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I caught myself being racist

Soon after the pandemic hit I went to Danny’s hot dog stand on the Brunswick mall. There was a long line, all six feet apart, and when I stepped to the counter I was horrified to see that no one making hot dogs was wearing masks or gloves. Weren’t food providers supposed to wear masks and gloves?
 
I was not courageous enough to confront the woman taking my money. Yet after I got my hot dogs I dropped them into the nearest trash can. Then I called the police. Not 911, but the office just to see if I was right about the law. I was a little freaked out I guess. The virus was new and scarier to me then.
 
That same evening I ordered take-out from Lisbon House of Pizza. I know! Basically I eat hot dogs and pizza; that’s what it looks like. Anyway, when I stepped to the counter I was horrified to see that no one making pizzas was wearing masks or gloves. While being handed my pizza I said to the woman at the counter, “So no one is wearing masks or gloves in the kitchen? I probably won’t eat this.”
 
She was taken aback; insulted. I explained that I was perfectly happy to pay for it, which I did. I thought that would make things okay.
 
In the first instance I turned my discontent away from the hot dog clerk and to a third party, the police. In the second instance I vented directly to the pizza clerk. Why did I handle these two instances differently?
 
I’m sick to admit it but I think it’s because the hot dog clerk was white and the pizza clerk was black. I guess I thought it was more okay to directly disrespect a black person than a white person.
 
Make no mistake. My comment to her was disrespectful. I told her to her face that I was rejecting the food she was handing me. Paying for it did not make things okay.
 
I have this awareness because the Black Lives Matter movement inspired me to read two books about racism by black authors, So you want to talk about race by Ijeoma Oluo and How to Be An Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi. I’m starting to see things I didn’t realize before. Systemic racism is in my blood, sick to admit it or not.
 
Without this awareness I would have justified my poor behavior on many other grounds.
 
As a white person I have to be more aware and call myself out. This post is me trying to do what the books are asking me to do. This is me trying to be an example for other white people. It’s not fair to put the burden on black and brown people to bring this stuff to light.
 
And notice the title of my post. It’s about a behavior not a person. It’s okay to catch oneself doing racist things without defining oneself as a racist. Just because I did a bad thing doesn’t mean I’m a bad person. I choose to define myself as a white person who grew up with systemic racism trying to learn to be anti-racist.
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Knock on the doors of your fellow Americans.

Limited time offer. This week only. This is an excellent opportunity – the perfect excuse – to get out there and talk with strangers about politics. Face-to face.

I did it yesterday. As a volunteer for the Maine Democratic Party I knocked on doors and talked with strangers about the election. Have you decided who to vote for? Can I tell you who I am voting for, and why? It was a wonderful experience.

Many people were hungry to talk. I learned from some why voting is a sacred honor and from others why they don’t vote. I heard many theories; things I agreed with and things I didn’t. And I heard full color stories of real people about why they have changed their minds or why they are standing strong; the stories behind the numbers and trends we hear in the news.

And I’m pretty sure that for some people, this was the only in-person conversation they had for days. People are so isolated in the pandemic. If for no other reason, this is a great opportunity to break the monotony and offer a face-to-face connection to someone shut in.

Here in Maine both major parties are recruiting volunteers. They can get you trained and get you out there in a hurry. And if face-to-face is not your thing, they will be happy to train you to talk with strangers by phone. See https://www.mainedems.org/ and https://mainegop.com/.

If you are fed up with politics on social media and tired of shaking your first at your screen,  I am double-daring you to get out there and engage for real; on actual doorsteps and in front yards of your fellow Americans. This is your chance.

And by the way I experienced no hostility and several versions of, “Thanks for doing this, man. Good for you. This is what we need.”

Put the Tips in action for your group. Click here to learn about Craig’s Keynotes and Seminars.

Our Peaceful Means to Settle Disputes

October 22, 2010

I have gotten into just one real argument about this election. I was having breakfast at the Washington DC International Youth Hostel and two strangers sat down to eat and chat. After some pleasantries the talk turned to politics and the man and woman started building on each other about how unfair it is that liberals are helping homeless people vote, helping them register, giving them rides to the polls. Outrageous! Apparently there was something in the news about it.

I watched them reinforce each other’s outrage until I just had to ask, “Why is it not okay to help every American vote?”

The arguments came back sharply about how “those people” were uneducated and lazy and unpatriotic. “Well any respectable black person should at least have a driver’s license,” one of them said. “It should be illegal for those people to vote,” was another comment.

To me these were fightin’ words. I pretty-much shouted that there is just one basic requirement for voting. One. Being American. You are totally allowed to be homeless, uneducated, lazy, black, and unrespectable…..and you are still allowed to vote. In fact I believe we especially need to hear from “those people.”

It turned into a thing. Strangers gathered around to watch. I had been triggered, as they say.

Here’s why. I’m all about arguing. I’m all about different views and opinions. Our disagreements have helped make America great. Yet when push comes to shove – before it turns into a fistfight – we vote. Everyone gets a say. Majority rules.

One thing that holds any group together is a way to settle conflicts by peaceful means. Here in the U.S., this is our peaceful means: Every few years we vote. Everyone gets a say. Majority rules. Of course there are many nuances but this is the basic way that we settle big disputes in America.

I have no tolerance for voter suppression. No tolerance for my fellow hostellers in that moment. To me voter suppression is unpatriotic. It’s not putting America first. It is showing allegiance to your cause more than allegiance to your country. It’s trashing our peaceful means to get your own way.

I think it’s better to lose than to cheat. In sports, following rules and accepting outcomes is how we show our respect for the game.

I don’t expect these posts to be so opinionated every time. It’s just the timing. As Americans we are about to make a big group decision and everyone should have a say.

Put the Tips in action for your group. Click here to learn about Craig’s Keynotes and Seminars.
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