Saturday, August 22, 2020

Equality: How is This Even a Debate?

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse, and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”
-Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Incense Burning
Incense Burning Individually Yet Together (Malaysia - 2007)

Equality should be an inalienable right granted to all who are born on this planet.  We are all living beings.  We share the same planet, we cultivate and eat the same food, we drink the same water, and we breathe the same air.  At our core we are all the same yet in our society we focus on the differences between us and we ignore the similarities.  We spend so much time arguing about why we're right, we don't bother to hear somebody else's side of the story.  Whereas if we actually took the time to listen to a different perspective, to talk to people who think and believe different things than ourselves, we would grow as individuals as well as a society and a planet as a whole.  We consider ourselves to be an advanced civilization; we've visited the moon, we can put rovers on Mars and probes into deep space.  We can dive into the deepest depths of the ocean, climb the tallest mountains, travel anywhere on the globe with relative speed and ease compared to even just our grandparents, and commercial space travel appears to be just around the corner.  Despite these great feats that would be unimaginable to people even just 100 years ago, we as a society cannot seem to treat each other with the dignity and respect that we all deserve.  We fail to realize that each and every one of us are all trying to achieve the exact same goal of simply living and existing on this planet.  Wars are started over religious differences.  The color of your skin determines the opportunities presented to you and the challenges you encounter from your first breath on this earth until your last.  If you are part of the LGBTQ+ community you are generally thought of as odd, creepy, gross, or someone who is lost and can't find themselves. Your schooling and the job that you hold determines what your level of success is in life as seen through the eyes of your community.  Society judges you based on the home that you live in and the car that you drive.  People are chastised for having different political views.  Sports and activities have so many similarities yet we only focus on the differences, "oh you like hiking, well I only like running so get on out of here, you can't join our club."  For the love of god, don't even dare to listen to the "wrong" type of music for if it falls outside of what is seen as "normal" among your peers then you are labeled as an outcast and discarded into the wind to never be heard from again.  What is the point of all of this?  How is any of that beneficial to anyone?  Why do we let our differences divide us instead of letting our similarities unite us?  These differences should be celebrated and there is absolutely no way we as a species can call ourselves an advanced civilization until we can put our differences aside and treat each and every person on this planet with the dignity and respect they deserve.  I can only imagine what our world would look like to someone born on a different planet visiting our society.

My current favorite theory on extra terrestrials is that they most certainly do exist and they know that we exist.  They have likely visited us and observed our world as a whole and they have watched us fight and kill each other, start wars over basically nothing, and marvel at how we destroy our one and only planet for money and profit (money is inherently useless by the way if we don't have a planet to live on).  Because of how we treat each other and our planet they choose to stay far, far away from us.  Maybe they've setup a quarantine zone around our planet or galaxy and they won't let us stray outside of it.  They know we'll just start killing whatever we run into and meet in this universe so we need to be left to ourselves.  Perhaps there are even some extra terrestrials among us right now, observing us, seeing if we'll change our ways at all, ready to reveal themselves to us if we do finally start treating every living entity on our planet with kindness and respect instead of hostility and fear.  If we look back to the stone age and observe how humans lived back then it looks archaic, barbaric and just downright unimaginable.  This is most likely how our current world looks to an outsider observing our planet as a whole as they go, "What the hell are you guys doing???"

Why are We Even Talking About This?

George Floyd - Breonna Taylor - Eric Garner - Ahmaud Arbery - Elijah McClain...

Just to name a few reasons.  There's likely a never ending list of names that should be listed here of people who have fallen victim to discrimination and/or hatred from a fellow human being.  Unfortunately, I don't have time to find all of those names, post them here, and maintain that list as that would be a beyond full time job at the current rate that these types of events are occurring.  These aren't one-off tragedies that only occur once in a blue moon.  They are certainly tragedies, but they seem to be occurring at an unimaginable rate of frequency.  Keep in mind that these are only the tragedies that we hear about.  If events like these are occurring, being caught on camera, put on YouTube, and appearing in mainstream media on a regular basis.  How many nearly identical events are occurring that aren't filmed, aren't broadcast on media, and we never hear about?  How many people in this world fall victim in similar situations and nobody ever hears their name or story?

