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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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I hate lists. They are evil, tyrannical, “Type A” instruments of oppression, dogma and stultification.

I love lists. They’re liberating. And they’re a helluva lot easier than actually organizing my thoughts.

I have much more to say about lists, about their corrupting, insidious evil and their glorious, divine grace.

For now, I want you to know that I’m going to employ them liberally (yes, “liberally”–bwahahaha–and I mean that in nearly every possible sense, especially the ones that make you most uncomfortable). I hate them, but I’m going to use them. We often use the things we hate, don’t we? I do. Judge me if you must.

The truth is that I don’t necessarily hate lists. I hate the way that lists are often employed, what so often seems to be implied by them. Maybe what I hate most about lists is merely my perception of what people mean by them. It may be that I hate an idea of Lists, an imagined evil List-ness. No matter. Even if merely imagined, it’s real.

To distinguish my lists from the evil ones (and from the “evil one”), I present to you a random assortment of characteristics not so much defining but casting an ambiguous net of semantic approximation in the vicinity of Joel’s Bastard Lists. Yes, my lists are bastards. You need to know who and how they are, lest you confuse them with their wicked step siblings and find yourselves, as is human habit, controlled by their sinister insinuations. Yes, even my beautiful little bastards insinuate. They insinuate sinisterly. Don’t hate them; it’s not their fault. I’m telling you now so that you can know and not bend to their illusory (and, in fact–in my case at least–entirely unintended) but nevertheless consequential web of control.

Joel’s bastard lists are (unless otherwise clearly indicated–and sometimes contrary to clearest explicit indication) . . .

  1. random, ambiguous, approximate;
  2. irregular, asymmetric, mismatched, periodically perpendicular, potentially hazardous;
  3. repetitive;
  4. redundant, overlapping, sometimes superfluous, frequently gratuitous;
  5. incomplete;
  6. by no means exclusive
  7. rarely authoritative;
  8. not meant to be limiting, constricting, binding, controlling, containing or contained;
  9. mostly unstructured;
  10. only loosely affiliated with any system or dogma, even my own;
  11. inconsistently (and perhaps most often simply not at all) prioritized;
  12. only occasionally sequential, even when ostentatiously numbered;
  13. often painfully amended so as to be odd–and, ideally, prime–both in the number of their constituent elements and otherwise. . .

Whereas evil lists define and circumscribe, my lists mean to set you free–to begin and not end, to disrupt and not merely to order, the thoughts and feelings you might have about the subject whose qualities or whose members or whose whatever other thingies they sort of haphazardly, only-superficially-numerically enumerate.