Minnesota, Race

Protest, Privilege, and Paying Attention

Black Lives Matter sure knows how to piss people off. Just when Minnesotans had begun to settle down from the highly-publicized 4th Precinct occupation and the highway shutdowns and marches that accompanied it, Black Lives Matter held its second annual MOA invasion, disrupting the days of those last-minute shoppers attempting to put the final checkmarks on their Christmas lists. As if that wasn’t enough to re-rile people up, Black Lives Matter also staged a simultaneous demonstration at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport, causing multiple delays for Christmas-time commuters.

The comments section of the Strib editorial linked here illustrates the kind of responses that you would expect. People were not happy, and it’s easy to understand why. Yet, while I believe there are fair criticisms to be levied at these types of inflammatory protests, particularly of their utility in advancing the Black Lives Matter agenda, I also feel that the vast majority of the criticisms that I see and hear fundamentally misunderstand the reason that Black Lives Matter holds these types of protests.

Whether or not you agree with the protest methods of Black Lives Matter, you’ve got to admit that they keep people talking. People say that there are better ways for Black Lives Matter to draw attention to their cause, but the fact is that when BLM isn’t forcing us to talk about their issues, we have proven that we don’t talk about their issues. BLM was the talk of the town during their occupation of the 4th Precinct, but how many Minneapolis-based BLM headlines have you seen since that occupation ended? People also say that these protests just distract from the real issues at hand or that these protests alienate potential supporters, but again, when have you ever heard someone say, “Thank god we finally got rid of those pesky protestors. Now we can finally focus our attention and energy on disassembling the systemic racism that is plaguing our nation!”

It’s not surprising that racial justice is not at the forefront of most people’s minds. If you’re not affected by racial profiling or police brutality, you probably don’t spend too much time thinking about those things. Likewise, if your children don’t attend under-funded schools and your family and friends aren’t packed into over-crowded prisons, you probably don’t spend too much time thinking about those things either. That’s because if you’re not a victim of systemic racism, you don’t need to think about it.


And that’s another important feat that these protests are meant to accomplish: the interruption of privilege. Ignorance is a form of privilege, and when it comes to the issues for which Black Lives Matter is fighting, ignorance is certainly bliss. But for many Black Americans, ignorance is not an option. They don’t have the privilege of ignoring these issues because they are forced to live them. Their holidays aren’t interrupted once a year by mall marches and airport protests, but are forever interrupted by the multitude of issues disproportionately plaguing Black America—impoverishment, imprisonment, crime and murder. There are many disputable elements when it comes to the questionable case of Jamar Clark, but one thing that is not disputable is that his family is hurting this holiday season.  And his family is far from the only one.

Which is why Black Lives Matter targets places like the Mall of America and the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport. Not because those people have never experienced disadvantages or discrimination or hard times or loss, but because many of them probably have experienced far less of those things than the people for whom BLM is advocating. Because even though most mall shoppers and airline passengers are likely unprivileged in some aspect of their lives, most are also likely quite privileged in many aspects of their lives. At the very least, they can afford to shop at a nice mall and fly on an airplane.

I saw a story featuring one shop-owner, a self-proclaimed sympathizer of the Black Lives Matter cause, who was frustrated with the protests. She supported the protesters, and agreed that the protests should be carried out, just not at the mall, because retailers and shoppers “didn’t do anything” to deserve to be targeted. I think that she’s right. They didn’t do anything, and that must have really sucked for innocent retailers that lost business or commuters that missed flights.  But I also think that she is making Black Lives Matter’s point for them.

People “not doing anything” is exactly what Black Lives Matter is trying to change. People “not doing anything” is exactly what allows systemic racism to persist. And Black Lives Matter will not win their struggle if “not doing anything” is what people continue to do, and that sucks too.

For as big and powerful a voice as Black Lives Matter has become, they still represent many people whose voices are ignored. What is more, whatever power BLM has accumulated over the past year-and-change pales in comparison to the power held by the various institutions and systems that they are fighting, institutions and systems that in part accumulated their power due to the centuries of racial oppression that they helped to establish and maintain. Black Lives Matter will not win those battles alone. They need the support of everyday mall-goers and airline commuters across the nation if they are ever going to be successful in creating true systemic reform.


And that’s where I think these protests are worthy of criticism, because I am not sure that they are accomplishing that goal. They do keep people talking, but mostly because people are angry at Black Lives Matter, not angry with them. They do interrupt privilege, but while people are certainly aware of the interruption, I don’t think they are anymore aware of their privilege.  The strategy is sound, but the implementation is failing.

