a baseball classic

This year’s Major League Baseball World Series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Houston Astros, with Houston leading 3-2 in a best-of-seven game format, already has been declared by some sports pundits as a classic. Both teams possess great pitching and batting, the Dodgers perhaps leading in the former and Houston, the latter, and two of the five games have extended into extra innings with the last at bat determining the winner. Born and raised in St. Louis, I grew up watching and loving the Cardinals and this series brings back fondest memories of regaling in the finest moments of America’s national pastime.

However, a non-baseball-related, but rather a manifestly cultural incident, one that hovers over the current roiling waters of societal discontent, has riveted my attention.

This past Friday, in game 3, Astros player Yuli Gurriel, after hitting a home run, motioned toward Dodgers pitcher Yu Darvish, who is of Japanese and Iranian descent. Gurriel placed his hands on the sides of his face, pulling and slanting the corners of his eyes.

Unsurprisingly, the reactions have been swift.

Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred announced that Gurriel would be suspended without compensation for five games at the beginning of the 2018 season; believing it would not be fair to the Astros team to exact the penalty during the current series…

The Astros management, expressing shock at Gurriel’s behavior, supports Manfred’s ruling…

Gurriel has apologized to Darvish, declaring his respect for him as a player and as a person and for the Japanese people…

Some, interpreting Gurriel’s action as a racist slur against Asian Americans, are outraged…

Others consider Gurriel’s gesture a-caught-on-camera-adrenaline-fueled-in-heat-of-the-unfortunate-moment…

Still others have seen the incident as a display of minority-vs.-minority stereotyping; and, viewed through that lens, all the more regrettable; especially in Houston, one of America’s most ethnically and racially diverse cities.

In a tweet, Darvish wrote: No one is perfect. That includes both you and me. What he (did) today isn’t right, but I believe we should put our effort into learning rather than to accuse him. If we can take something from this, that is a giant step for mankind. Since we are living in such a wonderful world, let’s stay positive and moving forward instead of focusing on anger. I’m counting on everyone’s big love.

Mr. Darvish, your words, for me, are a classic expression of compassion, comprehension, and consideration. May your hope be fulfilled.

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is brown the newest black?

Black. A basic (my wife, Pontheolla, truly a fashionista from birth, tells me, “a grounding, foundational”) color in the fashion palate; as such, the basis of the formation of many an outfit. Hence, the meaning behind the provocative title of the acclaimed Netflix comedy-drama, Orange Is the New Black, telling the tale of life in a federal minimum-security women’s prison where jumpsuits are prescribed attire and their color, orange, the new black.

Black, however, for me, as an African American, always bears the connotation of race. And, given my life’s experiences and my sense of American history, always brings a flood of memories of the discriminatory deferral, at times, denial of life’s opportunities and, equally, perhaps worse, the disavowal of God-given human dignity. And, as I believe that race and racism remain constant elements of the American “experiment” (for The Declaration of Independence’s promise of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” has yet to be realized by all at all times), discrimination always, on any given day, at any given time, for any other color painfully can be renewed.

“Annalisa”. I wrote about her before (revelación, June 1, 2016), describing her as “an engagingly convivial twenty-something ambitious college student with a thoughtful vision for her future.” In that prior blogpost, I recounted how I was made freshly aware of the insidious nature of my own prejudice. For I had asked Annalisa how she planned to spend that year’s coming Memorial Day, adding (not assuming she would observe), “an American holiday.” I realized and later asked Annalisa’s forgiveness for my sin, for she, Puerto Rican, was, is American.

In short time, Annalisa has become a dear friend. Verily, Pontheolla and I view her as we would a daughter.

Today, upon greeting, Annalisa had a look. One I’ve seen before. Sadly, many times. In my mirror and in too many eyes of too many others. A look of sudden hurt; the sort of which comes from an unexpected encounter. I asked, “Are you alright?” She answered, with welling tears, “I had incident on the street.” A man, pointing at the decal of the Puerto Rican flag on Annalisa’s car, drove up beside her, gesturing wildly, madly uttering derogatory epithets. Even more, she told us that her fiancé, “Victor”, had had a similar confrontation. A man approached him in a threatening manner, making disparaging ethnic references. Still more, she recounted how she and Victor and their families and friends, in the light and shadow of the heightened racially-tinged tenor of these times in America, had begun having intentional conversations about how to respond with calm and care if, when they encountered discrimination.

Pontheolla, Annalisa, and I joined in caring embrace. Pontheolla and I, thanking Annalisa for sharing with us, expressed our sorrow, and, later, when she departed, bade that she “take care and be careful.” This last counsel, I feel, I fear is all too necessary in these times.

having done everything they were supposed to do…

On July 18, 2016, in North Miami, Florida, a 23-year old man with autism eloped from a residential assisted living facility. Police were summoned by reports of an armed suspect threatening suicide. Upon arrival, the officers espied a man sitting in the middle of the street and another man lying on his back, his hands empty and raised in the air in view. That man, Charles Kinsey, a behavioral therapist and an African American, called out, “All he” (referring to his client) “has is a truck. A toy truck.” At some point, one of the officers “accidently”, it has been alleged, shot Mr. Kinsey, who, by his posture and proclamation to the police, did everything he was supposed to do. Moments later, asking the officer, “Why did you shoot me?”, Kinsey received the reply, “I don’t know.”

