Celebrating the “Dreaded” Black History Month.

In the middle of the Obama years, I got the dreaded “When are you going to teach white history?” question.  Tomorrow, February 1, two administrations later, I’m sure I’ll see some of the same.  I will be disgusted because many will come from folks, I want to respect but find that I can’t.  We can agree to disagree but not on racism.

Why are some of “white” America so “butthurt” over Black History Month? I have seen social memes and comments that have included “When is White America going to have a Month?” “Black History Month is Racist!” “Why do we have to have a Black History Month?”

An answer to the last question, in a perfect world, YOU WOULDN’T. Nor would you have Women’s History Month, in March, a Native American Heritage Month, in November, a Hispanic Heritage Month beginning in the middle September or any of the others that you can take the time to look up. Unfortunately, we are not, nor have we been, living in a perfect world. To quote a former student, “We celebrate white history in all months that don’t begin with F.” I agree with my student.

As a retired, high school history teacher I know history books are written from a decidedly Anglo-American point of view…well…at least where I taught, a deeply red, conservative state. A state that almost required D. W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation” as required viewing, along with Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone With the Wind” and Walter Raleigh’s “Ivanhoe” as required reading.

During the course of a year, Asians are mentioned about four times. Transcontinental Railroad, the Chinese Exclusion Act and Gentleman’s Agreement, the Japanese involvement in World War Two and China goes communist.  I almost forgot Korea and Vietnam. That makes five and six.

Hispanic contributions, maybe a bit more. Spanish colonization, Mexican American War, Imperialism, Pancho Villa, and then a jump to NAFTA and the question “Why are they taking our jobs?” Wait, we fixed that one didn’t we? Notice, these are all mostly decidedly negative when viewed from an Anglo point of view.

Native Americans are prominent but disappear after Wounded Knee unless you happen to bring them back up in the Sixties with the many social movements. Again, until recently, Custer’s Last Stand was viewed negatively by Anglo America. Damn Redskins stepping on our Manifest Destiny and the only good Indian…! I digress.  The Washington Football Team cured all those ills this past season. (said with sarcasm)

I rarely taught Black history during Black History Month. I was wrong. I deluded myself into thinking that I taught EVERYONE’S HISTORY ALL YEAR LONG and didn’t need to focus on a Black History Month. Then I began to assess what I had taught. I’m not happy. Kind of like ALL HISTORY CAN’T MATTER UNTIL BLACK HISTORY MATTERS.

Denmark Vesey, Nat Turner, Harriett Tubman, Fredrick Douglass, W.E.B Dubois versus Booker T. Washington, Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King and maybe Malcomb X. There were others but most were only related to one aspect of African American lives and American history. A decidedly important aspect but besides George Washington Carver and Langston Hughes, there was nothing about other contributions.

Black History Month should be viewed as an opportunity to spotlight contributions by African Americans. Musicians, artists, writers, poets, inventors, explorers, scientists, businesspeople, soldiers, etc.  It should be an opportunity for us all to learn. 

As a teen, I picked up one of my father’s books, Foxes of Harrow. It was written by Frank Yerby. I read all his books that my father had and along the way picked up a few more. They featured historical fiction with a bit of…latent eroticism. Nothing graphic but I was a teen boy, it didn’t take much!

As a young adult, I was looking for more of Yerby’s books not realizing he had died and found out he was bi-racial and from Georgia…which meant, because of the “one-drop law”, he was black. Who knew and should it matter? No it shouldn’t. Just like celebrating Black History Month should not matter if you are white, green or multi-colored. It should be a positive educational experience for all.  Postscript on Yerby.  He fled his native Georgia, first for France and then Spain, where he lived for the rest of his life.  I’ll let you research why he fled.

Three of my last four years before retirement were teaching “cultural” geography. I loved it. One, I had no end of school testing pressure and could go off on any tangent I desired to go off on. I could be creative and allow creativity from my students. It became about cultural diversity, really teaching everyone’s history, all year long.

In a paragraph I wrote about a former student turned preacher I said, “Today I look toward diversity as a smorgasbord of delights. I believe we should just focus on how diversely different people party. How can you be distrustful of people who produce such wonderful food? Or music, or art, or etc…. My life without Latin, Soul, Oriental and Cajun foods would not be life-ending but life would not be as joyous, especially without a Belgian, Mexican, Jamaican or German beer or maybe some Tennessee whiskey to go with it and a Cuban cigar for afterward. Someone might as well play some Blues, Reggae or a little Zydeco to help the atmosphere along. It is just as easy to focus on the positives about diversity as it is the negatives and again with knowledge comes understanding.”

I realize that I am a social liberal swimming in a red sea of white conservatism and make no excuses. I believe that the rights that someone else is given don’t take my rights away from me including the right to celebrate Black History Month…or Cinco De Mayo and St. Patrick’s Day for that matter. In fact, I have joined in and by doing so believe I am not only a better American but a better human.

