Netflix: American Son

The Netflix original, “American Son” is based on a Broadway play.  If you choose to watch the film, please try to imagine that you’re sitting in a theater watching it on stage.  The vast majority of the movie takes place in a single location and there’s very limited actors “on stage” at any given time.  It’s not an action thriller or some feature film with an endless cast.  It’s simple, heartfelt, impactful storytelling and dialog and I thought it was amazing!

I tend not to reveal too much in my “reviews” because I honestly only post about things I feel might be worthy of your attention and the entire experience should be your own.  I will say this; going into the film with an open mind, free of judgement will allow you to feel both sides of every discussion.  It is written in such a way that you will see your point of view represented whether you’re Black, White or somewhere in between.  Particularly if you’re White and you lack any significant people of color in your life, remaining open-minded and truly listening to the conversations may give you a little insight and perspective.

Trigger warning though… if you’re the parent of a Black son, this will hit very close to home.  The film will knot up your guts and remind you of exactly why you haven’t had a solid night’s sleep since your son was born. However, if I’m right about that, then this film might be exactly the thing any White person who thinks of themselves as your friend needs to see.  If they can watch it with an open mind and put the names and faces of your family into the story, they may just understand you a little bit more.

I’ve read mixed reviews about the film and I think it’s all a matter of perspective.  I think if you watch it and come away thinking the acting was over-the-top or over-dramatized then you simply don’t believe people experience these things.  Whereas, if you know it to be true, if you’ve lived it, if someone you’re close to is living it, then it’s spot on.  The challenge is getting those that need to see it to open up enough to understand it.

Anyway, I thought it was excellent and just wanted to tell you.

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Vaccinations

CAUTION:
This post discusses “Conspiracy Theories” along with fact-based commentary. I even include a conspiracy theory of my own and I am fully aware that its origins are firmly rooted in my imagination. In other words, consider carefully everything you read and always do your own research.

By and large, vaccinations are safe and they work to prevent the spread of disease.

That’s what my opinion boils down to.  There are many people who would disagree with me.  In fact, if we do a deep dive into each specific vaccine, my opinion fluctuates somewhat.  I personally have known three people with Guillain-Barré Syndrome which has been linked to flu shots.  Now, it’s very rare and I also understand that those same people would likely have eventually become one of the 3,000-6,000 people that contract Guillain-Barré each year had they not been vaccinated and caught flu.  However, when you combine that personal anecdotal experience with my knowledge of how ineffective the flu shot can be in any given year, it becomes understandable why I don’t consider it to be as important as the MMR vaccine for example.  That’s not the same as thinking it’s unsafe or that it’s some form of big-pharma/government conspiracy to hijack my brain waves.  I couldn’t do the exact math to control for the 50% effectiveness of the shot because I couldn’t find exact numbers of flu-related deaths, only extrapolated numbers which included other pneumonia.  I feel confident stating that the odds of dying from the flu are greater than the odds of dying from the flu shot though.

Look, you’ll have to do your own real research anyway.  Too many people believe blog posts like this one and use them to substantiate their opinions.  If you’re one of those nuts that believes the CDC makes up data to support big-pharma, well then you’ve never personally known a real CDC scientist because those folks are hardcore nerds for accuracy and data. But, whatever, you do you.  Just make sure you’re looking at real data and not summaries which are someone else’s conclusions from the data.  Consider how valid the data you’re looking at really is.  Take Andrew Wakefield’s study linking the MMR vaccine to autism for example.  It was a study based on an n of 12.  They studied 12 cases!  If I were to examine the gender of 12 random people, and then conclude that ~60% of humans are males you’d think that conclusion was garbage.  What if one of those people was transgender?  Are 8% of humans transgender?  Plus, there’s the fact that the entire study was fraudulent anyway and later retracted.  Why don’t people believe that?
I would also advise people to truly learn how disease and vaccines work.  If people understood (or believed in) evolution, they would never argue things like:

If you believe vaccines work, then why would my un-vaccinated child pose a threat to your vaccinated child?

Viruses mutate and evolve just like humans.  The difference is, viruses need their host in order to breed and evolve.  A vaccinated population is protected against the variants of the disease which were known at the time the vaccine was invented.  An un-vaccinated population is much slower to react to new infections and therefore provides a breeding ground for viruses to exist, mutate and evolve.  Eventually, one such mutation may make the virus no longer look like what a vaccinated person’s immune system is prepared for and now that mutated version can spread rapidly among the vaccinated population.  Again, learn these basic microbiology concepts for yourself, don’t take my word for it.
Does big-pharma profit from vaccines?  I didn’t lookup the numbers, but it’s capitalism, so I have to assume they wouldn’t manufacture them if there wasn’t money in it.  I also suspect they’re only as good as they need to be so that there’s room to re-invent them in the future should a new strain pop up.  Which brings me to my conspiracy theory that the anti-vaccination movement is really originating from big-pharma.  They can totally afford to lose the money from a small subset of the population that is refusing to vaccinate if it means getting the opportunity to re-vaccinate the millions they’ve already vaccinated before once a new mutation starts killing people.  It’s in their financial interest for new vaccine resistant strains of old diseases to mutate into existence.


