White Privilege, Part…II? XVIII? Who’s Counting?

The US election of 2016 ushered me, like a lot of folks, into a new era of reading, listening, and discussion, all aimed at understanding, to paraphrase Hillary, “What the Hell Just Happened (And What Does it Mean)?”

I quickly figured out that it was mostly my fellow white people who were asking that question. People of Color (whom I’ve mostly just been reading and listening to, since leaving very-colorful Tacoma for this very-white island 7 years ago) not only sounded less surprised on the whole, but also less shook. The overall message seems to be more along the lines of, “Really? Didn’t see this coming?”

For these thinkers, Trump isn’t the blacklight lighting up the creepy-crawlies in the sofa cushions; he’s just one more creepy-crawly in a house whose infestation was built into its foundation-which some of us have been noticing only intermittently. I realized I had something to learn.

One of the most powerful passages of one of the most powerful books I’ve read this past year comes from Ta-Nahesi Coates’ Between The World And Me. He writes of the Dream—NOT Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream,” but quite the opposite. This Dream, to Coates, is the illusion of fundamental American fairness, decency and democracy that middle class whites cling to in order to feel good about living the way we do when we know others have not been, and still are not, able to live that way.

The mettle that it takes to look away from the horror of our prison system, from police forces transformed into armies, from the long war against the black body, is not forged overnight. This is the practiced habit of jabbing out one’s eyes and forgetting the work of one’s hands. To acknowledge those horrors means turning away from the brightly rendered version of your country as it has always declared itself and turning toward something murkier and unknown.

Coates concludes that stark paragraph with this statement:

It is still too difficult for most Americans to do this. But that is your work. It must be, if only to preserve the sanctity of your mind. —pp. 88-89

I think I might change that last word to “soul,” or perhaps “heart,” because I feel Coates’ challenge more there than in my mind. And for me the challenge is not to change my opinion about America so much as it is to change my focus. To think about what I haven’t had to think about. And to let new voices have my ear.

One such new voice I heard recently on Stephen Colbert’s Late Show: Grammy-winner Chance the Rapper, debuting his new song, “First World Problems,” accompanied by Daniel Caesar.

Son One likes Chance and Caesar, and urged me to listen. I now urge you to do the same. Not your style of music? It’s not mine either. But give this song—pun intended—a chance. And pay attention to the lyrics.

These lyrics especially–notice the connection with Coates’ Dream?

Now—think about what you are thinking about. And let me know. Keep the conversation going.

 

“I Do…Right?” Maybe It’s Time For An American Recommitment Ceremony

You may have noticed I have some strong opinions. But one of them, which has been gaining strength since Trump’s inauguration, is this: I don’t want my own strong opinions irrevocably dividing me from my fellow Americans.

Easier said than done, when most of what I see and hear through the media fills me with reactive rage, disgust, and sorrow. But rage, disgust and sorrow are exhausting. So the temptation is to stick with my tribe, to talk only with  people who feel the same way, and to shut out the “ugly voices.”

Problem is, we’re all in this together—”this” being This American Experiment.

All in this together. “Togetherness,” by Author Woldh, October 2015, courtesy Wikimedia

So when I venture outside my tribe, I try to connect over shared values: music. Food. Sports. Children. Animals. And when I’m alone, I make myself read articles and listen to podcasts that force me to consider the downside of my own tribalism.

Recently I was struck by this bit from an “On Being” podcast—a dual interview with an Indian-American journalist from Ohio and an activist from rural White Tennessee. Here’s the journalist, Anand Giridharadas:

…the word that comes to me is “commitment.” … You’re committed to your home… in a way that…almost sounds more like the way people talk about marriage. You’re not there because you know it’s gonna be good; you’re willing to be there even if it’s not great. And I think what’s happened to us is that we’re not committed to each other as a people, so it’s almost like we are in this kind of situation where any disappointment that we encounter in our fellow citizens is like a reason to break up, and any deviation from deeply fulfilling each other as fellow citizens is like a tragedy. And part of commitment as a citizen is embracing other people’s dysfunction, and embracing other people’s incompleteness, because you know you have your own. And we’ve ended up in resistance to each other.