Don Miller’s Author’s Page may be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR0mzivK_bmnTjG4D9RL1KGMQ4TurZ8y7hrFca8ExoRa_XmkEUStmSylMCc

Fifty Years Ago…

 

Section 5377 of the Code of Laws of South Carolina of 1942: “It shall be unlawful for pupils of one race to attend the schools provided by boards of trustees for persons of another race.”

Fifty years ago, yesterday, The School District of Greenville County became one of the last school districts in one of the last states to comply with the “spirit” of the Supreme Court Case Brown v Board of Education, Topeka, Kansas.  It had only taken sixteen years to accomplish this compliance.

1954’s Brown v Board included a South Carolina case filed by then Civil Rights lawyer, future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall on behalf of Harry and Eliza Briggs and 20 other families living in Summerton, SC, a small town in Clarendon County.  Filed in 1947, Briggs v Elliott challenged school segregation in Clarendon County, South Carolina.  It was the first case filed of five cases combined under the Brown umbrella

Unanimously, the Justices found that separate was inherently unequal and that “public school segregation was unconstitutional.” They also found segregation “fostered feelings of inferiority among black children that could harm their educational futures.”

Brown overthrew Plessy v Ferguson’s “Separate but Equal”, a railroad case from the 1890s that had been applied to education.  Mandated segregation in South Carolina was over…defacto segregation wasn’t.

I used the word “spirit” earlier because for sixteen years South Carolina lawmakers systematically attempted to put off the inevitable by increasing spending on black schools, implementing “pseudo” freedom of choice, and an end-run with what became known as “token” integration.

State Senator Strom Thurmond of Dixiecrat fame helped to pen what became known as the Southern Manifesto, pledging, along with one hundred other federal lawmakers, the intent to resist integration as far as the law would allow.

It seemed South Carolina and other states, mostly Southern, were intent on being deliberate rather than speedy when instructed by the Supreme Court to integrate their schools “with all deliberate speed” in 1954.

With a Mississippi Federal Court ruling, segregation ended over a long weekend in Greenville County on February 17, 1970, with the busing of sixty percent of the black school populations to various schools distant from their own neighborhoods.  Only ten percent of white children were bused.  Five hundred educators found themselves cleaning out their desks and moving to different desks in different schools as well.  This was done to reflect the racial makeup of the county, 80% white, 20% black.

What had been black high schools, some quite new became middle schools or closed that weekend.  These centers of pride for many communities, like Sterling High or Lincoln High, were now empty; only living on in the memories of many people of color.

I was a second semester junior in college at the time and not very concerned about the politics of my state.  The next year, my senior year, I would find myself an unpaid assistant baseball coach while doing my student teaching at a local high school.  It would be my first-time interacting with black students and athletes.  It would probably be some of their first interactions with white teachers and coaches.  Somehow we survived.

From all I can glean from friends and fellow educators who taught during the period, the change was relatively peaceful.  I imagine there was some selective memory loss but unlike other states, few buses, if any, were pelted with rocks. There were no rabid white crowds shouting expletives to little schoolgirls. The governor did not stand on the schoolhouse steps shouting, “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”

Still…I can’t imagine what those thousands of students were thinking at the time as they rode school buses to new locations.  I’m unable to fathom the fear of the unknown that prevailed, both black and white.  I can only imagine what might have gone on in restrooms, locker rooms, in the parking lot, on buses…out of range of teacher’s and administrator’s ears.

By the time I became a full-time teacher and coach in 1973, I found race relations still raw and contentious.  Generally, the question of race relations simmered just beneath the surface on briefly exposing itself.  There were just enough brief flareups to remind us.  Beliefs don’t go gently into the night just because judges tell them to.

For years we had been indoctrinated to believe races should be kept separate as a benefit to both, and then in the blink of an eye it was over…or was it?

There were still arguments made and old white men continued to try and find ways around the law.  Court cases would still be heard, especially over busing.  Isolated areas would still attempt to hang on to the old ways.  Affluent white folk found another way to be separate.

One hundred and thirty-four private schools and academies opened in South Carolina during the period, one hundred and thirty-one were opened to whites only.  Many still exist today, many still are all white with names featuring Lee, Davis or Calhoun.

Over fifty thousand white students fled to private schools and today one in seven public schools in South Carolina are considered “highly segregated” still.  “Separate but equal” seems to have a firm foothold all over the South and it appears the Secretary of Education is intent on strengthening its foothold nationwide while weakening an already weakened public school system.

I often hear or read, “We need to move on.  That was so long ago.  I don’t understand why it is always about race.”  I find it is often people of my race who make these comments.  The same people who insist their heritage is under attack when certain flags are removed from federal buildings.

