Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Azusa Pacific University was founded in 1899 as the West Coast's first bible college. It started offering degrees in 1939.
Today the school, located a half hour East of Los Angeles, still has evangelical ties and all students take religion courses. Azusa has a student body of over 10,000 people making it the second largest evangelical student body in the country (next to Liberty University in VA).

Azusa Pacific also boasts the second best NFL running back to ever be a character in Nintendo's Super Techmo Bowl (next to Bo Jackson).
While mingling at a business event I saw a black man standing alone at a table. He wasn't talking to passers by and those who passed did not appear to notice him. I knew no one there so I walked over to say hello. As I approached I recognized his face, but didn't believe my eyes. I didn't believe my eyes because the face I recognized belonged on the body of a giant, and this man was exactly my size. I do not consider myself giant.
I got close enough to read his name tag, we all wore gigantic name tags, and there it was, written in Times New Roman, "Christian Okoye". Christian Okoye came to AzusaPacific directly from Nigeria. He went there on a track scholarship with hopes of making the 1984 Olympic team. When team selections id not go his way he looked around for something else to do and he landed on football. He did not know the game, but he knew how to run and he was a giant. This giant got drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs and quickly earned the nickname the "Nigerian Nightmare". It was disconcerting to meet a giant from your childhood and not only find him incredibly friendly, but also not so much a giant. Maybe he just looked bigger because I was 8 years old at the time.

I think he is the only nightmare to ever be associated with Azusa.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Dear White Guy

Dear white guy,
I know you think it is funny when you make jokes about serious things. By serious I mean anything unhappy that doesn’t, in your view, affect you directly.

Things like rape, racism, foreign countries, urban poor, are best dealt with by saying something negative and pithy. Negative because if you say everything is stupid then you aren’t being racist. Because you hate all stupidity equally. There is a lot of stupidity out there, everywhere really, and you hate it all.
I get it. You are right, a lot of things are not as they should be and a lot of those things, we created. I understand you are a hard working guy who probably has kids that whine and the last thing you need is adults who do the same. You wish those grownups would heed the advice you give your own, “shut up and get back to work.”

I get it. I get it and please understand I mean this sincerely-
You are jack-ass.

I do not normally name call and that word is not one I ever say out loud, but I thought it the best word to most concisely and accurately communicate to you, in words that you appreciate, how you are acting.
First, let me say that condemning everything accomplishes nothing. No. That isn’t true. It accomplishes the annoyance of all who come within earshot of your wisdom. Even worse, and more troubling is that such an attitude makes you completely tone deaf to issues that are in fact important. To you.
Let me illustrate with a story.

When my oldest kid was four she whined a lot. Every night at bed time we had argument and tantrums. Every meal was a negotiation. Every morning getting dressed was a display of dramatic energy, noise, anger, and trouble. It was more than annoying and my wife and I did our best to not only resist giving into ridiculous demands but squash their genesis.

On one evening my child launched into a screaming fit because the world had conspired against her and the clock had actually struck 8:00. Bed time. What injustice! She kicked, screamed, complained, and I ignored it all. I sent her to bed. She got back up asking for water. I sent her to bed. She yelled down the stairs that she needed a night light. I responded, “go to bed.”

“I feel sick.”
“Go to bed.”
“I need medicine.”
“Go to bed.”
“I can’t breathe.”
“Go to bed.”

She was persistent and she was loud. She began really holding onto this I can’t breathe thing, but I ignored it as she was yelling I can’t breathe in between blood curdling screams. Around midnight, because my softy of a wife made me, I took little miss I can’t breathe to the emergency room. The nurse at the desk didn’t ask a single question, just looked at the child and rushed us to the back room.
We spent three days in the hospital trying to get my daughters newly diagnosed asthma under control. We now travel with an inhaler and have to use it regularly.

Sitting next to that little girl for three days was humbling. The kid spent hours telling me she couldn’t breathe and I not only ignored it but resented it. I was quite the jack-ass.

The whole time my daughter was yelling things I assumed she was making things up. I ignored her. I bet if she would have yelled, “Dad, your laptop is in my bed,” I would have rushed upstairs just to make sure it wasn’t. If she would have screamed, “Wow I found a 100 dollar bill,” I would have rushed upstairs to reclaim it. Because to me and my life money and laptops matter. Going to bed at 8 and one little glass of water are silly.

Racism isn’t silly. Neither is rape or poverty. Many of you can go a whole lifetime without visiting the proverbial ER on these things because you aren’t black, a woman, or poor. Maybe you have never seen someone raped, surely never done it, never said the N word, and you work hard for the little money you get, so of course those things aren’t as big a problem as those whiny four year olds say they are.
How arrogant and selfish is it to assume that you know best in other people’s lives? How, when others are explaining, or screaming, about their experience, do you come to the conclusion that you know the truth about them better than they do? Why when someone is speaking or explaining about hard truths, would you mock and belittle?

Stop it.

Stopping and listening is harder than ignoring and mocking. Because ignoring and mocking is stupid. The stupid thing is always easiest.


