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I’ve been paying a lot of attention to the twittersphere since the Zimmerman verdict on Saturday. In the process I started following one of my favorite–now only occasional–NPR voices, Michele Norris. Norris left All Things Considered, which she used to cohost, to write a book, and started something in 2010 called The Race Card Project.

The Race Card Project. I love that name. Have you ever noticed how quick white folks are to play the “play the race card” card?

Yesterday at lunch I was skimming through the site and felt prompted to write my own six-word essay. I encourage you to take a shot at it yourself. It’s a helpful process. Mine–which hasn’t shown up yet just showed up at the site–follows.

Here’s the link: We don’t want your “White” America.

We don’t want your “White” America.

By all appearances, I’m “white” and I was raised in white middle class America. My biological father was Hispanic (my relatives on that side are mostly pale, like me). My dad, the man who helped raise me, is part Native American. My wife’s son–now my son–is black, technically mixed race. And there’s a hodgepodge of miscellaneous race and ethnicity throughout my family tree.

Perusing this [The Race Card Project] site, I couldn’t help noticing an excess of comments by a few folks claiming to defend our “national identity,” [our white European identity]–defending it from the likes of me and my family.

1) By any sane reckoning, this country was long inhabited by brown-skinned natives before being invaded and colonized by fair-skinned Europeans.This was never a “white” country, except by the most despicable usurpation.

2) Skin color, while it may be a beautiful feature, is an arbitrary means of discriminating among peoples. I’m willing to wager that you could discern neither my character, intellect nor even my heritage by the color of my skin.

3) Despite its checkered past and frequent and flagrant hypocrisy, this nation, as it has existed for the last 200+ years (see #1), was founded on principles of opportunity, equality, diversity and freedom–freedom from, among other things, bigotry and oppression.

4) And we have grown in our understanding and embrace of those principles, grown to recognize and institutionalize constitutionally the rights of women and of blacks. This country is no longer, thank God, a white European good ol’ boys club. We have farther to go, but the progress that we’ve made–not some calcified snapshot of a particular point in the past–is who we are. As much, indeed, as we are in part who we were, we are far more what we are becoming.

5) Our culture is a sometimes chaotic commingling, sometimes harmonic union of a multitude of voices. Our language is notoriously and gloriously bastardized–stolen, borrowed, hopelessly corrupted, inventively conjugated–from every language on the planet.

Diversity is inherent in our national identity. More, it is what makes us great.

A monotone is unmelodic. Monoculture is weak and vulnerable. A palette of only one color–or even a few shades of the same color–offers little opportunity for expression.

This is not your “White” America.

This country has never been and–as long as I can help it–will never be your “White” America. It angers and disgusts me, but, more than that, it saddens me that anyone would want such a boring, insular, inbred construct of sameness. If that’s what you want, go make it somewhere else. If that’s what you want here, you’ve declared war on the nation you claim to be defending and I for one would be happy to see you treated accordingly.

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We have a social responsibility. I am my brother’s keeper.

We need each other. We have a moral obligation to one another.

Government is one of the ways that we exercise that mutual responsibility.

I can agree that Government–in general and in each specific instance–is flawed, corrupt, inadequate, inefficient. But so is every other human institution or system–including any organization, business or corporation, including the Free Market itself, including the Church. I would argue that government–depending of course on the specific context–can be more effective, more representative, more just than any and all of these other institutions. Yes, sometimes it is less effective.

I don’t think that Government is the Answer or Savior. But I don’t think it’s the Enemy. At least it doesn’t have to be. We as a nation, acting through the agency of our government have accomplished a great many good and significant things. I think it both foolish and irresponsible to abandon that effort, least of all to suggest–as many on the Right have done–dismantling, crippling or inhibiting one of our most powerful means to the common good. Even our financial success can be largely attributed to the political environment that allowed it. We are great not in spite of government, but to a large degree because of it.

To be very clear, I do not believe (and see little evidence for and much to the contrary of) the assertion that the Private Sector or the “Free” Market is intrinsically able to overcome the challenges we face better than or without a larger framework of cooperation.

Each institution is subject to its own unique weaknesses and each has its own strengths. I don’t suggest subverting or eradicating any of them, but I am emphatically opposed to tendencies I see in our society to lean on Capitalism, Commerce, Privatization as the panacea for everything that ails us. That capitalism exploits the selfish urge is perhaps its genius, but that urge is also its great weakness and what profoundly limits and distorts it’s progress toward the good.

Perhaps just as importantly, each man or woman acting on his or her own is intrinsically inferior to our acting together.

Individualism is one of the most lethal and insidious cancerous lies infecting our contemporary culture, especially Conservatism and especially the Church.

That’s certainly not to deny the absolute requirement of individual responsibility or the vital necessity of protecting individual liberties. Indeed one of the things that I believe our particular form of government is relatively (v. Business, v. the Market, v. Church, v. anarchy) well-equipped to do is to secure the rights of individuals and minorities and to prevent a tyranny of the masses or a reduction of all its citizens to a bland anonymity.