I point out that Jim Crow was still entrenched during the years of my youth well into my college days.  As I reach a major birthday in a month and a half, I find that 1970 doesn’t seem that long ago.  If it is during my lifetime it can’t be that long ago.

I remember the signs stating, “White’s Only.”  I remember fire hoses, German Shepards and burning buses.  I didn’t fight for my Civil Rights, I didn’t have to.  I’m sure for those who fought for their Civil Rights…continue to fight for their Civil Rights, it seems like only yesterday.

Addendum 

According to various accounts, although Brown resulted in a legal victory against segregation, it was a costly victory for those associated with the Briggs case.

Reverend Joseph De Laine, the generally acknowledged leader of Summerton’s African-American community at the time, was fired from his post as principal at a local school in Silver. His wife Mattie was also fired from her position as a teacher at Scott’s Branch school, as were all the other signers of the original petition.

De Laine’s church was also burned and he moved to Buffalo, New York in 1955 after surviving an attempted drive-by shooting.  He never returned to South Carolina.

Harry and Eliza Briggs, on behalf of whose children the suit was filed, both lost their jobs in what was called “economic retribution.”  They both left South Carolina.

After death threats and by a joint resolution of the South Carolina House of Representatives, Federal Judge Walter Waring was forced to leave South Carolina for good.  He had sided with the petitioners.

An interesting article I just read, https://www.greenvilleonline.com/get-access/?return=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.greenvilleonline.com%2Fstory%2Fnews%2F2020%2F02%2F17%2Fdesegregation-1-out-of-7-south-carolina-schools-highly-segregated%2F2843394001%2F

***

Don Miller is a retired educator and athletic coach.  He writes on various subjects using various genres.  His author’s page can be accessed at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

The image is from “A New Wave of School Integration”, The Century Foundation, https://tcf.org/content/report/a-new-wave-of-school-integration/?session=1

***

Sources

https://brownvboard.org/content/brown-case-briggs-v-elliott

http://www.scequalizationschools.org/briggs-v-elliott.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Briggs_v._Elliott

 

Like A Bowl of Gumbo….

 

I was triggered but I was proud of myself.  I said my peace and disengaged.  I recognized that anything I might say would make no difference.  I think most arguments these days are best left…unargued.  There was an upside, my “triggering” sent me down a pig trail to Alice’s rabbit hole.  I found the Mad Hatter, but he wasn’t drinking tea, he was offering me a bowl of gumbo and an Abita instead.

The tiff was over a “Fun Fact” I had posted about Black History Month.  I share “Daily Doses” of witticisms or “Fun Facts” about the world we live in.  Anything to cut the greasy derision abounding today.  Since we celebrate Black History Month in February, I decided to avail myself of the subject although I am sure there will be fun facts about Valentine’s Day and Mardi Gras thrown in for good measure.

A comment made about my “Fun Fact” ruffled my feathers.  I felt the response was inappropriate and told the responder so.  He didn’t take it well…or maybe I didn’t take it well.  I opted to say my peace and disengage.  Instead, I punched up a playlist that included Jimmy Buffett’s “I Will Play for Gumbo.”  One of the choruses goes….

“A piece of French bread

With which to wipe my bowl,

Good for the body.

Good for the soul.

It’s a little like religion

And a lot like sex.

You should never know

When you’re gonna get it next.

At midnight in the quarter or noon in Thibodeaux

I will play for gumbo

Yes, I will play for gumbo.”

 

It’s a fun song and it had me seat dancing in my recliner, forgetting about my triggered self.  I might have had a Pavlovian response to boot.  The ditty made me think about diversity…also a good subject for Black History Month.  I know of no other bowls of goodness that are more diverse in ingredients, origin…and full of tasty joy.  If I had to come up with the last meal it would probably include gumbo with a side of shrimp and grits.

The word gumbo derives from West Africa, ki ngombo or quingombo, from the Niger-Congo language spoken by many of the West African slaves who survived the Middle Passage and were forced to settle and perform back-breaking labor.  The words mean okra, a plant the slaves brought with them.

Gumbo can be served without okra but why would one want it without okra?  It was also Africans who introduced serving okra with rice, and rice is generally served with gumbo.

Sometime later, it was the Louisiana French, some who came by way of Canada, who probably shortened the African words to gumbo.

The Choctaw, who gave the dish filé, ground sassafras leaves, called the tasty dish, kombo.

The dish is most closely associated with Nawlins, Loo-see-Anna but can be found in bowls across the United States.

Like gumbo, New Orleans is about as diverse as one place can be.  The Spanish conquistadores wrestled the area from the Natives in the middle 1760s while fighting off the French before secretly giving it to Napoleon’s France in 1800.  The area was heavily explored and settled by both the French and Spanish lending to the diversity.  Napoleon, feeling a money pinch from his many wars, sold New Orleans and a bunch more to the United States in 1803.  All the while, African slaves and Native Americans added to the diversity whether they wanted to or not.

