What is on my mind today is what I call the BWA (But What About?) tactic our conservative friends use to avoid discussing substantive issues. BWA is a symptom of what I call Rationality Avoidance (RA). Pick your topic... race, religion, Trump's failings, sexism, white supremacy, climate disruption. Do not be discouraged, disheartened, angry, or frustrated by the conversations you might have. Understanding the mechanisms behind Rationality Avoidance is essential.
I use this formula to help me with Rationality Avoidance:
Topic = (empirical data/history) x (relevancy + creativity) x justice
Topic = (subjective data/emotion) x (tradition + conformity) x expediency
I use this formula for recognizing But What About?:
Topic = (substantive x current) + fact
Topic = (unassociated x inconsequential) + emotion
I hope this helps.
In the United States we have been fooling ourselves for a very long time. We have been asleep. We have come to, as they say, “Believe our own press”. The proof of this is the myths we have perpetuated from the beginning of our nation.
The first myth to examine is that of American Exceptionalism.
The actual phrase “American Exceptionalism” was originally coined by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin in 1929. According to Wikipedia, the term over time has come to represent three related ideas:
Lincoln’s admonishment found roots in earlier thinking which ultimately led to genocide. That genocide was founded on the idea that the indigenous people living in the United States deserved to be conquered because... well because. A host of reasons emerged over time, chief among them was that the indigenous people did not actually own their land. White Americans needed the land for expansion. They felt that indigenous people did not deserve that land and needed to be civilized.
Salient among all the reasons, and perhaps the one that made white Americans feel better about what they were doing, was the doctrine of “Manifest Destiny”. According to Wikipedia, the phrase was coined by newspaper editor John O’Sullivan in 1845, to express the philosophy that drove 19th-century US territorial expansion. Manifest Destiny held that the United States was destined—by God, its advocates believed—to expand its dominion and spread democracy and capitalism across the entire North American continent. O’Sullivan predicted in an article in 1839 that there was a “divine destiny” for the United States based upon values such as equality, rights of conscience, and personal enfranchisement “to establish on earth the moral dignity and salvation of man”. Talk about cognitive dissonance, after the fact justification, and a load of crap all wrapped up into a giant rhetorical ball.
The central reason for the brutality of displacement and genocide on the part of white settlers, and the American government that supported them, is simple racism. It should not be forgotten that the United States during most of that time was a nation that legalized human slavery. This is important to remember in order to understand the mindset of the white settlers. Even if they, themselves did not own slaves, or even if they did not agree with slavery, that “peculiar institution” was a part of their lives. The West, especially in the 1850s, could be a rough place to live. Public hangings were common place. Institutional brutality based on race was normalized.
Let’s skip ahead fifty years, past the Civil War that freed the slaves, and the Plessy vs. Ferguson decision that ensured another eighty years of Jim Crow virtual enslavement and we arrive at the Myth of Integration. We all know what the goals of integration were: to tear down the Jim Crow laws that separated the black and white races starting with efforts in the late 1940s, and to establish the racial equality dreamed of by the Civil Rights Movement. Well, I hate to inform you people who have been dreaming for the past 60 years... the goal of integrating our society is an abject failure.
I have personally come to believe that the ideals of the 1960s integrationist can never be achieved in this country. Racism is too firmly fixed in our DNA. The fact that white America considers itself the “host” society of the land of my birth is too high a hurdle. The vision of true diversity... a salad bowl of different, unique, equal, and co-mingled people across all racial, ethnic, and gender gradations is what I now believe to be a better goal. My own personal ambitions for the dream of integration were dashed long ago when white managers at a major US Aerospace cooperation told me in a meeting that they decided to steal software from my company because $10 million dollars was “too much money for somebody like me”.
So skip the next 60 years after the 1960s, past the Obama presidency and we now exist in an era dominated by the Myth of Color Blindness. In his book titled “Social Inequality and Social Stratification in US Society”, Christopher Doob writes that “color-blind racism” represents “whites’ assertion that they are living in a world where racial privilege no longer exists, but their behavior ‘supports’ racialized structures and practices”. We’ve all heard the fruit of this version of white supremacy as articulated by the likes of Mitch McConnell that president Obama’s election is proof that we live in a post racial, colorblind America.