Each name listed above happens to involve the police.  It's very important to point out that while these types of events that do involve a police officer are generally fairly public and those are the events that we are more likely to hear about, these events are certainly not strictly limited to interactions with police officers.  Discrimination and hate towards one another happens in every country and every culture, every single day.  Having said that, discrimination and hate are very apparent and alive and well in American culture, which is not okay and that needs to change as soon as possible.  In fact, it should have changed a very, very, very long time ago, but it didn't, and here we are.  It isn't fair to say that these things only happen in interactions with police, it also isn't fair to say that there isn't a problem with the policing culture and/or training in the United States.  It isn't fair to say that every police officer is a hate mongering person, it also isn't fair to say that these are one-off situations that rarely happen in interactions with police.  It's also not fair to avoid the fact that groups of people in our communities have to teach their children how to behave and act around police so that they do not become the next victim of police brutality themselves.  Everyone is currently pointing fingers at everyone else while yelling that this is all their fault.  We should really start by examining ourselves and how we as individuals treat and interact with people on a day to day basis, that's the factor that YOU have direct control over.  If we examine ourselves, fix our own biases and how we treat others, that then allows us to look at these situations with a much more complete picture.  We can then model how we want to be treated as individuals and that can then rub off on others.  It also makes it much easier for you to recognize an injustice when it's happening and to speak up about it.  It's way too easy to make generalizations about these events and to say that this is a problem with every single police officer in the United States.  There are a lot of great police officers in this country who are professionals and who do a great job.  As with most things in our society, we unfortunately, only hear about the bad ones, the events that are tragic and horrific get good ratings on media outlets.  Just as with all groups of people on this planet, police officers are not all the exact same.  Behind each badge is a person; a living, breathing, human being just trying to do their job to the fullest extend possible and as good as they possibly can.  In every culture and group in this world you have good people and you have bad people.  There are generally far more good people than bad people, but bad people generally get all of the attention and as a result they tend to stand out more and be more in the public eye.  Should police forces as a whole put a lot of effort and focus into only hiring the most outstanding and positive members of society who have the best of intentions and truly want to protect and serve their communities?  Absolutely, but the reality is that being a police officer is not an easy job by any means and it's not the highest paying job ever and a lot of communities in the United States are growing at a very rapid pace.  Should police officers be given a whole lot of anti-bias and anti-racism training?  Absolutely, I don't have the slightest idea what the training for a police officer currently looks like / involves or if this type of training is already standard or if it's being completely ignored.  However I do know who likely does know and who could provide a lot of valuable input on this.  Your friendly, every day police officer of course!!!

Wait wait wait, hold on a minute here.  There's potentially a problem with either police forces hiring people they shouldn't and/or needing to improve their training and you want us, as a society, to ask police officers how to fix this???

Yes, exactly!!!  Remember, there are FAR more greater people in this world than bad people, but the bad people generally get the spotlight by just doing a single bad action.  This means that there are FAR more good police officers than bad police officers and who knows the hiring and training process for police officers better than police officers themselves??  This should be a very open, two way conversation between communities and their police forces.  The communities should be voicing to the police forces that this is not acceptable behavior and they do not want these tragedies occurring in their communities and they only want police officers to treat everyone in their community with the utmost respect regardless of the color of someone's skin, political beliefs, religious beliefs, or really anything else.  In other words, that you ONLY want police officer PROFESSIONALS in your community.  The police forces as a whole should take this as a golden opportunity to share their challenges with their communities to share what it's really like to be a police officer, what their hiring process is like, what their training is like, and what they're currently doing or are going to do in the future to avoid these situations from happening in their communities that they are trying to serve and protect.  The communities where these tragedies have occurred should make it known to the police forces that things are going to change, with or without their input, so the police force can't just simply say that everything is hunky dory and no changes are needed.  That would just result in changes being made without input from the police force.  I would love to see these types of conversations happen across the United States and in all communities on a regular basis, in a formal setting, where members of the police force are in attendance as well as members of the community.  If these were to happen it would be great to have the police officers attend out of uniform so that the community can see that they too, are just normal human beings, trying to do their job as best they can.  Then the community can see through the badge if you will.  These types of conversations don't need to be limited to formal settings though.  If you're walking around your town and you see a police officer walking around as well, why not ask them if they have a few minutes to talk?  If they aren't busy and aren't doing a million things at that time, police officers are normally more than willing to chat; community engagement is part of being a police officer.  You could use this as an opportunity to pick their brain on these topics and to get their thoughts and to see things from their perspective and to see what changes they would like to see made in the hiring and/or training process, etc.  This two way conversation is very much needed so that EVERYONE can see and understand these issues from a different perspective.  Only then can a proper solution be attempted to be put together to prevent these types of events from happening in your community.  I don't know what the proper solution is for these problems, I don't know what the hiring or training process is like to be a police officer.  I do know that an open, two way conversation between communities and police forces that takes EVERYBODY'S voice and opinion into consideration is the only way to come up with a real and long lasting solution.  This can't just be a one time conversation, it needs to be a recurring conversation on a regular basis.  One thing that I do know for certain is that being a police officer is not an easy job.