Gumbo varies according to the Cajun style or Creole style…or your style.  All make use of a dark roux (French, although darker than most French styles), some use okra (African) to thicken, others use filé powder, (Choctaw).  Still, others use both.  Seafood or chicken, both or none, can be combined with Andouille sausage (French but with a heavy German influence).  Gumbo’s first cousins, Jambalaya and red beans and rice, are probably Spanish introductions and akin to the Spanish rice dish, paella, so I must believe there are Spanish influences in gumbo too.

What I like about gumbo, besides its taste, is its diversity.  It is made with diverse ingredients that vary, of course, depending on who’s making it.  It can be made with table scraps, shrimp, sausage, chicken or alligator, I guess.

Gumbo in a wide mouth bowl crosses lines of class, rich or poor.  It crosses race and ethnicity and probably religion too.  Louisiana cooks call the combination of celery, bell pepper and onion the “Holy Trinity” after all.  As tasty as it is, I’m sure there might be a bit of West African Voodoo involved.  Gumbo is truly a melding of ingredients, tastes, and people.

Gumbo is both labor and love intensive.  You just can’t put it all together and then walk away.  There is much stirring before you can cut the temperature down to low and let those flavors get to know each other.  People should cut the temperature down and get to know each other too.

Sometimes I wonder if it is the sweat off the chief’s brow that adds to the spice as much as that “Loo-see-Anna” hot sauce…Its gotta be love that makes it so tasty.

“Maybe it’s the sausage or those pretty pink shrimp

Or that popcorn rice that makes me blow up like a blimp.

Maybe it’s that voodoo from Marie Leveaux,

But I will play for gumbo

Yeah, I will play for gumbo

The sauce boss does his cookin’ on the stage,

Stirrin’ and a singing for his nightly wage.

Sweating and frettin’ from his head to his toe,

Playin’ and swayin’ with the gumbo

Prayin’ and buffetin’ with the gumbo.”

 

Lyrics courtesy of AZlyrics.com, Jimmy Buffett, I Will Play For Gumbo, written and performed by Jimmy Buffett.  From the 1999 album Beach House on the Moon.  Video courtesy of YouTube

Featured Image of New Orleans Creole Gumbo from Big Oven https://www.bigoven.com/recipe/new-orleans-creole-gumbo/170608

My favorite Gumbo Recipe from Emeril Lagasse, Gumbo Ya-Ya https://parade.com/27003/emerillagasse/gumbo-ya-ya/

Don Miller’s author’s page can be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

“Thank You For Accepting People as They Are”

 

There was an envelope in my mailbox.  Addressed to my wife I turned it over and saw “Thank you for accepting people as they are.”  Maybe some of you have received this envelope after having contributed to the Special Olympics.  I didn’t directly contribute but my wife has always made sure we contributed and during our teaching years were actively involved…as in she involved me during her days as an elementary physical education instructor and while cosponsoring the high school’s service-learning program.  I am thankful for that.

She has always been the poster child for accepting people at face value.  Accepting people at what they were.  Offering love and discipline but no criticisms as to what they were or where they came from.

I remember visiting her while she taught on occasion.  Smiling, snotty-nosed children of different genders and races rushed gleefully into her class, expecting to receive and returning hugs, refusing to be denied.  Sneezes, mucus, mud be damned.  Terms of endearment flowed from Miss PE, “Sugar or Honey Lamb, Snookems, Babydoll,” etc.  I saw love and acceptance.

Don’t be fooled.  She could get after them pretty good when they failed to get to or remain on their spots, but she distanced the person from the offense.  She accepted people as they were.  I wondered as I looked at the envelope…and fell down Alice’s rabbit hole.

When I saw the phrase on the back of the envelope, I asked myself, “What if we accepted people as they are?”  Gay, different races, transgender, poor, different religions, forget where they came from and accept who they are as opposed to what they are.

We are quick to criticize people who look differently, speak differently, have different religious beliefs than us.  People who don’t love the way we love or eat the same foods that we eat.  We seem to get upset because we must press one for English.  How many seconds of our life does it really cost us?

We create divides by pontificating loudly and listening little, passing judgment on one before delivering our sentences to all.  Our loud language and sharply delivered words can only be interpreted one way by those they are directed toward.

We are quick to label people with all sorts of names, explain that they are bad or different because they are a product of a lax home environment and because we have thrown god from the halls of education.   We don’t like their pink hair, their tattoo or their nose piercing and we look no deeper.  We don’t make the effort to listen to what they might want to tell us…what we might actually learn.

We make no effort to understand their thinking or consider what they might have woke up to or went to bed to.  We don’t seem to care they might have gone to bed hungry and went out into the world the next morning the same way.  Again, we pontificate loudly that it is not our responsibility.