This myth of colorblindness is a beautiful weapon for white supremacists. It ignores the fact that for the first half of the twentieth century, it was completely legal to deny blacks (and other racial minorities) access to housing, jobs, voting, and other rights based explicitly on race. Civil-rights reforms of the 1960s rendered these practices illegal, but these inequities are still within the living memories of many, like me. Laws barring practices that previously maintained racial inequality, like redlining, segregation, or openly refusing to rent or sell real estate to black Americans have changed minds, but not hearts. So discrimination still persists, operating through a combination of social, economic, and institutional practices that are called institutional, or systemic racism.
This is where many sociologists have warned of the extreme dangers of colorblindness as an ideology. They argue that as the mechanisms that reproduce racial inequality have become more covert and obscure than they were during the era of open, legal segregation, the language of explicit racism has given way to a discourse of colorblindness. But they fear that the refusal to take public note of race actually allows people to ignore manifestations of persistent discrimination.
In this age of “color-blindness,” Michelle Alexander informs us, we are experiencing a “new Jim Crow” to suppress the votes of African Americans and to remove them from our economy by incarcerating them by the millions. This perpetual state of affairs has been engineered in perpetuity by lifetime judicial appointments being made by Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell. By practicing this “color-blind” racism, the “new Jim Crow” manifests itself through lifetime appointments of this Southern Republican Senate Majority Leader. He and his Senate friends are using their power to perpetuate “white rule,” beginning with his vow to “oppose everything Obama.” That included obstructing many of his judicial appointments, of which the theft of the Merrick Garland appointment to the Supreme Court being the most blatant. 
Our national slumber about race has brought us to the moment where we are now. And that moment feels like we’ve been here before, doesn’t it? The 1920s saw race riots in this country. The 1960s saw race riots in this country. The 1990s saw race riots in this country. Now, in 2020 (right on schedule), we see race riots in this country. Why? Because we have never addressed our dark secret with anything other than legislation and some goodwill. We have not changed both hearts and minds. At this moment white America apparently has no idea of why black people are protesting, and yes... even rioting in the streets. Here’s a newsflash... it is because the refusal to take public notice of racial inequalities has allowed white people to fall asleep and “ignore manifestations of persistent discrimination”.
The reason why statues are being torn down and confederate flags are being burned is because even some white people are beginning to see with new eyes. They see their own faces in the face of Eric Chauvin and wonder, with horror, how he became their monster. In America we people of color have seen those statues, those flags, we have heard the fine words, the empty promises, and have experienced the insides of prisons from an entirely different perspective. We know the monster. We’ve lived with it for centuries. It is all the insults, the laws, the overt and micro-aggressions, and the institutions meant to be the knee that grinds us down into the pavement.
Earlier this week I awoke to the sound of my wife reciting the pledge of allegiance at the beginning of a teleconference meeting. When she said the words “one nation under God with liberty and justice for all” they hit me like a bolt of lightning. I had a profound sense of grief because I realized those words are simply not true. We are not one nation. We are a confederacy of white supremacy for a tenuous majority. There is another nation for essential workers and people deemed to be useless feeders with a permanent chip on their shoulders. We are a nation with freedom of movement, freedom from suspicion, freedom of economic opportunity, freedom to manage their affairs, and freedom from fear of a brutal police state. But there is another nation that is simply not so free. Finally, there is a nation where the lady with the scales of justice is white and the weights on that scale are much lighter for white men and women than they are for people of color. My grief and profound sadness was generated by the realization that I do not live in one nation under God with liberty and justice for all.
We now arrive at the final myth: the myth of the individual. In America we like to believe that our ideals apply equally to all. We live in an exceptional country where the ideology of, equality before the law, individual responsibility, and representative democracy is a way of life. Our grand experiment to create the world’s best model of a melting pot is a raging success. People in this nation have been integrated into a cohesive, mostly functioning body. There is no such thing as racial inequality because we live in a color-blind society.
We believe in a myth of the rugged individual... a John Wayne-like character who rights wrongs against American principles in a violent, but ultimately loving way. We believe in the self-made individual who is capable of pulling himself or herself up by their bootstraps, conquering nature, subduing challenges, and blazing a path towards heaven all by themselves, with nobody else but their own family to be concerned about. This individual is not connected to anyone else on the planet. They do not consume its resources, take advantage of privileges, or avail themselves of services offered to the public. Only they can live in a nation with liberty and justice for all.
