed over their inability to address the issue of slavery.  This lead to the formation of yet another party that would strongly oppose slavery as it would support a strong federal government, the Republican Party.

By 1860, the two political parties we have today were now a part of American politics.  The Democratic Party was the party that supported business and economic interest and the Republican Party prioritized expanding the role of the federal government.  Today, those two parties have categorically switched philosophies from where they were when Abraham Lincoln was elected.  What happened?  What started the party switch?  Believe it or not, it was slavery itself.  With the Democratic Party, lead mostly by southern states, wanting to preserve their right to practice it and the Northern-backed Republicans wanting to preserve the union and stop the expansion of slavery, the two sides fought in our Civil War.  This was a war that was only ended when President Lincoln used the power of the federal government to out industrialize the Southern states.  We built railroads to move troops, added states and manpower, which created more jobs to sustain the war effort.  As a result of this sustained build-up, the typically Democratic-friendly businessmen and industrialist heavily profited from this expansion of the federal government lead by a Republican administration.  Now, with the Civil War ended, Democrats begin to support the expanding federal government because it was good for business and the Republicans supported the strength of that federal government.  And while the Republicans did support the Civil Rights of freed African-Americans, that begin to change in 1876 when Republican Rutherford Hayes agreed to end Reconstruction in the south, which largely protected the interest(and lives) of African-Americans after the Civil War.  The Republican Party begin to emphasize less about social and civil rights and be more concerned about the business interest that it was started to gain support from.

The Democratic Party was on a different path.  Secluded mostly to southern states after the war, the Democrats were still a party of business interest and against Civil Rights of African-Americans, but this begin to change in response to the surging business support that both the Democratic and Republican Parties enjoyed.  In 1896, to try to go back to their roots of being a party for the “common man”, Nebraskan Congressman, William Jennings Bryan was able to defeat business-friendly President Grover Cleveland for the Democratic Nomination, which would effectively be the end of the Democratic Party’s staunch support from big business.  This left the Republican Party as the only party supportive of economic freedom.  Over the next 30 years, the Democrats would continue to be the party that was anti or against the Trust(or corporate interest) in America, supported workers rights and unionism.  The Republicans, for the most part opposed them and continued to elect pro-business Presidents like William McKinley, William Taft, Warren Harding and Herbert Hoover.  By the end of this period, the Party’s hands-off approach to business would contribute to the Great Depression and the election of Franklin Roosevelt and the Democratic Party’s support of government spending.

Throughout the early 20th Century, the two parties had effectively switch philosophies on an economic basis, however, on social issues the parties remained largely consistent.  But with President Roosevelt’s support of federal government investment to help lift the country out of the Great Depression, this included lifting all Americans, including African-Americans.  These policies were supported by President’s John Kennedy(who’s father served in the Roosevelt Administration) and his successor Lyndon Johnson.  And it was here where the parties and their voters really  begin to switch.  When President Johnson, a southern Democrat, with ties to the traditional Democratic Party, pushed for the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, he turned away from the older Democratic Party of the south and embraced civil rights.  In turn, the older mostly southern Democrats(northern Democrats were already supportive of civil rights) turned away from him and largely abandoned the Democratic Party, joining the Democratic base that resisted the passage of the Civil Rights Act as well.  They joined the Republican Party, which, by now, solidly supported the role of a “limited government” and economic conservatism, along additional conservative values of being pro-life and the promotion of “family values”.  African-Americans, now being fully integrated in American politics would back the political party that back their economic and social interest, the Democratic Party.

And now, here we are today.  As divided within each party as we are against each party.  But I am a Democrat.  I support men and women’s choice in family planning.  I support immediate redress for gun violence that has plagued our communities.  I support the civil rights of individuals to marry who they like, to pee where they want, to protest how they wish and to pray to what faith they follow.  I expect the government to guarantee those rights.  That is what makes the the Democratic Party the Democratic Party.  A few years ago, I attended a forum, with a Republican colleague for a group of students and first time voters.  A closing question we were given asked the difference between Democrats and Republicans.  My Republican colleague responded by saying Democrats trust the government while Republicans trust people more.  That was a fair opinion, which has some validity.  But I had to remind her and the class, it isn’t simply the government we trust.  It was the first Republican President, Abraham Lincoln that reminded us that America is a government “of the people, by the people, for the people”.  We, the people are the government.  And as a Democrat, I believe in the full participation of all those people.  Just as President Lincoln did.  That made him a Republican.  And that is what makes me a Democrat.

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Diary of a Friendly Black Man

black man emoji

Dear America,

I have a question for you.  Do you remember back when you were little and you had the “Monster in the closet” or the “Boogie-Man” that you swore was out to get you in your dreams?  Maybe it was after watching that first horror movie you know you know weren’t suppose to watch, but your older brother or sister wanted to scare the bajeezus out of you just for shits and giggles.  Maybe it was just something that terrified you for no particular reason that just gave you the heebie-jeebies.  You remember your childish fright creature, don’t you?  I do.