Ultimately, what Black Lives Matter needs is for everyone to think like Mike Griffin from Minneapolis, an airline commuter whose December 23rd flight was delayed due to the protests:

“While I’m delayed an hour and a half to get back to my family for Christmas, I know there are several Black families mourning the loss of innocent Black men. My mom is a little bit annoyed, but she’s going to see me this holiday season.”

But how you get more Minnesotans to think like that, I have no fucking idea…

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Religion, USA

Why I for some reason love Christmas

I should fucking hate Christmas. I’m an anti-capitalistic, deity-denying, tradition-questing, cynical, scoffing, scrooge, fucking jackass. Yet, for some reason, the Christmas season is one of my favorite times of the year. I love the songs, the snow, and the giving and receiving. I love the smell of evergreen trees and the glow of Christmas lights. I love the taste of hot chocolate spiked with Peppermint Schnapps. I love The Santa Clause, Prancer, Home Alone 2, and all the other Christmas movies playing round the clock on every other channel.

And although there are some things that I hate about Christmas, I think that, when it’s done right, Christmas is a beautiful thing. When it truly embodies the ideas of sharing, giving, loving, and being together, Christmas is a holiday that is good for the spirit and good for humanity in general.

Many people view Christmas as a birthday bash for Jesus, but it is certainly not a religious holiday for all. Even for many Christian families, Christmas celebrations often have very little religious relevance outside of pre-dinner prayer and the hour-and-change spent at church. Certainly there’s nothing Christian about a flying fucking reindeer or getting blackout drunk at your grandma’s house. Christmas, or at least what Christmas has become here in the States, is pretty damn secular–something celebrated by Christians but certainly not owned by them.

Nor do Christians have a monopoly on the “Christmas Spirit”–the spirit of “giving to” and “giving back” that can make Christmas such a spiritually enriching time of the year. “Giving to” can devolve into senseless commercialism–buying useless, manufactured junk for people who don’t want or need it–but it can also be an exchange of thoughtful gifts that make one another happy. What is more, “giving back” is almost always a mutually beneficial endeavor, fulfilling the spirits of those partaking in the giving of gifts, goods, time, and self, and more importantly, fulfilling the needs of those people and households often skipped by Santa’s sleigh.

Which is why I, as a multicultural advocate and militant atheist, have no problem with the well-intentioned wishing of a “Merry Christmas,” be it by store sign or stranger. I think that people who use it as a bratty retaliation to those wishing them a “Happy Holiday,” or as some sort of verbal ammunition in their war on the “War on Christmas,” are ignorant, jingoist pricks, but I also think that those who take offense to such a well-wishing, particularly holier-than-thou white liberals like myself, are sanctimonious douchebags. Yes, the United States is a multicultural society, but it’s still okay to have federal holidays. Whether you choose to celebrate Christmas or not, the well-intentioned wishing of a “Merry Christmas” should be no more offensive that a “Happy Halloween” or a “Have a nice day.” I’m hardly Mexican, but I never took offense to a hearty “Feliz fill-in-the-blank” during my many months living south of the border. On the contrary, it helped me to feel less alienated and more welcomed.


Because when it’s done right, the holiday of Christmas should not be offensive nor uninclusive. When stripped of its religious zealotry and materialistic fervor, Christmas brings out the best in humanity—our ability to live, to laugh, to love, to give…Christmas is a time to be thankful for what we have, to make those that we care about feel happy and loved, to not work and to be oh so appreciative of those who must, and to think about, feel for, and serve those less fortunate than we are.

That’s why I love Christmas. After a tumultuous year filled with so much hate, violence, and divisiveness, Christmas gives us an opportunity to close out the year on a positive note–to come together and remind each other of all the good that still exists in the world, and the hope that remains for humanity to get its collective shit together. So Merry Fucking Christmas, everybody. Be good, do good, make people smile, and may you have many more merry Christmases to come.

* * *

And with that being said…

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Economics, USA

The street corner conundrum: To give or not to give?

We all know these people. Many of us see them everyday. They don’t have a particular race, gender, or age, but we all know them when we see them, usually due to the cardboard signs that they hold in their hands.

The messages on the signs vary. Sometimes they’re simple.

Sometimes they’re more situational.

Sometimes they’re honest.

Sometimes they’re philosophical.

Sometimes they’re a just strange.

But regardless of how they’re worded, the vast majority of these messages all say the same thing: I need money.

And I’m torn about whether or not to give it to them.

I used to never give these people money. I always told myself that if I really wanted to help those in need, and if I really wanted to ensure that my money was going towards the cause that I intended, I could make a tally every time I felt compelled to give, and instead donate that money to a legitimate charity or non-profit organization at a later date.