The rest of us live in this roiling mess we call the United States of America. In our defense, we are not like other nations. We are exceptional in the way that we actually are a kind of melting pot. Other nations, without the legacy of slavery or colonization, and with homogeneous populations can go about improving the lives of their citizens based on the principles of equality. We do not have that luxury. People of color are screaming in the streets. White America must awaken from its slumber or our country will be ripped apart at the seams of race.
How do we do this? How do we wake up? How do we pay for our colossal moral failures?
I believe we need to look to our Constitution and Declaration of Independence, realizing that they were written by old white aristocratic, hypocritical, racist men. I propose we mash those fine words up to create a new creed that makes sense for us today:
We the people, in order to form a more perfect Union hold certain truths to be self-evident. Among those truths is that all humanity belongs to one family descended from the African continent, that we are all children of our mother earth, that we are inextricably linked to each other and to our planet, that justice for all beings is essential to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and that all beings are equally endowed with unalienable rights.
To move forward we must recognize that the concept of race is a scientifically meaningless construct invented in the sixteenth century to justify slavery for economic reasons. Racism was injected into the DNA of our nation from its inception and it has haunted our legacy. The central principle to work with now is that we can dismantle racism from the inside out by acknowledging that its effects are both damaging and persistent.
So, from this place of acknowledgement we can move forward. But to do that we must correct our past errors that have disabled people of color through meaningful remedial reparations. We must teach the true history of white supremacy in our nation without the salves of lies that ease the cognitive dissonance generated by genocide and racism. We must change everything about our nation, from how we are governed, to how we are educated, to where and how we build our houses, to how are businesses are operated, to how we police ourselves, to how we administer justice, to how we treat each other, to how our children interact with each other, to how we worship, to how we care for our planet, to how we behave towards other nations and people of the world. I have some suggestions for how to achieve these goals in a separate document.
In conclusion, we dare not go back to sleep with the comfortable dreams of our myths. Our slumber has been wrecked by reality. Now we need the courage to arise and fully grasp hold of a better world. We have run out of time to do this.
Clovice A. Lewis, Jr.
“American Exceptionalism.” 2020. In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=American_exceptionalism&oldid=962735216.
“Manifest Destiny.” 2020. In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Manifest_destiny&oldid=962113725.
 Doob, Christopher B. 2013. Social Inequality and Social Stratification in US Society. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Pearson Education.
 “Why Color-Blindness Is a Counterproductive Ideology - The Atlantic.” n.d. Accessed June 27, 2020. https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/09/color-blindness-is-counterproductive/405037/.
 “Column: Mitch McConnell Is a Bigger Threat to the Nation’s Future than Donald Trump | Opinion | Themorningsun.Com.” n.d. Accessed June 27, 2020. https://www.themorningsun.com/opinion/column-mitch-mcconnell-is-a-bigger-threat-to-the-nation-s-future-than-donald-trump/article_45ee2436-a22b-11e8-b780-eb0a7c184d31.html.
1. I picked myself up by my bootstraps. My family was poor too.
Not all bootstraps are alike. Some people don’t have boots or straps because they were taken away or never given. No matter how dire your past circumstances... if you’re not Black, you and your family could always say “at least we’re not Black”.
2. Black people just don’t try hard enough.
3. Black people need to stop whining.
An “ouch” is not whining. A complaint is not whining. A scream is not whining. An uprising is not whining. For a White person to say, “Black people need to stop whining” is an indication that they are not listening.
4. Get a job!
You want fries with that?
5. I was a victim of reverse racism.
No, you weren’t. Organizations hire, admit, fire, and dismiss people for a multitude of reasons. For many years Black people weren’t hired or admitted because they are Black. Organizations may bring young people on for on the job training. They may wish to increase diversity because they think that is important. They don’t owe you a job or a place in a school because you are White any more than they do a Black person.
6. The Republicans were the party of Lincoln.
7. Black on Black crime (including murders) is a problem no one seems to be up in arms about. So many people die in Chicago. Where’s the outrage about that?
Do you get news feeds from Chicago? I don’t. Crime in any large city is a terrible thing. Police are supposed to serve and protect us all. Outrage is most likely to occur when a White police officer kills a Black citizen. Usually the outrage occurs because the killing is unwarranted. Such statements serve as a diversion from discussions of police brutality and poverty.