It was the fourth of July our first year in Philadelphia. We went downtown to watch the parade and saw the strangest thing, a band of men wearing sequins from head to toe, carrying parasols, and playing instruments. The marched while playing saxophones, banjos, and even upright bases. I had never seen such a thing, and then a few floats later, there was another band just like the other. What was this madness?
“Oh those are mummers,” we were told . “What exactly are mummers?” we asked. “Ummm. Well, they are just, well THOSE are mummers. It’s that right there.”

That sort of non-explanation is the norm for mummery. They exist in Philadelphia and not so much anywhere else. There may be some variations in other places, but in Philly they are in every parade, have a long road filled with Mummers club houses, and every New Year ’s Day since 1901, there is the Mummers parade.
We went and watched the Mummers. They are above all else, fun. Watching the Mummers you will see kids, babies even, dancing down Broad Street, hundreds of people not associated with a high school or getting paid playing live instruments, and lots and lots of bearded men is sequined dresses. We loved it.
Our curiosity piqued we took a trip down to 2nd st. and Washington in South Philly to visit the Mummers Museum. The art deco building housed costumed mannequins from parades past and some explanations for this Philadelphia oddity.

It is thought that the traditions grew out of the British Isles’ mummers plays. There are reports of mocking mummer plays being held in President Washington’s honor while he resided in Philadelphia. In the early 1800’s it was normal to find roving bands of men dressed as clowns causing a ruckus during the holiday season. The tradition was formalized into the parade in 1901, making it America’s oldest continuous folk parade.

I learned these things by reading faded signs on dusty displays in a museum whose heyday appeared to be at least a decade ago. In one corner of the museum I was able to try a costume on. I pulled on a long glittering skirt with feathers around the hem, donned a sparkly vest, and placed a tall multicolored feather crown upon my head. I danced and posed for my wife as she took pictures. Wearing this fine regalia I squinted to read a faded sign off in one corner. As I did I removed my crown and began feeling sick.
The sign explained the origins of the Mummers signature dance or “strut”. The dance is a variation of the cake walk, a dance or strut popularized in black face minstrel shows in the very early 1900s. The Mummer strut is traditionally done to the tune Oh Dem Golden Slippers, a blackface standard. The sign also explained that from day one, till a city order in 1964, the parade was done in black face.
Standing there in sequins and feathers I felt betrayed.

It was in a back corner of the Mummer Museum when I realized that in this very black city, I had never seen a black Mummer. It is possible one exists but I think the academic term for them is “statistically insignificant”.
I have met plenty of Mummers. Since reading that sign I have asked, and listened, to what Mummers say Mummery is all about. I have talked to people who have never read a thing I have written or have a clue to whom I am married, and not once has anything remotely racist been uttered. I hear lots of talk about tradition and fun. I have heard and read about music and family.
I like all of those things.

I have never read anything about black people or hate. It is as if anything racist was scrubbed off along with the black makeup. I have never even heard a mummer bring up the black face past. I am even willing to wager that most all of the Mummers under the age of 25 have no idea of the racist history or know what a minstrel show ever was. So in a very real way to them, and to most everyone, the Mummers are very much just family, tradition, music, and fun.

What a great object lesson about race in America.
The Mummers parade is fantastic, it is also very deeply and firmly sprung from racist roots.
So what is it now?

I am watching the parade now as I write this. I love it. I just saw a brigade perform a skit where a mass of commoners used a giant gold dollar sign to lure a donkey and an elephant into a trap where they could both be struck over the head by the liberty bell. I would encourage anyone and everyone to attend. It is guaranteed fun no matter who you are.

But were I ever invited, or had the opportunity to become a Mummer, I do not think I would do it. I cannot escape the memory of what I felt when all bedecked in glitter I read that faded sign.  Watching the parade today I have not seen a black face, painted or otherwise. The bands and brigades are formed as clubs and other organizations. Many are tied up in family traditions and bloodlines. Black people need not be barred for these sorts of things to stay all white. The white people need not really be racist for a black person to not feel comfortable or welcomed.

So in this way the parade is like most everything.
Does what something used to be, forever taint what it is now?
How do we enjoy today when maybe yesterday isn’t all the way gone yet?

Happy New Year… I’m spending the rest of today enjoying the parade.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Motherhood is Nuts

So why would anyone take the type of job that when the entire industry is honored, it is done so by allowing a person the luxury of not having to do that job?
Such is motherhood.

It is a sorority with the most severe initiation ritual ever devised, so much so that millions have died while pledging, yet a fresh new batch of applicants sign up every day.

If the initiation ritual for admittance to motherhood were replicated as a sort of guaranteed gateway to a million dollars, we would likely have less millionaires than we do now.  It just wouldn't be worth it. Yet not only do people sign up without the promise of a cash prize, but many pay huge sums to get in the club. Medical science has devoted some its best minds to the cause of allowing women the joy of enduring huge amounts of pain for little to no thanks, other than that one day a year when they are honored by being allowed to act like they aren't in the club for a day.

Now parenting is another story. One need not go through this initiation ritual to gain the title of parent. No, instead the intense pain of birthing labor is stretched out over 18 years in the eyes of the law, but in reality will likely last till you finally graduate into the grave.
There are those who join motherhood but decline to continue on to parent, there are those who never gave birth who then elect to parent, and then there are those who do both. Those who do both are insane, illogical, and the world owes them an inexhaustible debt.

I’m glad I hit the mother lottery. Come to think of it. I hit the lottery twice.