I've done a few ride-a-longs with first responders, both police and firefighters.  I haven't done one of these in a while but they're really great to do as they give you a chance to see things from the first responders perspective and to see their side of things.  I highly encourage everyone to do a ride-a-long with both police and fire fighters in your community.  The one ride-a-long I did with a police officer, I met him at the police station, we talked for a few minutes, he showed me around the station and showed me all of the equipment they have.  He gave me very strict instructions on what I should do during calls as well as what I should do if he happens to get shot or injured, etc.  This conversation from the get-go made me realize that the possibility of getting shot is a genuine, every-day reality for police officers.  It could potentially happen to them on any given day and at any time.  As we were walking out to the patrol car, a call came in for us and we ran the rest of the way to the patrol car, hopped in, once he made sure I had my seat belt on, he just looked at me and went, "Well, we're starting the night off with a hell of a call."  Followed by turning the lights and sirens on and flooring it.  While we were weaving in and out of rush hour traffic (quite exhilarating and thrilling to experience, basically a real life roller coaster), he was talking on the radio and explaining to me what was going on.  In a nut shell, there were two civilian cars traveling at very high speeds, one car was trying to get away from the other.  The car doing the chasing was reported as having a gun and was repeatedly pointing it at the car that was trying to get away.  The dispatcher was talking to the car that was trying to get away and we were the closest patrol car to this when it started.  A few minutes later we found the cars, they were most certainly going pretty dang fast and were both weaving in and out of traffic.  As we caught up to them both cars slowed down and pulled over into a shopping center parking lot and stopped.  Three other patrol cars arrived within about a minute and the police officers took control of the situation and got everything handled in a very professional manner while remaining very calm and collected despite the chaotic situation that was happening.  When police officers are responding to a call, they really don't have a lot of information and they don't know how good that information is.  This was certainly the most exciting call during my ride-a-long and we had plenty of time to talk about what it's like to be a police officer, which was very eye opening for me.  As with everything in life, seeing things from a different perspective is key to growing as a person.


Well These Tragic Events Don't Happen to Me Nor Do They Happen In My Community, Why Should I Care?

Humanity as whole is really just one big happy family.  Remember, we all inhabit the same planet, we breathe the same air, and we eat the same food.  If discrimination and hate happens to any single person on this planet, then by default it is happening in your community (even if the visible event at the time is thousands of miles away) and you should be concerned about it and taking action against this type of behavior.  Plus, if this is happening in other communities, then what makes you think this doesn't happen in your community???  There are plenty of things that happen to people, every single day, that nobody ever hears about.  If you think that discrimination and hate don't rear their ugly heads in your community at all, then you're very likely just being ignorant about it.  In that case, you NEED to have conversations with people in your community that you normally don't talk to or hang out with to open your eyes a bit.  Whenever these tragic events happen, pop-up in the media, and everyone starts pointing their fingers and blaming everyone else for it happening.  You owe it to yourself, the person this event happened to, and the world to look at ALL of the facts and evidence and to form your own opinion based on those facts.  Don't just listen to the media, don't just talk to me and take up my opinion as your own.  After looking at all of the facts, watching the videos, etc.  Ask yourself, if that happened to me or my direct family, would I be furious about that happening?  If the answer is yes, then you should be furious and you need to take action against that type of behavior and I'm not talking about just posting something on social media about it.

Social media can be a wonderful and powerful tool for spreading messages, thoughts, ideas, awareness, etc.  If you post something on social media about racism, discrimination, hate, etc.  This should only be the first of many, many, many steps that you take against what happened.  Racism, discrimination, hate, etc. are very important and very real issues in our world and they are wwwwaaaaaaayyyyyyyyy too important to be marginalized and to be put on the exact same level as what you ate for breakfast that morning, what your spouse did to annoy you, or the top ten things you can do to have your hair regain it's youthful vigor and abundance it once had.  Social media is a great tool for spreading a message or raising awareness, however I fear that way too many people are ONLY posting on social media and NOT taking any other action, at all, to make this world a better place.  Which CANNOT happen, this needs to go WAY beyond taking five seconds to post an anti-hate post on your social media account.

What Can We Do About This?

The first step is to realize that there is a problem, only then can you take steps to try and solve this problem.  You can't solve something if you're ignorant and you don't realize that a problem exists in the first place.  Instead of trying to change the world as a whole from the get-go, start by just focusing on yourself.  You have direct control over your thoughts and your actions, nobody else controls that but you.  See what biases you have, scrutinize how you treat other people, and model how you want to be treated.  Quite simply, be the change you wish to see in the world.  When you focus on improving yourself, that will be noticeable and it will radiate out into your surroundings and the people around you.