Vaccines don’t kill viruses… Immune systems do.

I’m also willing to accept that there’s risk involved with vaccines and I’d even be willing to bet that they could be manufactured safer than they are.  This is where capitalism fails us because there’s little financial motive to improve upon vaccines that already have mass acceptance and even legislated mandates. That’s a place where government could actually step in and push for even safer alternatives.  Targeting zero-risk vaccines is not ridiculous.  Likewise, pharma companies are missing the opportunity to market “premium” vaccines to wealthy people.  Hey, it’s not fair, but it would get them to do the science and once the vaccines exist, we could mandate their usage and price-regulate them.

In summary, every anti-vaxxer I’ve spoken with seems to treat their opposition to vaccines more like a religion than science.  Sure, they quote science but deep dives into that science either proves the interpretation inaccurate or the extrapolated conclusion misleading.  There are those that are obsessively and passionately pro-vaccine who are just as willing to deny facts though and that doesn’t help either.  People are being manipulated by both sides of this argument and too often we react by choosing a side and pushing back so hard against the other that we refuse to see the truth.  So, if that sounds like you, stop taking anything at face value.  That includes anything that supports your current opinion.  Do a real deep dive into not just the numbers, but how those numbers were arrived at.  Real science is all there and extremely well documented.  You can literally read the details of actual studies to see if you agree with the outcomes.  Once you have a basic understanding of the human immune system and microbiology, you’ll be equipped to know quickly if something is reasonable or complete B.S.

I think you’ll find that vaccinating is likely the safer alternative for individuals and definitely benefits the population at large.  Consider this, there would be no new, deadlier strain of a disease around the corner if we completely denied that disease of its breeding grounds.  But, don’t take my word for it.

 

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Some Thoughts on Amber Guyger’s Verdict

Unless you’ve been avoiding the media lately, you already know that Amber Guyger is a former Dallas, TX police officer who was charged with murder for killing an unarmed man in his own home.  You’ve heard how she allegedly entered the wrong apartment and mistook the resident, Botham Jean, for an intruder.  Being an off-duty police officer, she immediately resorted to deadly force.

In a surprising verdict, the jury found her guilty.  That’s remarkable because it doesn’t happen very often. She put on a good show for the jury:

  • Crying (tearlessly?) on the witness stand.
  • Stating, “I wish he was the one with the gun who had killed me.” which I assume was designed to put the image of an armed and dangerous Botham Jean into the minds of the jury.
  • Testifying that, “I hate that I have to live with this every single day of my life” and “I ask God for forgiveness, and I hate myself every single day“.

All that self-hatred and repentance, but not enough to enter a guilty plea? I mean, she had the option to throw herself at the mercy of society if she felt she deserved it right? Nah, she wanted to be free.  Apparently, the jury saw through her facade.  A guilty verdict against what we tend to stereotypically think of as a defense attorney’s dream client… in Texas no less… is going to have a profound impact on policing going forward.  I’m not certain if it’s going to be good or bad yet.

We could all hope that this verdict might encourage more departments to begin re-calibrating “shoot / no-shoot” training to reduce individual officer’s  urge to use deadly force as “Plan A” instead of the last resort. After all, I should not have to arm myself to watch football and eat ice cream in my own home on the off chance a stranger stumbles in by accident who happens to be a cop with a “shoot first and ask questions later” attitude.  That cannot be OK and I think the jury sent that message.  I’m hoping police administrators understood it and that the rank & file officers are ready and willing to put some emphasis on protecting and serving their jurisdictions with less deadly consequences.

I fear some police officers may choose to see this verdict as society turning against them. That perception could redefine the “thin blue line”.  Instead of being a line of officers between order and chaos, it could become a line between the police and the citizens they’re paid to serve. I sincerely hope this is not the outcome.

Perhaps that’s what the jury was trying to avoid by only giving Guyger a 10 year sentence.  It’s a sentence that seems almost insultingly lenient for murder.  However, it does not negate the verdict entirely.  Amber Guyger will forever be a convicted felon of a violent offense.  That’s going to carry a lifetime of consequences regardless of her time behind bars.

I’m sure you also know that Guyger is White and Jean was Black.  Though not everyone agrees, I personally think racism played a part in her instantaneous conclusion to use deadly force. I truly believe Botham Jean would be alive today if he were White.

  • She likely harbored increased fear of Black men due to the “Mandingo Stereotype“.
  • From a few of her text messages, we can suspect that she thought less of Black people as a group.

That’s typical of so many White people in the United States… As long as they aren’t actively hating or attacking people based on race, they think they cannot be racist. Except that their prejudices lead to actions and/or apathy which negatively impact minorities disproportionately.  In this case, Botham Jean’s right to occupy the space he was in likely never occurred to Guyger.   In her mind, he was sitting there in his boxer shorts on her couch, watching her TV, eating her ice cream.  It was as if his very existence was valueless and she was confident enough to kill him over the intrusion.