On August 12, 2016, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Stanley Vernon Majors shot and killed his next door neighbor, Khalid Jabara, a Christian of Lebanese descent. This after years of Majors’ harassing, terrorizing the Jabara family, calling them, “dirty Arabs” and “filthy Lebanese,” hurling racial epithets at gardeners who tended the Jabara family lawn (read: the “N-word” at African American workers), and, in 2015, driving his automobile, running down Jabara’s mother, Haifa, out for a jog, for which he was to be tried in March 2017. In 2013, the Jabaras filed a protection order forbidding Majors from having any contact with the family, which he repeatedly violated. This past May, against the wishes of the district attorney, Majors was released from custody with no conditions on his bond. Now, Khalid Jabara, having done everything he was supposed to do, is dead.

Two incidents among sickeningly, for me, too many that, for me, illustrate a couple of sadly, strikingly salient realities. One, aggrieved minority parties and persons doing all that they are supposed to do, all that they have been instructed to do in relation to legal authorities is no guarantee that the worst of their fears will not be realized. Two, bigotry, immune to the instruction of reason, insensate to the calling of compassion, thus, invincibly ignorant, obeys no boundaries.

right & wrong place & time

Last night, Pontheolla and I joined friends at a local eatery and bar to listen to Coconut Grove, a Charlotte, NC, based (but-close-enough-to-consider-Spartanburg-SC-home) band. They were great. The song list, wide and varied. The musicianship, literally and figuratively electric. The vocal harmonies, rich. The place was packed. The mood, highly spirited and responsive; folk happily singing along with the band. The proverbial good time was had by all.

And then, I don’t know why, the thought occurred to me. What if one of us in that room had a gun? And what if that one (or more?) of us with a gun, driven by whatever motivation – conscious and unconscious, whether long-ago experienced hurt coupled with misplaced, misguided anger or focused, targeted rage at someone or multiple ones there and elsewhere or for some other cause, clear or inchoate – opened fire?

Again, I don’t know why I thought it, but I did think it, if only for an instant, and then, I let it go, allowing myself to be reabsorbed by the celebratory atmosphere. So, it was that I was in the right place at the right time.

The same sadly cannot be said for my sisters and brothers in our human family of Orlando, Florida. They did not have the freedom to be festive, verily, to remain free from fear. For a gunman, Omar Mateen, was that one in a crowd who opened fire. They, 49 murdered, 53 wounded, were the victims in the latest mass shooting; for now (for a sorrowful, even cursory review of our recent national past raises the specter that it will happen again) the worse incident, as we humans count carnage, in American history.

The investigation continues. It may be proved that Mateen, who openly espoused Islamic State sympathies, engaged in an act of domestic terrorism. Or that he, driven by animus toward the gay community, sought to strike at the heart of our American liberties to love and live with those of our calling and choosing (for the murders took place at the Pulse nightclub whose mission, in addition to human joyful, peaceful celebration, is the promotion of awareness of the LGBTQIA community). At the proverbial end (and at the beginning and at the middle) of the day, I believe unfettered, unfiltered hatred was the defining impulse.

As I grieve for the dead and the wounded, for their families and friends, and for all who love the law of liberty and who, in mutual respect, are lawful in the pursuit of the liberties they love, I believe that the hostilities that inspired Omar Mateen to open fire also beat, pulse in the hearts of many. Thus, who among us knows or can know where and when will be the next wrong place, wrong time? I don’t know. You don’t know. No one knows. Perhaps it will be where and when Pontheolla and I or those we love or you and those you love will be some anywhere at some anytime.

When I was growing up, my father frequently advised, “Son, you’re only as good as your last good deed.” By that he meant to encourage me to do good (although his counsel also had the unintended effect of teaching me that my value rested on what I did, not on who I was; that action, indeed, achievement as the world judges accomplishment was greater than character). Moments in space and time of mass murder, coupled with all other catastrophes nature made or at human hands, reaffirm my belief that my last good deed, indeed, might be my last deed. Hence, this day forward, I renew my pledge to pray the strength of God’s Spirit to live conscious of and committed to love with unconditional benevolence toward all.

revelación

Recently, Pontheolla and I had the pleasure of hosting “Annalisa” (not her real name) at Clevedale Historic Inn and Gardens. Annalisa is an engagingly convivial twenty-something ambitious college student with a thoughtful vision for her future. Annalisa is Puerto Rican. In this fact or rather my unbidden, yet inherent reaction laid the root and fruit of a significant, painful rediscovery for me about the insidious nature of prejudice.

This past Saturday, I asked Annalisa, “What are your plans for the coming Memorial Day?”, adding, “yet another annual American holiday.” Casting a quizzical look, she answered simply, “I’m not sure yet.”

Sensing our sudden shared awkwardness, I realized my mistake. But it would take a day or two for me to process how deeply I had erred. In my question, I intended to be kind, not assuming blithely, blindly that she would observe this national commemoration. That was my conscious thought, which could not camouflage, much less cover the vulgar nakedness of my ignorance. Annalisa is an American. Yet I, in my question, exposed my unconscious bias, objectifying her. She, at that moment of my inquiry, was no longer a person, indeed, a fellow citizen, but rather a symbol of someone, something I perceived as non-native, thus, not in possession and having no claim on the birthright of my national identity. Complicating my dis-ease, I am nearly constantly mindful that some of my ancestors arrived in this land in chains, possessing and having a claim on nothing.

Later, I had the blessed opportunity, the sacred necessity of articulating to Annalisa my recognition of my sin and asking for her forgiveness. She was quiet. A tear formed in the corner of her eye; silent testimony that she had felt the barb of my unwitting, yet no less wounding slight. She said softly, “Not to worry.”

For the sake of Annalisa’s graciousness, I won’t worry. In my recommitment to the love and justice of Jesus, for the next appearance of my resident ineffaceable prejudice, in vigilance, I will watch.