I was having a conversation with someone about all of this recently and their instant, knee jerk reaction to the idea of all human beings treating each other with kindness, dignity, and respect was, "Well yeah, it sounds nice when you phrase it that way and it's a great idea, but it's just NEVER going to happen and it isn't realistic for every single person on this planet to do that, so why even strive for it?  Why try?"  This is the exact same mentality that way too many people have about voting and way too many other things in life.  It's the simple mindset of there are so many people in this country (and in the world) that if I simply don't vote, it doesn't effect anything at all and my voice doesn't matter.  If every single person in this country had this mentality, then nobody would vote and nobody would get elected and nobody's voice would get heard.  On the flip-side if nobody had this mindset and our voter turn-out was 100% THEN every single voice would be heard, regardless of the outcome of the election.  If you currently have this mindset about anything in this world then you should re-read the quote that's at the top of this page.  If everyone took time to talk to other people, to see things from a different perspective, to realize and fix their own biases, and to speak out against racism, discrimination, hate, etc. when those actions occurred, then those issues quite simply would not exist in this world.  It is possible, it is feasible, and I have so much hope and faith for this on our planet regardless of what anyone else says otherwise.  Having said that, all of this is sssoooo much easier to talk about then it is to actually do.  Here are some ideas of things you can do:

1.  Travel -  Traveling is quite simply the easiest, best, and most effective way to see and feel what it's like to be the person who stands out, to see things from somebody else's perspective, and to rely on the kindness and goodness of others in this world.  I'm not talking about your wine tasting trip to California, or your beach bum trip to Cancun, or your art trip to Italy.  Those trips certainly have their time and place but they likely won't do much to help you grow as a person and thus won't help to improve the current state of this world.  For the type of traveling that I'm talking about, pick a random country that isn't a big tourist destination but is a country that you're interested in, want to learn about, and you don't speak the language.  A country where you most certainly will stand-out as not being from around there if you were to go there.  Then go travel there, have fun, and you will likely have a ton of crazy stories, experiences, etc.  Some of which will be not so fun in the moment but you will look back on and go, "Well that sucked at the time but looking back on it I'm very glad I went on that trip."  My favorite thing to do for this type of trip is to buy my round-trip plane ticket to and from the destination and to have nothing planned in-between, absolutely nothing.  I usually take a travel guide for that country, I do a lot of research, and I attempt to learn basic phrases in the local language beforehand.  If I'm traveling, I will make every possible effort to speak the language of that country, despite the fact that it is normally very embarrassing and frustrating.  It's the thought that counts though and the effort is normally very much appreciated.  Before I go on my trip, I have ideas of things that I might want to do, the more-touristy attractions that I may want to check-out, hostels or hotels that I might want to stay at, but if it's at all possible, I won't have anything actually planned for my trip, only ideas of what I may want to do.  I won't book hostels or hotels beforehand (unless there's a big event going on and they need to be booked beforehand).  I quite simply arrive in the country with no planned agenda, only ideas of what I may want to do.  Then I see how I feel once I get there and I do what I want to do in the moment, I see who I meet and where the road less traveled takes me.  That leaves you open to do whatever the hell you want and you're not stressed about trying to keep a pre-planned agenda that is likely not realistic.  After all, this is a vacation!!!  Even if you're not relaxing on a beach in Cancun, this is an adventure vacation and you will do whatever adventure you damn well please!!  Once I arrive in that country, my cell phone (if I have it with me) normally gets turned directly off.  For me, it is so much more fun and rewarding to have these adventure vacations without the use of modern technology (whenever possible).  I'm not going to have my phone translate for me, I will get through it on my own and I will rely on the kindness and goodness of others in this world.  If you choose to have this type of adventure vacation then you will likely run into ssssooooo many more good people than bad people.  You will likely experience the goodness and kindness of others.  I've had countless amounts of people in every country I've been to invite me into their homes to spend the night, to share a meal, and to just talk!  You will also likely experience what it's like to be the person who stands out and to be discriminated against.  You will likely have stories to tell for ages.  These experiences will cause you to grow as a person, to see things from a different perspective, and to realize that there isn't any place for discrimination and hate in this world.  It will likely be a challenging trip on many different levels.  If you get detained by the local police for no reason, or people telling you to go back to where you came from, or people throwing rocks at you, or someone demanding you give them money, or people hurling insults and threats at you then ALL of these experiences give you context for what people who stand out in your own country go through each and every single day during their normal, everyday lives while just trying to live.  When you come to that revelation, it's important to realize that you chose to be on this adventure vacation.  You chose to grow as a person.  You chose to see a different perspective.  You chose to put yourself in that situation to see what it's like.  For the people who stand out in your home country, state, and city, they're simply just trying to live their normal everyday lives.  They can't simply up-root their entire lives and hop on a plane to get themselves out of that situation.  Once you experience what it's like to be discriminated against, even if it's a very temporary situation on an adventure vacation, you will be determined to try as hard as you can to keep these things from happening in your hometown because you have experienced it and you've suddenly been given a very small taste of what it's like.  A lot of people think I'm absolutely nuts for going on trips in this fashion.  I think people are absolutely nuts for not wanting to go on trips like this.  They are the most memorable, you see and experience the craziest things, and you experience first hand that there is far more good in this world then evil.  If you find yourself sleeping on a cement platform, at a train station, in a random town in India, using your backpack as a pillow, and the train is currently 12 hours late and you don't know when it will actually arrive and no one else knows aside from the one person who keeps telling you the train will be here within an hour (and they've been telling you that each hour for the past 12 hours), you can curse and thank me at the same time!!!  Travel often, go where you aren't comfortable, where you don't fit in, and where you don't speak the language.  Rely on the kindness and goodness of others!

