Thursday, November 10, 2016


Four years ago, in 2012, I tried an experiment. I'd spent the last 12 years bouncing around America's political and justice systems, trying every conceivable strategy in the book to reform the things I'd seen the nice way, the diplomatic way, the way I'd been taught good, conscientious citizens achieved reform in school: by playing by the rules, appealing to the best in people, employing diplomacy, logic, persuasion, reason, rule of law. I'd written reports full of data, cited national best practices, published op-eds, blog posts, Venn Diagrams, pie charts, legislation, presentations with fancy slides--name the measure, I tried it. Only none of it, ever, had worked.

So I decided to try something different. I planned a lobby-in at City Hall and invited all of my friends, family, and former colleagues to join me. We'd refuse to leave until the mayor stopped breaking the law and violating millions of New Yorkers' rights with Stop and Frisk. Reformers and criminal justice heads in the city had tried everything under the sun already to stop the mayor, but he'd refused. He believed breaking the law was a necessary means to an end, and that was that. I'd hoped that a group of white people, lawyers, former business executives, and such, people who used to work with him and his staff, sitting out front and refusing to leave, would shame him for this conduct, make him change his mind.

On the day of the action, no one, not a single family member, friend, loved one, or colleague, joined me, so I audibled and switched up the plan. If they didn't want to engage I'd make them. Part of me was hurt, annoyed, wanted to lash out, sure, but part of me we was also tired of the apathy, the disinterest, the talk about how we were such exceptional people but at the same time could allow such cruel, illegal things to happen. And lastly, after failing in the system for so long, part of me was hungry to find strategies that actually worked. So I grabbed a can of spray-paint and aimed at the one thing I knew the people in my life cared about, my relationship with them, my future, my safety. I told everyone in my life that since they weren't going to come with me I was going to paint graffiti all over the mayor's office alone, get arrested, released, repeat, until either they engaged and forced the mayor to end Stop and Frisk or until I racked up a criminal record 20 pages long and got sent away to prison. I posted the news in my blog and told everyone who to call and what to say when they got through.

For years in that space, this space, my blog, I'd been sharing stories of the young men I'd worked with in Dorchester and Roxbury. I'd once posted about one of the men in my program in Roxbury, who I likened to Will Hunting. Reggie was a guy who'd gotten caught up in the court system and who was one of the smartest kids I'd ever met. Everything he said was so on-point, poised, and nuanced. I'd asked for help with job leads, old cell phones, stipends for meeting benchmarks, and so on, and not a single person had responded, except Sue, who was our program's employment coordinator.

But now, now that it was me, my life, my future, suddenly all of my friends and family came out of the woodwork, hundreds of them, to rubberneck. Where my blog posts had gotten 2 or 3 hits until then, suddenly they were all clicking, reading, devouring every update, wanting to know what the hell was going on, why I was throwing my life away, racking up a criminal record. In a word, it worked. Their racism wouldn't let them see Reggie, wouldn't let me center his experience for them, but they sure as hell could still see me.

Which brings me back to Donald Trump, and more importantly, to his supporters who are acting openly on the racism and xenophobia that his campaign rhetoric has inspired. Yesterday, in response to the bombshell news that Donald Trump had actually won the election, a writer named Damon Young, editor of Very Smart Brothas, wrote the following:

"This is on ALL White people. Who are complicit even if they didn’t vote for Trump. Because they obviously haven’t done enough to repudiate the mindsets existing in their families and amongst their friends; possessed by their co-workers and neighbors; shared during private holiday gatherings and public city townhalls."

I'm mentioning my experiment strong-arming loved ones into action now because for years I'd tried everything in the book to do what Damon said, to repudiate the mindset of my family and friends, the nice way, through emotional pleas, love, dialogue, engagement--it never worked. My father, sister, and I think even my mother, who I saw post a reasons to vote for Trump article on Facebook, by an evangelical minister of all people, the day before the election, all supported Donald Trump though my daughter, their granddaughter and niece, is mixed race and thus one of the very people that Trump's followers have decided to scapegoat and target. 

How they could do this I'll never understand, but despite all of my efforts, and despite the thrust of my entire life's work, they did it anyway, so now it's time to hold them accountable for corking this bottle the only way that I've found works. If there's one thing all people have in common, no matter where they fall on the racism spectrum--unwitting and wholly implicit, or explicit full-on costume wearers who drop n-bombs and wave confederate flags--it's that they love their families. Often I have found that the most virulent racists are the most doting and protective of their children and grandchildren. 

So, if we truly want to repudiate such mindsets, like Damon Young said, or at least force people who supported Trump to hold the overt racists who act on their racism among them accountable, this is what we'll have to take away from them: the thing they care about most, their family members, us, because if my experiences have taught me anything, it's that nothing short of this will accomplish a damn thing. 

Today I saw video on social media of kids chanting "Build the Wall!" in a school cafeteria, and pictures of a transgendered Veteran's car burned and vandalized with the word "Trump." So this is what I'm proposing: For every one of these incidents that happens, mom, dad, sis, and everyone else that supported Trump despite knowing he was inviting these behaviors into the open, I'm adding a day to the time I'm not coming home to visit. Every single time one of these incidents happens, I'll add another day, and another. It's two weeks until Thanksgiving, and a month until Christmas, so if you want to see me and your granddaughter over the holidays, watch football, exchange presents, or see us ever again for that matter, you better get to work before too many more of these incidents add up. 

You might say this is unfair, but honestly, when Islamic terrorists commit acts of violence, aren't you the first to call for moderate Muslims to round up their people, get their house in order? So now it's time for you to apply the same logic to your new friends: Go get your people, the racist psychopaths you've gotten yourselves into bed with, or enjoy Thanksgiving turkey, eggnog, and Easter egg hunting without us.

It's not that I don't want to see you, or for you to not have a relationship with me and my daughter, by the way. It's quite the opposite, really. I love you, and I know you love her. I want her to know this side of her family, and to have a good relationship with you. It's just that this is too important, for her and people like her, to play nice with you anymore, to gloss over it, pretend like everything's okay--it's not.

                            [This post was edited on Friday, November 11, at 0922 EST]

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