Believe it or not, mine was… Mr. Snuffleupagus.

Yep.  The weird imaginary friend of Big Bird on Sesame Street.  Ask my brothers.  I was scared. To. Death. Of Suffleupagus.  Every time he’d come on screen I would freak the heck out, crying, hollering, ducking my head in the couch cushions, anything to escape what I thought was impending doom coming at me.  My brothers teased me about it until at least my 20s, no joke.(They also teased me about Donna Summer, who I also thought was scary for some odd reason?!)  But then I grew up.  I realized that “Snuffy” was not scary at all.  He was fictional.  He couldn’t kill me.  He was friendly.  In fact, I actually begin to think he was kind of… cuddly.

Three years ago, when I started this project, Your Friendly Neighborhood Black Man, I had a point to make.  It was a play off of a popular fictional character, Spider-Man, who often describes himself as “Your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man”. He tells this to most people who, thanks to the bad press he receives, see a masked man as a threat or someone to be afraid of and not what he actually is; a hero or someone who wants to help.  And like the fictional Spider-Man, that is often how many black males are perceived, despite our intentions.  We are seen as a threat or someone to be afraid of.  And yes, just like Spider-Man, this is a perception often produced through the media.  But I’ve also noticed that this fear is born of other sources as well.

Not to get into any specifics, but there have been several occasions where, in my personal and professional life, I have come across certain individuals who I could not help but to notice the different ways they would interact with me than with other contemporaries.  These individuals, typically white males or females, I notice that they are able to interact with other white males or females and be social or cordial, conversational or otherwise pleasant.  However, in my presence, I didn’t get any of that.  These individuals are not too talkative or conversational.  They’re most typically uncomfortable, squeamish and often they’ve been spiteful or aggressively terse.  And it’s extremely noticeable.  I’m not sure if they are able to notice it, but I am.  And others who have similar experiences notice this as well.  And given how I was raised, I found this deeply troubling.

Now, as often as this has happened, it initially confused me.  I didn’t get why this would happen.  I would think “I wouldn’t do this to you, so why would you act this way towards me?”  But then that forced me to think about why I would not act in that way.  I was raised in a middle class neighborhood, in a middle class community, in a predominately white city.  Outside of my parents and my brothers, the people I had to interact with on a daily basis, teachers, classmates, neighbors, friends, they were typically white.  This was my life.  It was the world I knew.  So as I grew older, my ability to interact with people who were of a different culture or race or ethnicity of my own was something I had to have.  So, in my personal and professional life, I was functionally able to employ that same ability with others comfortably.  But to my realization, not everyone has had as sustained experiences with people outside of their world.  And this lack of experience has an affect on their ability to associate with those outside of it.

Let me put it to you a different way.  A couple of years back, the Public Religion Research Institute did a study on the people individuals associate with and broke it down demographically.  What they found was pretty polarizing.  For the sake of simplicity, let’s say that a white person and a black person each had exactly 100 friends in life.  The study found that this white person would only have ONE(out of 100) black friend.  The black person would not fair much better, eight of their 100 friends would be white.

white black friends

If you doubt these results, do me a favor.  Next time you find yourself out at a social gathering or at a familiar setting, at a party or going out for drinks with friends, something like that.  Look around you and notice everyone in the room.  Are most of them of the same race?  Are they mostly from similar backgrounds as yours?  If you’re white, think about how many people of color that are in your life.  Not just that one teller at the bank or the guy with the office/cubical next to yours.  How many people of color are in your world and have an effect on your life?  If you’re black, it’s honestly not too much different.  The only thing is, we live in a world where we are the minority.  It’s almost impossible for us to live in a world that is devoid of white people so many of us have been able to adapt.  The same can’t be said for the majority.

Last week was one of the most tumultuous weeks America has experienced in years, probably decades.  What started with the recorded shooting death of a black man by police, being the 558th such person this year, it was noticed by a few.  Before it could be noticed by all, another recording surfaced on the following day of another black man dying on video due to being shot by the police.  These extremely public shootings caused thousands across the nation to immediately protest these actions and the historic actions experienced by Black America.  However, before the nation could even feel the affect of these protest, a lone and heavily armored and armed gunman, targeted, shot and killed law enforcement officers in Dallas, Texas in the latest of a long line of mass shootings in America.  Since then, every citizen in this nation has struggled with the ability to grasp how to respond to each of these tragedies.  Some seek to blame.  Some seek healing.  What we have to seek is a way to change our worlds.