My most epic (arguably) solo adventure trip was a 2 month long jaunt that I did across Ireland, Turkey, India, and Nepal.  Plane tickets were booked, along with a concert in Ireland, a few potential couch surfing opportunities along the way and nothing else was planned!  I can't tell you how many friends and family members thought I was crazy for including Turkey on my itinerary.  "Isn't that a Muslim country?" or "You're going to get shot" were the two most common phrases uttered to me when I told people about my trip.  This was very frustrating as I tried to explain that stereotypes and generalizations don't define an entire population, country, or the majority of the people.  Upon arriving in Istanbul, I had read in my guide that there were some pretty good and cheap hostels about a block away from the Hagia Sophia.  I made my way there via public transportation, I remember stepping off the bus in the middle of Istanbul with my belongings for the next two months in my pack and thinking, "The sun is currently setting, I'm in the middle of Istanbul, I don't know anyone here, I don't speak the language, and I don't have the slightest idea where I'm staying tonight" and just laughing and smiling about it as you can't travel any purer or rawer than that.  I made my way to where the hostels were, found one that I liked and had an open bed.  The owner informed me that I'd need to pay for my week long stay in advance.  I made my way to an ATM, put my card in, and proceeded to go through the menu.  Instead of dispensing money, the ATM went back to the main screen and didn't give me my card back.  I stood there in disbelief for quite a while, staring at the machine, punching it, kicking it, then back to staring at it as I was absolutely helpless for getting money or my debit card back.  Nobody else was around and there was literally nothing I could do.  I went back to the hostel in the darkness of the night and explained to the owner what had happened and let him know that I have some cash on me that I could pay him with but I also need to be able to pay for food until I can get my card back or figure something out.  He asked me which ATM it was, once I described where I went he knew exactly which ATM I was talking about.  He let me know that I don't need to pay him until I get it sorted out and I'm welcome to stay at his hostel as long as I need to.  He also let me know that he knows which bank branch operates that ATM and he'll take me there in the morning and he'll help me get this sorted out.  Then he asked me if I needed to eat, I let him know I am pretty hungry as I just flew in from Ireland a few hours ago and haven't eaten in a while and I have money to pay for food for at least a few days.  He told me to go to this particular rug shop a few blocks away, there I'll find a friend of his who owns a restaurant.  I was to let him know that I'm a friend of the hostel owner and to give him a quick rundown as to what happened with the ATM and that I'm looking for some good food.  I followed his instructions, found his friend, let him know what happened, we chatted for a few minutes and he walked me over to his restaurant.  Along the way he let me know that he's going to give me the locals price at his restaurant and that I'm not to pay him any money until I get the debit card problem sorted out.  I let him know I have money to pay for food for a few days so that's not necessary but he was very insistent on these terms and who am I to argue against someone's generosity.  After I ate he let me know how much the meal was, gave me a receipt, and let me know to come back anytime I'm looking for food and I can just pay him after my problem is sorted out.  I was in absolute disbelief to all of this generosity being shown to me by total strangers whom I had just met.  I was literally being given food and shelter under the assumption that I would come back and pay for it later, without it being given a second thought.  When my debit card was eaten by the ATM I thought I was completely screwed and here I was being showered with kindness as people were trying to help me out, a fellow human being who was down on his luck at the moment.  All of this happening in a country that my friends and family thought surely something awful would happen to me in.  Little did they know that quite the opposite would be true and I would stumble across some of the kindest human beings I've ever met.  The next day I met with the owner of the hostel, we walked and talked over to the bank branch and it was quite uneventful.  I let them know what happened, gave them my name, and they let me know that they haven't been back to that ATM yet but to come back in the late afternoon and they'll have my card.  I went back right before they closed and they had my debit card, intact and functioning!  I did avoid that ATM machine like the plague but used other ATM's around town without any problems.  No matter where you go in this world, you'll always find people willing to help you out in your time of need as good will always prevail over evil and there are so many more good natured people than bad, regardless of what makes the news headlines in the media outlets around the world.