Embracing other people’s dysfunction? Does that mean their racism or homophobia? I don’t want to do that. But if I do nothing but entrench myself against it, nothing changes. So if “embrace” means “engage with, talk to, try to understand…” OK. MAYBE I can do that. No promises. But I can try.

The activist in that interview, Whitney Kimball Coe, had this response:

… I’m always thinking about how do I show up? How do I show up in the world and in my community and beyond, and am I going to show up with an open mind, an open heart, and with curiosity? Or am I going to go in, guns blazing, looking for a high for my ego, and see if I can nail this interview right now…? And it’s such a freeing way to live, if you can approach all of these interactions from a more open, curious perspective. That’s where I am, these days — ‘How am I bringing myself into a space?’

The journalist replies with a suggestion I love:

We live in an age that loves the solution. One of the things you experience, when you’re a writer in this age who tries to partake in an age-old tradition of writing as criticism, as holding up a mirror…is that you get shamed for not offering solutions…When we actually relax our need for solutions, I think we create space for…curiosity, when…instead of saying, “How do you solve this?” — if you like Ta-Nehisi Coates’s work or are provoked by it, instead of being like, “OK, what’s your plan?” — let’s start some curiosity. What does he make you curious about? If you’re white, what does he make you — now that you’re unsettled or angry or agreeing or whatever, what are you left curious about?

The host of “On Being,” the articulate Krista Tippett, finishes with a quote from the journalist, stating our challenge:

“It is hardly the fault of the rest of us that those wielding unearned privilege bristle at surrendering it. But it is our problem. The burden of citizenship is committing to your fellow citizens and accepting that what is not your fault may be your problem.”

And Anand Giridharadas sums up, in his response, my entire point here, using that marriage metaphor:

I think the despair is that we’ve fallen not just out of love, but out of interest with each other. I actually think more and more of us love “our” America, but don’t necessarily love America or Americans. We love the ones we love. We love the ones who love us. It’s kind of become like a bad college relationship. We’re a country peopled by these rowdy, restless gamblers who tried to make it work, and I think we have lost our way. But I think if we can remember that the whole enterprise here is simply to try to make it work — that’s the experiment. That’s it…We’re not trying to make it work to create wealth. We’re not trying to make it work to create innovation. We’re not trying to make it work to restore some illusory, lost greatness. We’re trying to make it work to make it work — and if we can make this work, it perhaps suggests that the world is not one as a world, but the world is actually one here, in America. What a great, great thing to try.

America, I want to keep trying. Let’s keep talking.

 

White Privilege for Dummies (Like Me)

I have been thinking about white privilege, trying to articulate its meaning…then here comes this teacher who just sums the whole thing up visually:

(…with thanks to Allison Snow, from whose Facebook page I first saw this, and datniggakel, whose YouTube I used.)

As this worthy teacher/coach would probably say after a lesson: “Any questions?”

Scrubbing Our American Nooks and Crannies: Racism and Other Filth

I don’t want to write about Charlottesville. I don’t even want to THINK about Charlottesville.

Last weekend I was in a sleep-deprived daze, going straight from wilderness camping to back-to-back days at my bakery job. And the Mate was out of town. I didn’t see any news, and since the twentysomethings I work with were even more exhausted than I, we talked mostly of cinnamon rolls and music.

Now the Mate is back home, the news is back on, and a weight has settled in my stomach, completely at odds with the fresh, beautiful view I see from our window.

So I’m going to write about my kitchen floor. It’s spotless again. So is the nook behind the toaster, and the gap between the dish drainer and the wall. Because–as I just mentioned–the Mate is back home.

It’s not that I’m a terrible housekeeper. I’m great fine perfectly quite competent. I keep my dishes washed and my counters wiped. But somehow, when the Mate is away for any length of time, my kitchen starts looking filthy.