We dismiss many kids as kooks, fruitcakes, freaks, goofballs, wingnuts, mentally ill and the one that knifes me the most…retards.  Honestly, I don’t like the label “special”, but we must have a label of some type.  After all, we are the normal ones with our normal convictions and conventions.  We must have a way to delineate the differences between us and them to make ourselves feel more important, more worthy.

I hurt for our teens.  Teens at best are troubled and all we’ve done is add to their troubles.  Dealing with those raging hormones is bad enough…and now we call them crazy because…well because.  We tell them they’ll never amount to much.  They are lazy and the worst generation ever.  They are the most disrespectful…but I notice it is always the other person’s child.

If you tell a kid enough times that he is a duck, at some time or another he will begin to waddle.  We get what we expect.  If you expect nothing you won’t be disappointed.  I notice we point our fingers but offer little cure…especially if it costs money.

We bully, we attempt to push their little round bodies into little square holes. As they attempt to find themselves, we attempt to make them into the image of ourselves.

I taught forever plus a day and found that the most interesting students, who became the most interesting adults, were the kooks and fruitcakes.  The ones who thought outside of the box, colored outside of the lines and looked at the world sideways and created something beautiful.  They were the leaders who refused to follow tired old lines.  They were the ones who hated to hear “We’ve done it this way for….”

There was a time when we put a premium on free thinkers.  Now it seems we don’t want free thinkers.  They might be left thinkers and that just wouldn’t be right.

We want our mini-mes to toe the party line, drinking deeply from the propaganda Kool-Aid.  It seems we want everyone lined up in rows like dominos, standing at attention, all boringly the same…and like a row of dominos when one tips over, they all tip over.

What if we just accepted people as they are.  Nurtured instead of ridiculed.  What is wrong with nurturing?  You can be nurturing and not be soft.  Put their little seeds in the ground not caring what the seed might be.  Add water and fertilizer, weed the bed occasionally and see what they turn into.   Provide a fertile bed for plants instead of chopping them off at the roots like weeds.

What if we accept people as they are?

Don Miller’s author’s page can be followed at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

 

True Believers?

True Believer?

true believer. noun. One who is deeply, sometimes fanatically devoted to a cause, organization, or person

  1. (ecclesiastical) A strict follower of a religious doctrine.
  2. (idiomatic) One who sticks to one’s dogma or beliefs irrespective of the facts

I wish I was a “true believer,” all smug and sure of my beliefs on politics and religion.  I’m not.  As I interact with those who are, I find myself questioning my own beliefs and other people’s motives.  They say I only need to read the Bible to find the answers.  According to Biblegateway.com, there are over two hundred different translations of the Christian Bible in over sixty languages…”Which translation is the true word?”

There has been a positive outcome to my self-imposed abasement, my metaphorical self-flagellation.  I’ve found I am continually trying to answer the question, “What do I really believe” and continue to question my God as I make my quest.  I also wonder if “questing” is a sin.  According to some of these same “true believers”…maybe.

I grew up in the Methodist Church.  A very structured, high liturgical Methodist Church in a then-rural area with very “give me that old time religion” religious values.  In a previous writing, I might have referred to the church of my youth as a very “tight-assed” church.  “Tight-assed” as in very conventional, very orthodox…just like me at the time.

I have become less so as I have grown older but still consider myself a ‘way too’ conventional person who’s a want-to-be flower child.  Know any flower children hiding in an inhibited and repressed body?  I just can’t seem to dance like no one is watching. No matter how much I wish to be the aging 60’s hippy, I’m still…just…too…tight-assed.  Maybe if they legalize that there “marijahoochie….”  My Mother is rolling in her grave.

I left my tight-assed little rural church in 1968 and went on to attend a tight-assed Lutheran school of higher learning and received a liberal arts degree in history and education.  Again, a very conventional ‘I went to Vespers and Chapel kind of education’, and even considered becoming a man of the cloth until Greek and Latin got in the way.

For some reason, some “true believers” have been deemed my education “totally useless” even a “waste of time”.  With my recently vilified “Liberal Arts” diploma, my equally liberal advanced degrees in secondary education, I taught and coached for forty-five years, warping the minds of our youth.

I taught in schools that are being denigrated by some of my political and Christian right (far right?) friends as “hotbeds” of liberalism.  According to them, instead of teaching the three R’s we quote Marx and Lenin, create project-based lesson plans on the ‘Joys of Communism’ and begin every school day with a silent prayer to the Vodun Goddess Mahu.

I might have exaggerated a bit, but one exfriend deemed I had no worthwhile, “real” life experiences and did not understand “day to day” struggles of “real” men.  “As weak as preacher’s piss,” he said.  I’m guessing his educational experiences weren’t very positive.  Another brought by vocabulary in to question, “Simply showing off” because I used the term cognitive dissonance.   Well, bless your heart.