2. Talk to other people about their experiences - Traveling is wonderful and it does wonders for opening your mind, seeing things from a different viewpoint, and just making you a more well rounded person as a whole.  It isn't a terribly feasible option for everybody though.  There are certainly ways of making traveling affordable, just type "Travel Hacking" into Google and you will find vast amounts of resources about how to make traveling affordable regardless of your income and budget.  But if you can't take time off work, or you have a family, or if you just plain don't like the idea of having an adventure vacation, then I have another idea for you!  Talk to people!!  BOOM, it's that easy.  The key here is to talk to people that are outside of your normal social circle and to not just have an ordinary small talk conversation such as, "It's nice weather out today, eh?"  You are going to talk to people in your community who you normally don't talk to, or people who have different political views, or people who have different religious views, etc.  You are going to talk to these people about their life experiences, you are going to get to know them as a human being, you are going to get to know who they are as a person and their challenges in life.  As a result, they are going to get to know the same things about you and you're both going to realize that despite your differences, you're both just human beings trying to exist on this planet so you need to be helping each other out instead of fighting over your differences.  These are really the same conversations that happen when you're traveling but they're more natural conversations to have while traveling as they tend to be the odd, "Off Limits" subjects to talk about in your ordinary, everyday life.  When having these conversations, it's very important to just listen to the other person, that's the whole point.  You're not going to try and convince them of what you believe, etc.  You're just having a conversation with them and getting to know who they are as a person.

In my college days I went on a super awesome study abroad program called Semester at Sea.  This is a fairly unique study abroad program where you're on a ship for an entire semester, traveling and learning about the world.  At the time, we circumnavigated the globe, stopped off at 12 countries along the way while exploring and learning.  On the semester that I did this program, we happened to have a very unique guest join us on our voyage, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who also happens to be a Nobel Peace Prize winner.  I was very excited about this beforehand and once we were on our journey it was so interesting to be walking around and to see Arch fist bumping people as he walked around the ship.  He would guest lecture in classes, such as my world religions class, and he held an Easter Sunday Service on the ship (I also got my haircut on Easter Sunday, two firsts on that one).  One of the things that struck me about him before I had a chance to talk to him is how welcoming and approachable he seemed to be.  You'd see him eating in one of the dining rooms and someone would ask if they could join him and he seemed more than happy to let anyone and everyone join him if they wanted to.  Naturally, I started doing that whenever I had the opportunity.  If I walked into the dining room to eat and I saw Arch there I'd ask if I could join and every single time he would say in a very enthusiastic tone, "Yes, please join me!"  Throughout the course of the semester I was able to have meals and conversations with him in a group setting probably about three times and in a one on one setting probably about another two or three times.  The first one on one meal / conversation I had with him is certainly one that I'll never forget.  For who knows what reason nobody else had joined him for lunch yet and he let me join him.  Once I sat down I immediately asked him if he could tell me more about apartheid and about living through that.  He launched into a particularly gruesome story about apartheid.  At the end of the story, I'm fairly certain my jaw was on the ground in disbelief about the details of the story, Arch just smiled, looked at me and went, "So James, now you tell me about yourself and your life."  There I am sitting on a ship, in the middle of the ocean, with the one and only Nobel Peace Prize winning Archbishop Desmond Tutu.  Who has just finished opening my eyes more to the horrors of Apartheid and he wants to hear about the life of a 19 year old, white, male, American, who grew up in a middle class family in a typical suburban town in the USA.  I was in absolute horror as I started rapidly thinking through the worst things that had happened to me in my life and they didn't even begin to compare to the horrors and reality of apartheid.  I asked him if he really wants to know about my life and he said he did.  I asked him why and while I don't remember the exact words he used (it was a long time ago), he just looked at me and he said something along the lines of, "Well I'm a person, and you're a person.  Here we are sitting at a table eating a meal, I just told you a little bit about my life, and now I want to hear about yours."  So, I told him about my life and who I am and it turned out to be a quite fantastic conversation and we each learned a lot about each other.  Throughout the rest of the semester I would randomly join him in one of the dinning halls for a meal if he happened to be there and we would just talk, as two normal human beings tend to do.  This blew the mind of my 19 year old self (and still does to this day) as what other celebrity or famous person will let just some random kid join them for a meal and have a normal conversation with them?  Arch and Semester at Sea as a whole really cracked open the eyes, mind, and thinking of my 19 year old self and formed the building blocks of who I would come to be as a person today as well as who I strive to be in this world in the future.  My most prized possessions are those that I possess in my mind of the conversations and experiences I've had with various people during my travels.  That is the best schooling that anyone in this world can have and nobody can ever take those experiences and conversations away from me.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu and James
Archbishop Desmond Tutu and James (2007)