It’s not that he’s a major cleaner. He’s a MINOR cleaner. He wipes a different spot each day, making the rounds. Today: behind the toaster. Tomorrow: under the fridge. Like painting the Golden Gate Bridge, once done at one end, it’s time to start back at the other. But it’s no sweat, ’cause each spot-clean takes maybe two minutes, max.

Gotta stop pretending this ugliness will just disappear if I don’t look at it.

We live on an island of mostly left-leaning, mostly-white people. Not all privileged, by any means, but protected by race and by distance from the ugliness on display at Charlottesville. That weight in my stomach is for my country, not for myself.

But it is my weight just the same. Our weight, whether we live near or far. The threat of virulent, presidentially-approved racism is, in fact, a threat to us all. Our community.Our democracy.

A visitor told me this week he had seen a Confederate flag flying near someone’s driveway at the far end of our island. I don’t know when or how, but I’m going to find the person who owns that flag and talk to him/her. I’m not looking forward to the conversation. But that flag is a little pocket of grime in my kitchen, and I know what happens when you let those little pockets alone.

Begone, Confederate flags. You know what you really stand for.

Huh. Guess I wrote about Charlottesville after all.

 

If We Can’t Weed the Bad Stuff, Can We Grow Enough Good Stuff?

Usually I enjoy weeding. Yeah, it’s violent–all that chopping and yanking, and today, since I was digging up salmonberry plants, wrestling and scratching–but it’s very satisfying. Such a simple job: getting rid of bad stuff in order to grow good stuff. 

Today, though, I came inside early, and not because of the scratches. My heart just wasn’t in the violence of the job. I kept thinking about LeBron James. He’s arguably the most famous athlete in the world, and probably one of the richest and most-loved American Black men (unless you’re a Golden State fan). And yet even King James isn’t immune from our current climate of hate. Someone spray-painted racist slurs on his property.

Says LeBron, as quoted by NPR,

“No matter how much money you have, no matter how famous you are, no matter how many people admire you, you know being black in America is tough,” James said. “And we got a long way to go, for us as a society and for us as African-Americans, until we feel equal in America.”

I know most people who voted for Trump are probably not racist, thuggish bullies. But the guy they elected has empowered racist, thuggish bullies to crawl out from under their rocks. Some say it’s good that at least we know they’re there. I say…

…what do I say? I think that’s why I’m writing now. I want to grow something at this moment, not weed it out. And my thoughts are turning to Brian Doyle, a sweet, wonderful writer who died last week in Oregon. I am thinking about how he found goodness and joy in the everyday. Like in this “proem” from his little book, The Kind Of Brave You Wanted to Be:

And Then There is This

Here is who is really cool. Here is who is really

Admirable and to be emulated and what is holy:

The few people who get up instantly when their

Sister is suddenly sick, in awful ways, at dinner.

They just jumped up and dealt with it. It’s dirty,

And there’s no advantage in it, no money or sex,

No fame, nothing but stench an bleah and eww,

And then a young woman sat with the sic sister,

Letting her rattled sick aunt lean on her shoulder.

I saw all this. There’s all this talk, and then there

Is this. You know exactly what I am saying here. 

Live another day, salmonberries.

Do you know exactly what I am saying here? Can you give me something admirable and to be emulated and holy from your life right now? I need a little of that.

 

America’s National Parks: Big, Beautiful, and…Downright Un-American: Ever Wonder Why?

Hey, I’m back. Just spent a wonderful four days wandering with my besties from high school through Olympic National Park–which should be called Olympic National Parks, it contains so many different ecozones. From the giant cedars and spruces of the rain forest to the wild waves and fantastical drift logs of the Pacific beaches, from the azure shores of Crescent Lake to the glint of Blue Glacier shining across to Hurricane Ridge–all in four days!–we luxuriated in accessible diversity and diverse accessibility.

And I noticed something I’ve noticed many times before in national parks. We met lots of people–people of all colors speaking Dutch and Chinese and Hindi and English. Except the English speakers were not exactly ALL colors. We met very, very, very few Black folks. And that reminded me of this article I’d recently read on Al Jazeera America.com about just this topic. 