The police officers who shot Alton Sterling and Philando Castille probably weren’t the racist of racist people.  To be perfectly honest I’m am ABSOLUTELY sure that I would be able to get along with those guys just fine.  They probably like football, watch Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead.  They probably have kids and have enough compassion to want to see them raised right.  If not, they have people in their lives they do care for, which means they DO have the capacity for love.  I cannot imagine they set out on their day last week to kill black men.  What happened was they were put in a situation, where they faced an unknown, assumed the worst and acted accordingly.  We all have the potential to do the same thing, especially if we are given an unknown entity.  It is that unknown that would cause us to react irrationally or to react out of fear.  Whenever I saw Mr. Snuffleupagus and screamed my little 4-year-old heart out that was out of fear.  I’d see those large eyes, furry bloated body and trunk slowly creeping his way down the street and assumed the worse.  I didn’t know any better.  He was an unknown entity.  And it is human nature to not only fear what we don’t know, but to react to it out of fear.  And that’s what those police did.  To them and to many others, we are the Mr. Snuffleupagus or the monster in the closet.  However, if we took the time to re-evaluate our perspective, we’d realize there’s nothing to fear.  We’d realize there is no moster in the closet.  We’d realize that Snuffy was just Big Bird’s friend.  But we don’t because we often do not take the time to broaden our perspective and make our world bigger.

Going back to Spider-Man, despite the Daily Bugle’s efforts, he is generally seen as a hero and no one’s afraid of him.  But in the real world, our worlds can be so often segregated and monolithic and not even realize it.  It is far to easy and extremely likely that if you are white in America, you can go through your daily life and not have a single impactful experience with any persons of color or culture.  And when you are then put into a situation where you had to interact with someone different, you cannot relate or appropriately socialize with such a person.  And when this persons takes actions that you are not accustom to, it can easily be misinterpreted or taken the wrong way with which it was attempted, which would cause them to react protectively and yes, aggressively.  On the other side of the coin, Black America’s experience with white persons can also have an affect on their perceptions.  If the only persons in our lives that were white were a cop coming to arrest us or our family, a teacher suspending us or giving us detention or a supervisor that is firing or reprimanding us, that too would have an effect.  If our interactions is only limited to individuals who can often have an only adverse relationship with us, that could also color how we perceive all of that race in an adversarial light.

America, we have to make our worlds bigger.  We cannot survive if the persons in our lives are just like us.  That was not what this nation is about.  We won’t be able to grow or learn if our lives continue to be monolithically white.  Or black.  Or latino.  Or Asian. Or straight. Or Christian.  That is how we stop weeks like last week from happening.  We live in an ever-increasing multicultural society and we have to embrace it for our own sakes.  Not just for the sake of acceptance.  But for the sake of knowledge.  If we are unable to recognize the humanity in others that are not like us, then we can only see them as a threat to our own humanity.  And in the words of my favorite philosopher, “Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.”  We have to realize that there is nothing to fear.  Afterall, we’re only human.

Regards,

Your Friendly Neighborhood Black (Hu)Man

We Are America

“Patriotism.

There’s a word thrown around a lot.  It inspires passionate debate and is worn like a badge of honor, and with good reason.  Because it means love and devotion for one’s country.  Love.  For a word designed to unite, it can also be pretty divisive.  You see there’s more to patriotism than flag-sequence onsies and rodeos and quadruple cheeseburgers.  Patriotism is love for a country, not just pride in it.  But what really makes up this country of ours?  What is it we love? It’s more than just a huge rock full of animals like cougars and eagles right?  It’s the people.

Do me a favor.  Close your eyes for a second, I want to try something out.  Picture the average U.S. citizen.  Think about it.  How old are they?  What’s their hair like?  How much can they bench?  You got one? Okay.  So chances are the person you’re picturing right now looks different than the real average American.  There are 319 million U.S. citizens.  Fifty one percent are female.  So first off, the average American is a woman.  Cool, huh?  Is that what you pictured?  54 million are latino.  40 million are senior citizens.  27 million are disabled.  18 million are Asian.  That’s more people in the U.S. that play football and baseball combined. Nine million are lesbian, gay, bi or transgender, more than the entire amount of people in the state of Virginia. Around 10 million are red-head.  5.1 million play Ultimate Frisbee and three and a half million are Muslim.  Triple the number of people currently serving in the United States Military.

Almost half the country belongs to minority groups.  People who are lesbian, Afircan-American and bi and transgender and Native American and proud of it.  We know that labels don’t devalue us, they help define us.   Keeping us dialed into our cultures and our beliefs in who we are as Americans.  After all, what’s more American than freedom to celebrate things that makes us… us.  I mean it’s stitched into the Stars and Stripes of this country.  From the Constitution to Gettysburg, to our motto: E Pluribus Unum, From Many One.  It’s even our country’s name… The UNITED STATES.

This year, Patriotism shouldn’t just be about pride of country.  It should be about love.  Love beyond age, disability, sexuality, race, religion and any other labels.  Because the second any of us judge people based on those labels, we’re not really being patriotic are we?

So let’s try this one more time.  Close your eyes.  Picture the average Joe or Joan or Juan or Jean-Luc.  The real people who make America… America.  And this year, whenever you feel the urge to don those star-spangled shorts or to set off fireworks the size of my biceps to show love for our country, remember to love America is to love all Americans.  Because love has no labels.”