3. Educate Yourself - Such as Read a Freaking Book! - This is probably the easiest option to do, but the vast majority of Americans really don't like reading books, which is why I'm putting this as the third option.  People all over the world write books all the time about their life experiences.  You can get a different perspective on a wide range of topics by quite simply reading some damn books!!!  People pour their hearts and souls into writing books and you can learn a lot by reading these very same books.  This isn't purely limited to reading books though, there are TED talks, documentaries, movies, and musical artists that allow you to see a different perspective and learn quite a lot from.  I have some suggestions at the end of this article which are good starting points for these.  If you're wanting to read some books but you don't want to buy them then do I ever have a solution for you!  Almost every town in the United States of America has these really cool public buildings, called Libraries!  You may or may not have heard of these (hopefully you have) or you may have just long forgotten about them.  They're really quite a novel concept though as they buy a ton of books and they let you check them out, FOR FREE, for several weeks!  These very awesome libraries not only house books, magazines, movies but a lot of them are starting to get some very cool and high tech things that you can borrow as well.  The local library that's an easy walk from my house in good old Longmont, Colorado has wifi hotspots, GoPro cameras, ukelele's, blu ray players, and my personal favorite: TELESCOPES!  Yup, they have some pretty great telescopes that you can borrow, for free, at your convenience!  There really isn't any excuse to not expand your mind and your learning when you have access to these public buildings that are built upon supplying you with anything you need to educate yourself.  The education category should also include teaching yourself as well as your children about the REAL history of the United States of America (and the world).

The real history??  What do you mean??  Schools have history classes, that's what those are for, problem solved, right?

NOPE, not at all.  Public schools in the United States of America do not teach the actual, real history of what has actually happened in this country.  They teach a scrubbed, clean version that tends to only include favorable events in the United States with maybe a slight touch on a few of the bad things.  This is an atrocity in it's own right.  From my own public schooling education I remember history books talking about trouble-making slaves in American history and them being portrayed as "unruly."  Oh really??  You took someone from their home country, tore their family apart, took them thousands of miles away, forced them to work out in the hot sun all day for zero money with meager amounts of food with very questionable living quarters, and you think they are "unruly" for not liking that situation?????  Or how about Japanese Internment Camps, where people of Japanese descent were gathered, separated from the general population, and isolated in camps across the United States.  I never learned about this in my public school career and I was absolutely flabbergasted when I learned about this in college.  Do you know how many history classes I had in my public schooling career?  There were a lot of them, quite A LOT in-fact.  How could an atrocity in American History such as Japanese Internment Camps be left out of those history books?  After I learned about this, I even asked some of my friends who had the exact same public schooling career as me if we ever learned about Japanese Internment Camps and if I was just asleep or something when it was being taught?  They all said, nope, we never learned about that.  THAT was the one that REALLY opened my eyes to all of this.  Ever since then I've been trying to read and educate myself on what has actually happened in American History, the REAL American History.  However I strongly dislike reading pure history books, so this is not an easy feat for me and I have not made as much progress in this area as I would like.  This raises quite a lot of questions though, are events such as Bloody Sunday, Juneteenth, and various Race Riots taught in the history books of schools?  I can't speak to if those events are or are not being taught, I just have my own experiences to go off of and I don't remember learning about any of those.  What other events are being left out of history books?  If you have kids, consider this as they go through school and take it upon yourself to educate them about the actual history of the United States, because they are not going to learn this in the current public schooling system.  As you do that, go to the school board meetings and bring up how they NEED to teach children the REAL history of the United States, not just the scrubbed down, clean version.  Why is this important??   That's all in the past man is what everyone says.  Well you can't learn from other peoples mistakes if you don't know what mistakes they made in the first place.  If you aren't learning about these things, that just breeds ignorance and history WILL repeat itself (and not in a good way).  If you don't learn about something that happened in history, analyze it, and look at why it was bad.  Then you can't recognize it when the exact same thing starts to repeat itself again in the future.  Whereas if you have learned about it and why it's bad and the effects it had, then when you start to see signs of that same thing happening again, you can raise the RED FLAG with authority and go, "NO NO NO, DON'T GO DOWN THAT ROAD, WE CAN'T DO THAT AGAIN."  It's in EVERYBODY'S best interest for children to be taught the real history of the United States (and the world) in public schools, no matter how crude and unfavorable the reality of that may be.  In short, Educate Yourself!!!