According to the article, my perceptions are sadly borne out by statistics:

According to a 2009 survey by the University of Wyoming and the National Park Service (NPS), whites accounted for 78 percent of the national parks’ visitors from 2008 to 2009; Hispanics, 9 percent; African-Americans, 7 percent; and Asian-Americans, 3 percent.

When compared with their share of the U.S. population, white park visitors are overrepresented by 14 percentage points, whereas African-Americans were underrepresented by 6 percentage points. Whites are overrepresented not only as visitors but also as park employees. According to a 2013 report by the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service, 80 percent of NPS employees were white. And the National Park Foundation’s 22-member board, whose mission is to support the NPS through fundraising, has only four minorities.

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The article goes on to emphasize that this issue isn’t simply one of Black folks not being particularly drawn to natural beauty. Ironically, the National Park Service itself appears to be contributing to African Americans’ feelings of unwelcome in our parks:

Last month we learned firsthand about the racist mistreatment of African-American park visitors during a scholarly event at Yosemite National Park in California. By inviting a diverse group of women to the park, we inadvertently carried out a study of racial profiling by park gate agents.

As part of our event, eight female academics — four of them white or Hispanic and four African-American — drove into the park. The organizers told participants not to pay the entrance fee and to inform gate agents that their fees were waived because they were visiting the research station.

The white and Hispanic drivers gave the agents the information as directed and were welcomed and waved through. The four African-American scholars entered the park at different times and entrances and gave the same information. In all four cases, the African-American professors were extensively questioned, made to fill out a superfluous form, which required extra and unnecessary effort and a check-in with the research center staff, and reluctantly let into the park.

One of the black professors was questioned about her college degrees, the title of her research project and her university affiliation and was asked to provide a faculty ID. The agents appeared incapable of imagining that a black woman could hold a Ph.D. and visit a research station for a scholarly event. (The Yosemite National Park Service has since opened an investigation into the incidents.)

I’m glad to see that Yosemite is investigating this incident. I hope the whole issue gets more attention. My recent re-affirmation of a lifelong love affair with our national parks reminds me: these parks belong to ALL of us. But until ALL of us go there, they won’t be truly national.

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Care to weigh in with your own experience? I’d love to hear.

 

Why My Heart Goes Out to Black Parents: Sandra Bland’s No-Win Tragedy

You’re the parent of a Black child in a country whose racist legacy continues to bleed. You tell your kid, “If you’re stopped by a white cop, be respectful. Don’t look for trouble. But don’t you let the man turn back the clock of history on you. Be proud of who you are.”

I’m White, so what do I know? But that’s the message I think I would give my Black son or daughter if I had one. I think that must have been the message Sandra Bland’s folks gave her as she grew up. Maybe she had it in mind as she moved near Houston, Texas to start her new job. And this is the result: dragged out of her car, pushed to the ground and arrested. With bail set at $5,000. The original charge? Failure to signal. After three days in a Waller County jail, Sandra is found hanged.

I have no opinion on the controversy swirling over a murder cover-up, or whether Sandra was suffering from depression. I don’t know enough, and the more I read about this story, the sadder I get. Then I saw the footage of the actual arrest.

The video begins with the end of a different traffic stop–the officer’s giving a warning to some Sophomore at the university. Very cheery. We don’t know the race of that student, but s/he was obviously playing by the officer’s rules.

The very next stop is Sandra. She’s Black. She’s from out of state. She’s annoyed at being stopped. And for whatever reason, Officer Brian Encinia escalates the situation into a power struggle. Watching the result is like watching a train wreck in slow-motion, except that train wrecks are accidental.

Classic tragedy always contains a grain of irony to bitter up the taste a little. Here’s that grain: this video from “Sandy Speaks,” Sandra Bland’s Facebook page, in which she addresses the reason #BlackLivesMatter is a slogan with meaning far more powerful than simply saying All Lives Matter.