It is imperative that we protect the variously vulnerable members of our society against oppression and reckless indifference or abuse that they might otherwise suffer whether by racial animus, individual prejudice, emotionalism, consumerism, greed, dogma, ignorance, etc.

Moreover anyone who lacks food, shelter, education, healthcare, justice, economic opportunity, access to culture, represents our moral failure as a species.

“The views and opinions . . .”

The primary motivation for most disclaimers we encounter is to cover the asses of corporate America and to hedge those asses against litigation (ha: a “hedge of protection,” indeed [inside joke for Evangelicals]). What they should really say is “we, the reigning plutocracy, are, in our great magnanimity, allowing the artist to speak, which we’d really rather not, but, well, just so long as you know not to blame his lunatic rantings on us.”

I don’t claim enough power for corporate America to worry about me (at least not yet). And, frankly, were I that powerful, I’d be ever so happy for the fiery darts to lodge precisely in the aforementioned, ample, posterior targets. I should might not have said that, but there I did. Sigh. There goes the publishing contract.

What I do claim is that people love me–and far more than I deserve. Indeed, that’s one of the things that most amazes me about life: that mine, in particular, has been–and is–full of all sorts of inexplicable love. And, no, it’s not because “I’m good enough” or “smart enough”; it’s just, as far as I can tell, because of grace. By virtue of some great cosmic Luck, I’m surrounded by loving people. And, lest there be any doubt, the credit for their loving me definitely goes to them and not to me.

That’s why I want to take the blame–for this blog, I mean. I’m as willing to make excuses as the next guy. The truth is, in what few words I’ve so far shared in this place, I already have more than once. I sometimes think of myself as erstwhile lord of the pathetic serfdom of prefaces, explanations and cautious contextualizers. The “erstwhile” is hopeful; you will, alas, probably see more. But when I make excuses, I want never to shift blame to those gracious souls whose admonitions–if only I’d have heeded them–and whose affection–if only I’d have fully accepted it–would have delivered me from a path that ends up with excuses.

Certainly, if you read anything profound in these pages, you can attribute it to the influence of, to name just a few (and I’m quite mindful this isn’t exhaustive in any sense), my departed beloved or my parents or my kid or or my siblings or the folks I fellowship with or, truly, the beautiful Spirit of Christ Himself (and God knows I will surely plagiarize badly from all of the above and from many others). But when I offend you, blame it on me. It’s probably my fault (or yours–but let’s not press that point quite yet); it’s almost certainly not theirs.

My being an offensive ass is, in fact, further testament to the character of those people who love me, and I hope you’ll understand it that way. For instance, instead of saying “Those Christians are all idiots (or pathological or pathetic or hypocritical or, ahem, verbose). Why would I want anything to do with Christ?” you ought rather to say “It’s true, then, that the love of Christ knows no bounds; how else could He put up with such an annoying, insipid buffoon? If He puts up with that, he can surely put up with me.” I venture to say you’d do well to adopt that perspective whenever Christians speak–probably especially the ones who claim to speak on Christ’s behalf. But we’ll discuss that in greater depth in the days ahead. For now, please, as best you can, don’t blame my being an idiot or obnoxious on Jesus or on anyone but me. I assure you, I’d be worse without them. And I’d like, despite myself, somehow to honor them.

So, this is mine. I claim it–not so much with pride, but with a sheepish apology and in the hope that you won’t blame it on anyone who rather deserves your respect. I guess, then, you should call this prefatory excuse not a disclaimer but a, uh, “claimer.” (Yep. See? That “claimer” thingy–that’s all me. Unless you like it. In which case, I almost certainly stole it and, what’s worse, I’ve forgotten from whom.)

Twitter Updates

  • In case the fearful end up killing us all, know that there were some here who loved & dreamed & gave freely. #MessageToVoyager #gishwhes 1 month ago
  • Life is pregnant with possibility. Go make some babies, so to speak. 1 month ago
  • I guess what I mean to say is that whether there's a @gishwhes or not, what gishwhes is about is the sorts of things we should do anyway. 1 month ago
  • Getting help, starting and ending with joy, being involved, giving, taking chances, being you, etc. 1 month ago
  • It also strikes me that the best way to get pregnant for the tenth time reflects the sorts of values intrinsic to @gishwhes itself. 1 month ago
  • I hope that's not a disappointment. 1 month ago
  • equally applies to getting pregnant just one time--and, really, to living life well (in my opinion, at least) aside from being preggers. 1 month ago
  • You might have noticed that everything I've said about the best way to get pregnant for the tenth time, aside from the "first nine" bit, 1 month ago
  • So that's what I've got: 1) the first nine precede the tenth; 2) get help; 3) start with relationship and joy. 1 month ago
  • That's the essential bit, right? Until you've been pregnant the nine times, you can't get to the tenth. 1 month ago