8. All lives matter.
Of course they do. Not all lives are equally at risk. The statement is a criticism of “Black Lives Matter” because it seeks to deflect, dismiss, ignore, and deny the clear risk Black people face.
9. Why should I be responsible for something my ancestors did?
You’re not... unless you’re doing the same terrible things they did. You are responsible for your own actions.
10. Blacks make up only 13% of our population but they account for 57% of all crimes. Why is that?
The way you answer that question is a litmus test for racism.
11. I’m not racist. I have Black friends.
Having Black friends is no indication that you aren’t a racist. Look at Trump. He has “my African American over here” too.
12. Rioting and looting is not the right way to express yourself.
A riot is a violent disturbance of the peace by a crowd. The operative word here is “violent”... which can mean physical force intended to hurt, or a very strong or emotional outburst. Take your pick to accurately describe the situation. If a riot without intent for physical harm is the consequence of an injustice (or continued insult) it can be a legitimate way to express a grievance. Looting is rarely justifiable.
13. There are legitimate Black leaders and fake Black leaders.
You don’t get to decide.
14. I don’t see color.
Yes, of course you do. Don’t be silly. When a Black person hears that it gets internalized as “you don’t see me”. That means you dismiss the real-world issues of racism that person experiences.
15. There is no such thing as systematic or institutionalized racism.
Only people who benefit from systematic/institutionalized racism utter that phrase. It is a destructive rhetorical weapon used to discredit, marginalize, and obliterate the lived experiences of Black people. It is used as an attempt to erase historical fact and reduce the evils of slavery, bigotry, and racism, and their effects, into a salve for the cognitive dissonant swamp such people inhabit.
16. But Black people sold other Blacks into slavery.
So, does that mean it is okay for White people to further oppress Black people? Black slavery of other Blacks is a painful legacy for the people of Africa. It is a subject they view seriously as a matter of historic guilt and responsibility. Would that White Americans emulate Africans in this regard. They are way ahead of us in terms of such things as Truth and Reconciliation Commissions.
17. Affirmative action doesn’t work.
Affirmative action works well for Black people. Redlining, institutionalized and systematic racism, wealth gaps, unequal treatment in health care, employment impediments, housing discrimination and other practices directed towards Black people do not counterbalance the moderate attempts of Affirmative Action policies. Affirmative action is an attempt to redress some of those harmful legacies of our past that persist to the present day.
18. I am a self-made person.
No, you are not. No one is. You may be self-sufficing or self-sufficient, but you are not self-made. Certainly as regards to race relations, that phrase uttered by a White person to a Black person is internalized as “I disingenuously discount the role of White supremacy in my challenging, but privileged life.”
19. We live in a color-blind country.
No, we absolutely do not live in a color-blind country. Just uttering that phrase reveals that you are 1) clueless about issues of race that effect us all, 2) you don’t care to educate yourself about what you are ignorant about or, 3 ) you are a liar.
20. Why do I have to give up what I’ve worked so hard for?
No one wants you to give anything up that is not yours. Black people are not asking you to “give” us anything. We demand the same opportunities and privileges you enjoy, as is our right as citizens. We can take it from there.
by Clovice A. Lewis, Jr.
Given the news about the anti-lynching law passed recently, and the fact that some legislators voted against it, I thought it would be appropriate for me to post this excerpt from the service I led this past Sunday (2/23/20) at the Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists.
The BFUU devoted their service that morning to the music of liberation by African Americans. They were kind enough to feature selections from my musical "Harlem Voices" that was completed in August of 2019. Members of their choir (under the direction of Dr. Susan Mashiyama) and special guest musicians performed the selections. I am grateful to the many people at the BFUU congregation who so enthusiastically embraced my music. I am truly honored and humbled by their deep commitment to bringing "Harlem Voices" to life.
About this blog.
This blog is a place where many of the confluences of my life can be shared. I am, at the core, a creative person. I approach everything from that basis... whether composing symphonies, playing the cello, being a serial entrepreneur, writing sermons and essays, flying airplanes, or creating software apps. I am deeply passionate about creativity, issues of social justice, and spiritual enrichment. These are fundamental to everything I do. Welcome to my journey!