I’m not calling Sandra Bland a hero, even if others are. What makes her story so horrifying to me is that she’s just trying to be a normal, strong, Black woman. And apparently in our country, “normal,” “strong” and “Black” are enough to get you violently arrested. What happened to Sandra does NOT happen to normal, strong White people.

“Sandy Speaks” is right. Until we’re ALL ready to stand on a corner holding up a sign that says Black Lives Matter, then, in this country, all lives do NOT matter equally. Consider this my sign.

Out of Ashes, Hope: US Muslims Support Black Churches

The day after the Charleston Church Massacre, my personal media hero, Jon Stewart of The Daily Show, was unable to tell a joke. He spent the opening of his show expressing his grief, and also his soul-sickness at the inability of the U.S. to “heal this racial wound,” or even to acknowledge its existence. (That’s why he’s my hero.)

It’s Jon Stewart’s job to rub Americans’ noses in painful truths. Since I couldn’t possibly improve on that job, I’ve taken on a different, but related assignment: to highlight small signs of improvement wherever I can find them.

This week’s sign of hope comes courtesy of Al-Jazeera, which published an article last week detailing how a coalition of U.S. Muslim groups has been spending Ramadan fund-raising to rebuild Black churches victimized by arson:

The coalition — which consists of U.S. organizations Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative and the Arab American Association of New York as well as digital startup Ummah Wide — has so far raised over $23,000 in five days. After the campaign ends on July 18, the money will be given to pastors of the burned churches that need it most, the groups said.

Like black communities in the United States, the coalition wrote, American Muslims are also vulnerable to intimidation, though not to the same extent as African-Americans.

“The American Muslim community cannot claim to have experienced anything close to the systematic and institutionalized racism and racist violence that has been visited upon African-Americans,” organizer Imam Zaid Shakir wrote on the campaign’s website.

However, Muslims can understand the “climate of racially inspired hate and bigotry that is being reignited in this country,” he wrote, saying the American Muslim community should stand in solidarity with African-Americans.

Racism, bigotry and violence are not going away any time soon. Blessings be upon those who stand up to them by reaching out like this. I don’t know any of these people, but I take comfort, for myself and for my country, in their existence.

Sterling and Silver: The NBA Shows its True Mettle, and…I Love It!

I could go on for awhile with the metallic puns, but I’m going to pass up this golden opportunity and just talk about how weird and wonderful it is all of a sudden to listen to professional sports chat.

But first a quick update, for those of you who don’t care/are too busy to pay attention to the NBA/aren’t sure which sport the NBA involves/don’t live with partners who watch a lot of ESPN/think that ESPN stands for something to do with Spain:

There’s this 84 year-old rich guy, Donald Sterling, okay? Very rich: billionaire rich. Owns a basketball team rich. The LA Clippers, to be precise. Also the kind of rich who can apparently have both a wife AND a 31 year-old girlfriend without that being a news story in itself.

Last week someone (who? Who? Ooooh, news story!) recorded a private phone call between Sterling and said girlfriend, V. Stiviano, in which he berated her for posting pictures on her Instagram account of herself standing with “minorities” .

Those “minorities”? Among others, current NBA star Blake Griffin and NBA LEGEND/philanthropic entrepreneur Magic Johnson. To Mr. Sterling, they are just “black people.”

(orig. image courtesy wikimedia.org)

(orig. image courtesy wikimedia.org)

Here is the transcript of the tape, as offered by Deadspin.com (which also has video):

V: I don’t understand, I don’t see your views. I wasn’t raised the way you were raised.

DS: Well then, if you don’t feel—don’t come to my games. Don’t bring black people, and don’t come.

V: Do you know that you have a whole team that’s black, that plays for you?

DS: You just, do I know? I support them and give them food, and clothes, and cars, and houses. Who gives it to them? Does someone else give it to them?Do I know that I have—Who makes the game? Do I make the game, or do they make the game? Is there 30 owners, that created the league?

Poor Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp is also dragged into the conversation, having appeared in an Instagram photo with V. Stiviano. It was her photo with Magic Johnson that had apparently started the fight.