Reality is: teachers do none of the above, they do have the day to day struggles and I’ve known few weak ones.  Teachers are forced to teach to a test they’ve never seen or been allowed to ask questions about and administered at the end of the year.  They have little time to devote to politics or religion, liberal or conservative.  Also, I talk like I talk.

Teachers do pray, silently just after cursing under their breath, every time there is a full moon. Teachers pray to Jehovah, Yahweh, “Sweet Baby Jesus wrapped in fleece” or the patron saint of educators, Saint John-Baptiste de la Salle.  Some pray to Allah, some may pray to Lakshmi, some may pray to any diety willing to take “little Johnny” from their classroom.

They pray to anyone listening for survival and until “true believers” walk in their shoes, they should be quiet and sit down.  Too strong?  Sorry…now be quiet and sit down.

I don’t like combining politics and religion…or teaching for that matter.  Tying “a” religion to politics is destructive to both, destructive to children who don’t believe as you do…and is against the Constitution, something “true believers” seem to forget unless it is the Second Amendment.

The recent political battle between Progressives and Populists has pulled the middle toward opposite poles and taken religion with it…or maybe religion began the tug of war.  It bears pointing out, neither side is being productive doing it.

Despite my heresy…or blasphemy, I talk to God daily, multiple times.  As I ponder what I am typing now, I continue to ask to be “refreshed” and shown the true light.  I get no answer and take his or her silence to mean, “You’re on the right track, Bubba.”

Most of my conversations with Him revolve around my beliefs.  I continue to search for the path and question why so many “true believers” seem to express so much hatred toward their fellow humans.  Their expressions seem to be so contrary to the Good News I’ve read in the Gospels of Jesus Christ.

Let’s be clear.  I’m not speaking of all “true believers”.  Just those who believe theirs is the only way, those who are so sure of themselves religiously or politically, those who believe there is only black and white.  Those whose beliefs are hurtful to those who have no sin other than to be different.  Those who cross the boundary between deeply believing to extreme fanaticism.

My problem, if it truly is a problem, is that I view life in shades of gray.  There is no black or white…and no one hundred percent certainty.  There is no ‘ALL’ or ‘EVERY’.  There is only uncertainty.

An Indian philosopher, Bara Dada, in a quote restructured and attributed falsely to Gandhi, said, “Jesus is ideal and wonderful, but you Christians, you are not like him.”  I don’t believe this is true of all, but I believe the number of “not like Christ” Christians are growing to the point that I self-identify as a “Christ Follower” and not with a specific religion…I know, I still attend a Baptist Church but since the pandemic, it is easier not to.

Please don’t take my rant as being “holier than thou.”  I’m not.  Refer to the paragraph beginning “My problem….”  I just don’t understand why we are arguing our beliefs as if they were playing a rival football game…or a war.  “My god is better than yours?”  I should also point out, I have atheist friends and friends who practice non-Christian beliefs.  They seem to be more “Christ-like” and embracing than my many of my “Christian” friends.

I have just now realized my concerns are not about beliefs…it is about actions.  Your actions tell me all I need to know.  I believe words carry the same weight as actions.  My actions and words have weight.

It doesn’t matter what you call your God or god.  Be it Elohim, Jehovah, Yahweh, Allah, Vishnu, or Joe, do you rationalize your hate with your religion?  How do you rationalize it?  Maybe I’m not the one who needs to self-evaluate…but I will continue to do so.

For more gentle rantings https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

The image is the Church of Uncertain sign near Uncertain, Texas 

IN PRAISE OF DIVERSITY

I thought I would avoid this question but I got the dreaded “When are you going to teach white history?” Why are some of “white” America so “butthurt” over Black History Month? I have seen social memes and comments that have included “When is White America going to have a Month?” “Black History Month is Racist!” “Why do we have to have a Black History Month?” In a perfect world, YOU WOULDN’T. Nor would you have Women’s History Month, in March, a Native American Heritage Month, in November, a Hispanic Heritage Month beginning in the middle September or any of the others you can take the time to look up…including Irish-American Heritage Month in March. Unfortunately, we are not, nor have we been, living in a perfect world. To quote a former student, “We celebrate white history in all months which don’t begin with F.” Well, there are those two months teachers are NOT on vacation.

As a retired, high school history teacher I know history books are written from a decidedly European-American point of view…well…at least where I taught and if any of the research I have done is to be believed. Asians are mentioned about four times. Transcontinental Railroad, Chinese Exclusion Act, the Japanese involvement in World War Two and China goes communist and the Cold War. That makes five. Hispanic contributions, maybe a bit more. Spanish colonization, Mexican-American War, Imperialism, Pancho Villa, and then a jump to NAFTA and the question “Why are they taking our jobs?” Notice, these are all mostly decidedly negative when viewed from a European point of view. Native Americans are prominent but disappear after Wounded Knee unless you happen to bring them back up in the Sixties with the many social movements. Again, until recently, Custer’s Last Stand was viewed negatively by European America. Damn Redskins stepping on our Manifest Destiny and the only good Indian…! I digress.