I still think that this idea holds water, but in my experience, it had a few fatal flaws. The first was that it was intellectual argument. It made sense in my head, but it did little to address the sympathetic urges that I felt every time I was confronted with a real person on a real corner. The second fatal flaw was that I never did it. I never kept a tally, and I never donated a penny to address the plight of the people who so frequently tugged at my heartstrings during my daily commutes.

So I opened up the billfold. I don’t want to make myself sound like Fat Joe at a nightclub, but I was dishing out at least a few dollars a week: a buck to the gal off the 11th Avenue Exit, a buck to the revolving door of faces above the Lowry Tunnel…and it felt good. But while self-fulfilling, this “humanitarian” act also came with its own set of ethical considerations that definitely challenge the notion that my actions were unambiguously good.

I would be an asshole if I assumed that everyone I saw begging on the corner was looking for money to buy drugs and alcohol, but I would also be naïve if I did not acknowledge that drugs and alcohol are exactly what some of those people are looking for. If that were ever the case, my money would not be going towards elevating that person out of their dire situation, but instead would be working to further cement their place in it, lending them money to buy the very substances that are keeping them down. That being said, when it comes to that line of reasoning for denying people a dollar, I also share many of the sentiments of the late Greg Giraldo (who, full-disclosure, died of a drug overdose):

There are also perhaps more troubling situations in which my money could have the reverse effect of that which is desired. One specific example is the case of children, particularly those of school age. The presence of children creates a sympathy spike that make many people feel more compelled to give, and some exploitative parents unfortunately know that. Hence, increased dollars to those parents could lead to increased days spent on the streets for their children, rather than being in school where they belong.

There is also the fear that it could be a scam, that many of these beggars are no more than wolves in sheep’s clothing, looking to cheat us out of our hard-earned cash with a manufactured sob story. A quick Google search will confirm that these fears are not completely unfounded, that there are indeed situations where scams of this nature have been uncovered. Still, most of the folks that I personally see begging on street corners don’t seem to pass the eye test for an elaborate con artist. They’re too normal. Too humble. Too real.

And then there’s me, in my car, my new-used 2013 Ford Fiesta, waiting for the light to turn from red to green. Maybe I’m on my way home from work, a well-paying job that blesses me with a life of relative comfort and stability. Maybe I’m on my way to my martial arts gym. The membership fees are steep, but it’s a lifelong dream that I finally have the ability and opportunity to pursue. Maybe it’s Friday or Saturday, and I’m on my way to blow some money spending time with people that I care about. But even if I’m having a shitty day, if I received an ill-timed parking ticket that will put the squeeze on that week’s budget, or if I’m damn near broke on Tuesday afternoon still three days away from Friday’s paycheck, chances are that things are still far better for me than they are for the person standing outside my car.

And to me that’s the biggest point. There’s a chance that the person is a junkie or a scammer, but there’s also a chance that they’re just a fellow human being in need.  I think that most people that stand out begging on street corners don’t want to be there. Some of them are there as a result of bad luck. Many are there as a result of bad choices. Most of them are probably there due to a combination of both. But they all wish that they weren’t.

That’s the reason that I sometimes choose to give. It’s possible that I’m being naïve, that I have a little too much faith in humanity, a little too much faith in the laws of karma and kindness and the truth in paying it forward. But perhaps the fact that I’m in my car and they’re on the corner is a good enough reason in and of itself to give every once in awhile, a good enough reason to roll the dice on a person, to take a buck out of my pocket and release it back out into the world. Because at the end of the day, that world has probably treated me a whole lot nicer than it has treated the person on the other side of my window, and for that I’ve got to owe something to somebody.

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Poetry, Religion

An atheist’s guide to love and the after life in free verse


I believe in something,

Not a magical, religious, bullshit type of something,

But a something that we as social creatures create with one another,

Sometimes we call it friendship,

Other times we call it love,

The best are both,

And when that something gains enough strength,

It becomes something real,

Something physical,

Something that exists,

An energy,

And that energy is perceptible to those who participated in its creation,

It can travel great distances to help us share emotions across space and time,

Like car antennas picking up invisible radio waves,

Although no instrument has been designed to measure or perceive that energy,

To prove and explain its existence,

The human body knows it’s there,

And while I don’t believe in any after life that we experience,

Or in which consciousness is maintained,

Perhaps our energy goes on,

Perhaps we can create love that does indeed last forever,

Like two vines sprouting from buried lovers’ adjacent tombs,

Finding each other and wrapping together to become one,

Love that will outlive the survival of our planet,

Our galaxy,

A collection of stardust that makes up the lovers that once were,

Destined to dance and move together,

Through the otherwise cruel and indifferent universe,

For all eternity.

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