V: Honey, if it makes you happy, I will remove all of the black people from my Instagram.

DS: You said that before, you said, “I understand.”

V: I DID remove the people that were independently on my Instagram that are black.

DS: Then why did you start saying that you didn’t? You just said that you didn’t remove them. You didn’t remove every—

V: I didn’t remove Matt Kemp and Magic Johnson, but I thought—

DS: Why?

V: I thought Matt Kemp is mixed, and he was OK, just like me.

DS: OK.

V: He’s lighter and whiter than me.

DS: OK.

V: I met his mother.

DS: You think I’m a racist, and wouldn’t—

V: I don’t think you’re a racist.

DS: Yes you do. Yes you do.

V: I think you, you—

DS: Evil heart.

And there is also this baffling exchange about black Jews in Israel:

DS: It’s the world! You go to Israel, the blacks are just treated like dogs.

V: So do you have to treat them like that too?

DS: The white Jews, there’s white Jews and black Jews, do you understand?

V: And are the black Jews less than the white Jews?

DS: A hundred percent, fifty, a hundred percent.

V: And is that right?

DS: It isn’t a question—we don’t evaluate what’s right and wrong, we live in a society. We live in a culture. We have to live within that culture.

V: But shouldn’t we take a stand for what’s wrong? And be the change and the difference?

DS: I don’t want to change the culture, because I can’t. It’s too big and too [unknown].

V: But you can change yourself.

DS: I don’t want to change. If my girl can’t do what I want, I don’t want the girl. I’ll find a girl that will do what I want! Believe me. I thought you were that girl—because I tried to do what you want. But you’re not that girl.

They close by essentially invoking Hitler and closing down the thread, comparing Sterling’s viewpoints to the Holocaust:

V: It’s like saying, “Let’s just persecute and kill all of the Jews.”

DS: Oh, it’s the same thing, right?

V: Isn’t it wrong? Wasn’t it wrong then? With the Holocaust? And you’re Jewish, you understand discrimination.

DS: You’re a mental case, you’re really a mental case. The Holocaust, we’re comparing with—

V: Racism! Discrimination.

DS: There’s no racism here. If you don’t want to be… walking… into a basketball game with a certain… person, is that racism?

Thank you, Deadspin.com. Seeing this down in black and white, along with your commentary…well, I’m not sure if it’s more chilling than disgusting, or vice versa.

SO. Between Saturday and Tuesday, ESPN and all the other sports chatterers erupted into a conflagration of righteous anger that was beautiful to behold. “Round-Mound-of-Rebound” Charles Barkley, now a commentator, said it “pisses me off” to know that Sterling greets him happily in public but still thinks of him as a lesser human being, and doesn’t see anything wrong with that attitude. (You heard the man, right? “There’s no racism here.”) 

On Tuesday, brand-spanking new NBA Commissioner Adam Silver (who, it must be said, looks an awful lot like Dobby the House-Elf), announced the NBA’s response. Donald Sterling is banned from the NBA for life, meaninghe can never attend another game ANYwhere. He must pay a 2.5 million-dollar fine (the highest that can be assessed). And Silver himself will pressure the other NBA owners to force Sterling to sell the team.

In other words: whatever else you want to complain about, in terms of our Moneyball sports culture, we have achieved this progress: we ALL AGREE that RACISM IS REPUGNANT.

(orig. image courtesy wikimedia.org)

(orig. image courtesy wikimedia.org)

The reaction among the sports chatterers has been one of authentic relief, pride, and yes, joy. I can’t get enough of it. Finally…we’re talking about something REAL here! We’re discussing the importance of human dignity in the workplace! We’re drawing parallels between “minorities” and women! We are sounding full-on progressive.

I know pretty soon it’ll all die down and I’ll go back to being annoyed by cheerleaders, badly-behaved spoiled stars, and coverage of things like the Masters golf tournament that still excludes women and still plays on a course with a proud history of excluding both women and people of color. But for now, I want to celebrate Adam Silver, the NBA, and this moment of joy in the power of standing up for what’s decent.