I rarely taught Black history during Black History Month. I was wrong. I deluded myself into thinking I taught ALL HISTORY ALL YEAR LONG and didn’t need to focus on Black history. Then I began to assess what I had taught. I’m not happy. Kind of like ALL HISTORY CAN’T MATTER UNTIL BLACK HISTORY MATTERS. Denmark Vesey, Nat Turner, Harriett Tubman, Fredrick Douglass, W.E.B Dubois versus Booker T. Washington, Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King and maybe Malcomb X. There were others but most were only related to only two aspects of African-American lives and American history, slavery and Civil Rights. Decidedly important aspects but besides George Washington Carver and Langston Hughes there little about other contributions.

Black History Month should be viewed as an opportunity to spotlight contributions by African Americans. Musicians, artist, writers, poets, inventors, explorers, scientists, business people, soldiers, etc. As a teen, I picked up one of my father’s books, Foxes of Harrow. It was written by Frank Yerby. I read all his books my father had and along the way picked up a few more. They featured historical fiction and a bit of…latent eroticism. Nothing graphic! As a young adult, I was looking for more of his books and found out he was bi-racial and from Georgia. Who knew and it didn’t matter. Just like celebrating Black History Month shouldn’t matter to those railing against it. It should be a positive educational experience.

Three of my last four years teaching were teaching “cultural” geography. I loved it. One, I had no end of school testing pressure and could go off on any tangent I desired to go off on. I could be creative and allow creativity from my students. It became about cultural diversity. It also reminds me of a paragraph I wrote in a story about a former student. “Today I look at diversity as a smorgasbord of delights. I believe we should just focus on how diversely different people party. How can you be distrustful of people who produce such wonderful food? My life without Latin, Soul, Oriental and Cajun foods would not be life ending but life would not be as joyous, especially without a Belgian, Mexican, Jamaican or German beer or maybe some Tennessee whiskey to go with it and a Cuban cigar for afterward. Someone might as well play some Blues, Reggae or a little Zydeco to help the atmosphere along. It is just as easy to focus on the positives about diversity as it is the negatives and again with knowledge comes understanding.”

I realize I am a social liberal and make no excuses. I believe the rights someone else is given doesn’t take my rights away from me despite what I might think, including the right to celebrate Black History Month…or Cinco De Mayo and St. Patrick’s Day for that matter. In fact, I have joined in. Who knows? This old dog might just learn a new trick or twenty.

Uniquely Southern, uniquely insightful, books by Don Miller can be bought or downloaded at http://goo.gl/lomuQf

SHANTIES

This past spring, on a trip to the coast, my wife and I decided to forgo the speed and ease of interstate travel for the interest factor of backroad pig trails. Despite the black water rivers and swamps cutting the land, vast fields and pastures seemed to overtake the two-lane road. Where there were homes, yards were at a minimum…except where pecan tree lined drives led to two story homes featuring circular drives, wrap around porches and columns. Mostly of the homes peaking my interest were small, broken down and square, four room homes dating from share cropping days or possibly earlier. The shanties sat on small square parcels of land and would be surrounded by towering corn stalks, tobacco or cotton by late summer. Known for rice and indigo during our colonial period and cotton during antebellum times, I guess land was too precious to allow for large plots of land to be used for recreational purposes…especially when there was little time for recreation. “Early thirty to dark thirty” days would soon be upon the farm workers of this coastal city and the surrounding area just as it had been decades ago…or may be centuries.

As I drove through the land I imagined poor whites and poorer blacks inhabiting the old share cropper’s shanties, battling each other for a life as “casual” farm laborers, having given up on the pursuit of jobs in the city. An elderly black woman stepped out of one of the tar paper houses, its broken-down front porch resembling the sway back of an overused plow horse. She was dressed as her ancestors dressed, a brightly colored scarf wrapped around her head and a long-sleeved print dress above what appeared to be bare feet. As I breezed past I almost asked out loud, “I wonder what tales she could tell?” While the journey was interesting, I became somber and introspective.

Tar paper and graying, slab wood shacks occasionally dotted the landscape around my childhood home. There was an abandoned and overgrown shack next to my house used as a clubhouse of sorts by my best friends and me. The younger me never thought about what it or these other broken-down homes represented. Our clubhouse was just a place to discuss girls, sneak smokes and talk about whatever preteens talk about…until our parents found out. I didn’t understand share cropping, tenant farming or farming on the lien back then. People bound to the land living from harvest season to harvest season, praying to pay off their crop lien or having a large enough share to put a bit of money away for the future. Hoping to buy a small piece of heaven of their own.