4.  Take action against the problem - You don't have to join a protest to take action against something, although that is certainly an option and the most American option at that.  After all, our country was basically founded around protests.  If you are joining a protest, please oh please keep it a peaceful protest.  For these types of situations that we are talking about, protests generally turn violent when people in a position of authority have abused their power, hurt someone else, and there are currently no repercussions or justice in the foreseeable future for the person who abused their power and/or authority.  Violence is not the answer and protests are much more powerful if they remain peaceful.  Other actions that you can take are to quite simply just have conversations about discrimination, race, white privilege, biases, etc.  These are topics that we avoid talking about in our society but they really should be the focal point of a lot of our conversations.  See what your family and friends thoughts are on these topics, get their opinions and perspectives.  Talk about a recent book you read, or a song that you heard.  Talk about a bias of yours that you recently realized.  If you're out and about and you hear or see someone discriminating against someone else, speak up and say something about it, let that person know that it is NOT okay and it is not acceptable behavior.  This is something else that is much easier to say than it is to do but it is absolutely essential.  If you do not think so then I would once again like to refer to you to the quote at the top of this page.  People need to know that discrimination is not okay and if nobody says anything, you are accepting this behavior and you are telling this person that their behavior is okay.  Conversations are starting to be had about the names of certain military bases, towns, as well as the existence of statues around the country.  Confederate flags were recently banned from NASCAR races.  Instead of celebrating these small changes, we should probably be having conversations about this and asking ourselves, "Why did it take so long for these changes to be made or even for the conversations to be started?"  After all, we call ourselves a civilized society, yet we can't even treat our fellow human beings with the kindness, dignity, and respect that we all deserve.

Well This is Depressing...

Unfortunately this isn't the most uplifting subject to talk about.  However it's probably the most important topic for us to talk about on a global level yet we rarely have these types of conversations.  They are becoming more and more prevalent conversations to have, which is absolutely fantastic!!  We need to keep that trend going, these subjects and topics can't be forgotten about.  We need to remember our history, talk about our history, and how we can improve and move forward as a human race.  We need to have hope and faith for all of this and not lose site of the goal of equality for all.  It is an attainable goal and it is possible.  I have an immense amount of hope and faith for this, I also have hopes and dreams that once we get this down we can extend this same thinking to having kindness and respect for ALL living beings on our planet.  That we will have respect for all animals and all plants that inhabit this planet with us.  This is an even more outlandish idea but again, it is possible and it is very much needed.  If we destroy our planet then we are left with absolutely nothing.  Our planet is an eco-system and everything in an eco-system needs to be balanced and work in harmony with each other.  If one thing in that eco-system is killing everything else then that becomes a very big problem and that eco-system is suddenly very much out of whack and not functioning properly.  Realistically, we should be taking a multi-pronged approach to all of this.  We as a human race should be striving to treat other human beings as we want to be treated.  We should not be destroying our planet and annihilating other species on this planet.  Yet greed gets the best of us and we as a human race currently value money over our planet that sustains us without realizing that once we destroy our planet, the money that we gained doing so will be absolutely useless.  Instead of focusing on money we should be focused on the similarities we all have in common, celebrating our differences, and making equality an inalienable right that is granted to all who inhabit this planet!


Educate Yourself Section:
 

Books & Readings*

As of posting this, I actually haven't read this book in it's entirety yet.  I started reading it while I was editing the final version of this post and I've been putting off completing it until I finish this post.  Given the subject matter of this book, it is likely a book that every single person on this planet should read.




Movies


BlacKkKlansman on various streaming formats

Informative Videos



Music


"One Day" by Matisyahu


Important Note:  I've spent several months writing this single post, it's an extremely important topic that is very near and dear to my heart as a human being.  This is the fourth full version of this post, the subsequent three versions I wrote and deleted because I just wasn't happy with them or the direction I took them in.  As much as I would love to think that this is a well thought out post on the subject of equality.  I realize that despite my best efforts, this is likely not the case, as I am merely one person who's life is basically the definition of white privilege and I guarantee you, I still have a lot to learn.  I am currently 33 years old and I grew up in a middle class family in modern day suburbia in the United States of America; there are likely things that I'm missing or not pointing out, etc.  As with all of my posts I welcome any feedback with open arms.  It would be very much appreciated if we kept the feedback constructive and lets have a conversation about it!

*Affiliate links where if you make a purchase on that site after using that link I do receive a meager amount of money back from it.  It's a small attempt on my part to try and make a little bit of coin in exchange for providing you with a free resource for growing your own food!

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