Care to tune in? What do you make of this moment in sports history? What does it say to you?

Teachable Moments: What Richard Sherman Said To Me

I’ve jumped on a bandwagon and I’m not embarrassed to say it. Richard Sherman, you’re cool in my book. And I’ve learned a lot about myself from thinking about my own reaction to your post-win rant after the NFL Divisional Championship.

For those of you who a) lack Seattle or San Francisco ties, b) couldn’t care less about the NFL, or c) are very smart, thoughtful people who get outside more than the rest of us and enjoy freedom from the death-grip of American capitalism don’t own a TV, let me briefly catch you up.

The 49ers were moments away from beating the Seahawks and heading to the Superbowl. In the end zone, Richard Sherman caught the ball intended for 49er receiver Michael Crabtree, and Seattle won the game. In the immediate-post-game interview conducted by Erin Andrews of Fox, Sherman yelled, “I’m the best corner in the game. When you try me with a sorry receiver like Crabtree, that’s the result you gonna get. Don’t you ever talk about me. […] Don’t you open your mouth about the best or I’m gonna shut it for you real quick.”

Don’t worry if you missed the video of that interview. You’re probably going to see plenty of replays between now and the end of the Superbowl.

I watched the game–uncharacteristic of me, but hey, I love my town! To me, Sherman sounded angry and childish. I remember turning to my husband and saying, “Well, that’s a shame. That really leaves a bad taste in my mouth.” I went on to say something about being Sherman being a poor role model for kids.

If my reaction had been all that immediately lit up Twitter, it still would have created a Teachable Moment. But of course the Twitterverse was far uglier. Hiding being anonymity, people posted horrible comments comparing Sherman to an “angry monkey” and calling him a “thug.” To my horror, I realized my own distaste was magnified a thousand times by those who saw the issue as one of race rather than simply maturity level.

The very next day, a former colleague whom I respect put a Huffington Post article on her Facebook page.  It went into detail about Sherman’s background, from growing up poor in Compton, CA to graduating from Stanford with 4.0. More powerfully, it challenged those who decried Sherman to think about their own reactions.

I did. I’ve read a lot since then, and watched some interviews. And I’m going to hand the mic over to the Huffington Post on this one:

Sherman suggests being labeled a thug is another way for a segment of the white media to call African-Americans like himself the N-Word. He feels a segment of the media contingent has unfairly labeled him something he’s not.

Is Richard Sherman really a thug?

By definition a thug is a person who engages in violent and/or criminal behavior.

Interesting.

Did Sherman kill someone?

Did Sherman rob, deceive or steal from someone?

Has Sherman served anytime in prison for acts contrary to the law?

I characterize his behavior as a display of passion. Sherman was exhibiting behavior in sports that few African-Americans having the platform are willing to use. He was simply talking trash about an opponent whose game he does not respect.

Period.

I agree. And in a later interview, Sherman calmly taught me what I should already have known, if I hadn’t gone solely with my gut reaction in those post-game moments:

It was loud, it was in the moment, and it was just a small part of the person I am. I don’t want to be a villain, because I’m not a villainous person. When I say I’m the best cornerback in football, it’s with a caveat: There isn’t a great defensive backfield in the NFL that doesn’t have a great front seven. Everything begins with pressure up front, and that’s what we get from our pass rushers every Sunday. To those who would call me a thug or worse because I show passion on a football field—don’t judge a person’s character by what they do between the lines. Judge a man by what he does off the field, what he does for his community, what he does for his family.

Reading that makes me feel like the childish one. Thanks for the reminder, Richard. I may not be rushing over to the mainland to buy myself a #25 Seahawks jersey like the rest of Seattle, but I’ll be rooting for you, in the big game and in general. 

OK, gonna open it up now. Want to share your own reactions? Talk about the use of the word “thug”? Make a prediction for the Superbowl score? Share your favorite guacamole recipe? I’m listening!