A friend of color told me of an ancestor of his born into slavery. Working as a tenant farmer on the same expanse of land he had toiled on before his own day of jubilee. Scrimping and saving until he could buy his own parcel of land. Clearing the land with his four children and wife, milling his own lumber and building his own four room palace. I’m positive he felt it was a palace. Filling it with hope and joy, twelve kids worth, growing his own work force and I hope expanding his little piece of heaven. There must be a tribute of some sort, especially when one considers the road blocks thrown in front of former slaves. Perseverance, persistence and a lot of patience I would suggest paid off in the long run.

As I’ve written before, my grandparents began their married life as farmers on the lien but they had several safety nets; family, the textile mills and they were white. Their dream included sixty acres and putting a child through college. Maybe there is hope instead of sorrow and the American Dream still exists. Hard work may in fact pay off.

Uniquely Southern, uniquely insightful, books by Don Miller can be bought or downloaded at http://goo.gl/lomuQf

TWO OLD FARTS WALKING IN THE DARK

“You can think what you want, do what you want, say what you want. We’re old, you might as well embrace it!” My best friend, Hawk, had just responded to a statement I had made as we finished our weekly “walk.” My response to his response, “Bullsh@t! You’re old, I refuse to concede. I’m not going to embrace that sixty-something someone staring back at me from the mirror. He looks like my grandfather.” “You’re a year older than I am Bo,” was Hawk’s retort. Well, yeah, but age is just a number…until you groan getting out of bed in the morning.

Hawk and I walk every Friday. Due to our work schedules, we walk at five thirty in the morning. WAIT! We’re both are retired soooooo…due to being set in our ways, we walk at five-thirty in the morning on a local paved pathway called the Swamp Rabbit Trail. It’s named after a…I’m sorry…somehow, I’ve got to stop turning everything into a history lesson.

Back to the point…WHAT WAS THE POINT…oh yeah, Hawk and I walk every Friday at five thirty am. It is a seven-mile power walk, a sub fourteen thirty mile per hour pace as a goal, in the dark. We haven’t quite made it yet but we are close. Our earlier conversation occurred because I pointed out that we used to run it and I wasn’t ready to give in to my age although it would seem my age might have other ideas. I know my sciatica does.

In between the occasional gasps of our exertion, we attempt to solve all the ills facing our world, discuss religion, our wives, children and grands, wonder what is happening to the youth of today and whether we had a great bowel movement this morning. There is usually a discussion about the number of times we got up during the night to pee and what we could have done to cause the extra two bathroom trips. Afterwards we enjoy a cup of coffee while completing our discussions at a local coffee shop. I’m sure the people we run into there refer to us as the “two old guys” and worry about us if we miss a week, fearing one of us may have died. “I wonder where the ‘two old farts’ were today. Hope they didn’t die.” When I see the cute little girl who serves us every Friday, Jimmy Buffet lyrics from “Nothing But A Breeze” come to mind, “All the pretty girls will call me ‘sir’. Now, where they’re asking me how things are, soon they’ll ask me how things were.” Please God, don’t make him right!

While Hawk and I have much in common, religion and politics ain’t two. I am the social liberal who attempts to follow in Jesus’ hippy footsteps and is not afraid to interject a bit of Buddhism and humor into his belief system. When still coaching, I will confess to having prayed to the baseball gods for a needed base hit or an easy ground ball double play on occasion. Does that make me a pagan? Hawk is not exactly the opposite but…can you be religious to a fault? I just had a vision of him dressed as a Puritan religious leader complete with powdered wig, white hose and buckled shoes. Hawk is in the process of reading the Bible through for the umpteenth time and is not afraid to ask my council and understanding. I’m not afraid to give it. I receive five am texts with scripture to read and react to. When I react, Hawk is not afraid to disagree before asking me if I’m really saved. It’s nice to have a friend who is concerned about my spiritual well-being and where I’m going to reside after my time on earth has passed.

To describe my socially conservative friend I must quote Churchill. Hawk is “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.” As tough as he is on the exterior, he often melts like a marsh mellow and truly follows in the footsteps of Jesus…literally giving the homeless guy the jacket off his back, along with five gallons of kerosene to run his heater during a recent cold snap, or working at a local soup kitchen. He’s always been a human conundrum, disciplining the kids while asking “Are you stupid or what?” and then making sure the stray cat at the stadium is fed or the killdeer nest is roped off so our grass cutting doesn’t disturb the mother. What does this have to do with kids? Really? If he’s going to do that for an animal what do you think he does for his kids. We both call them our kids and have special places in our hearts for them. So maybe we are more alike….

Two old farts walking in the dark before enjoying a cup of coffee should give the world hope. If we can come to an understanding, poking fun and laughing at our differences while embracing our similarities, the rest of the world can too. Maybe Hawk is correct. Maybe I should embrace my age and the wisdom deriving from it.

For more of Don Miller’s unique views of life, humor, WISDOM and Southern stories of a bygone time, go to http://goo.gl/lomuQf