I keep catching myself giving Guyger the benefit of the doubt. I don’t believe she premeditated the entire scenario and deliberately set out to kill Botham Jean.  Maybe that’s logical, or maybe it’s my own biases… I don’t know yet.  I can see a scenario where distraction leads to entering the wrong apartment and tunnel vision prevents an officer from immediately concluding otherwise.  I can also understand how an officer trained to apprehend suspects would choose to engage rather than immediately retreat.  In fact, it’s precisely because I can see my way to believing Amber Guyger’s story that I believe her racist prejudices had a profound impact on her decision to panic and resort to deadly force.  I also believe her racism plays a significant role in her perception of her own guilt.

You may not agree with me on that, and none of us can know what was in Amber Guyger’s head.  What I’m sure we can agree on is this was a tragedy no matter what your interpretations may be.  There’s whole conversations to be had about implicit biases, devaluing of life, the culture of policing, and so much more. My hope is that we can come together to stop tragedies like this from happening again. In the meantime:

Rest in peace Botham Jean.

 

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Confederate States, Why Did They Leave?

You know the deal.  Southerners, Dukes of Hazzard fans and White folks who generally like to think of themselves as rebels all like to deny that the civil war was about slavery.  So, in the spirit of keeping it simple, I gathered quotes from each state’s articles of secession because who are we to guess why they seceded when most of them were very clear about it.

South Carolina: December, 1860

They take a few paragraphs to setup the history that led up to the various states forming the United States, that the Constitution guarantees the states can self-govern, and how important it was to the slave-holding states that:

The Constitution of the United States, in its fourth Article, provides as follows: “No person held to service or labor in one State, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be delivered up, on claim of the party to whom such service or labor may be due.”

They would not have joined the union in the first place if their slaves could just escape to the north and be free.

This stipulation was so material to the compact, that without it that compact would not have been made. The greater number of the contracting parties held slaves, and they had previously evinced their estimate of the value of such a stipulation by making it a condition in the Ordinance for the government of the territory ceded by Virginia, which now composes the States north of the Ohio River.

As anti-slavery sentiment grew stronger in the north, they started to feel unsupported:

But an increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the institution of slavery, has led to a disregard of their obligations, and the laws of the General Government have ceased to effect the objects of the Constitution. The States of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa, have enacted laws which either nullify the Acts of Congress or render useless any attempt to execute them. In many of these States the fugitive is discharged from service or labor claimed, and in none of them has the State Government complied with the stipulation made in the Constitution. The State of New Jersey, at an early day, passed a law in conformity with her constitutional obligation; but the current of anti-slavery feeling has led her more recently to enact laws which render inoperative the remedies provided by her own law and by the laws of Congress.

So, if the north won’t hold up their end of the bargain by returning escaped slaves, then the constitution must be void:

Thus the constituted compact has been deliberately broken and disregarded by the non-slaveholding States, and the consequence follows that South Carolina is released from her obligation.

Seriously, not giving them back their runaways was a really big deal.  Plus, abolitionists were meddling in their slave-owning ways.  It was as if the government itself was out to get them:

We affirm that these ends for which this Government was instituted have been defeated, and the Government itself has been made destructive of them by the action of the non-slaveholding States. Those States have assume the right of deciding upon the propriety of our domestic institutions; and have denied the rights of property established in fifteen of the States and recognized by the Constitution; they have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery; they have permitted open establishment among them of societies, whose avowed object is to disturb the peace and to eloign the property of the citizens of other States. They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes; and those who remain, have been incited by emissaries, books and pictures to servile insurrection.

It looks like there’s about to be a president who’s openly hostile to slavery:

A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the States north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery. He is to be entrusted with the administration of the common Government, because he has declared that that “Government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free,” and that the public mind must rest in the belief that slavery is in the course of ultimate extinction.

So, before that happens, they’re leaving:

We, therefore, the People of South Carolina, by our delegates in Convention assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, have solemnly declared that the Union heretofore existing between this State and the other States of North America, is dissolved, and that the State of South Carolina has resumed her position among the nations of the world, as a separate and independent State; with full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent States may of right do.

So, there you have it.  States were guaranteed rights to own slaves and those rights were going away.  So they left over state’s rights just like people say.  But, it was very clearly the right to own slaves, and more specifically the right to treat people as property in case their property escaped anywhere in the United States.  So saying they left over slavery is also correct.

Mississippi: January, 1861

Mississippi wastes no time with formalities and just jumps right in with:

Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery– the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin.

They sensed some open hostility from the north toward slavery in the south, so they listed a couple of points about that:

  • The hostility to this institution commenced before the adoption of the Constitution, and was manifested in the well-known Ordinance of 1787, in regard to the Northwestern Territory.
  • The feeling increased, until, in 1819-20, it deprived the South of more than half the vast territory acquired from France.
  • The same hostility dismembered Texas and seized upon all the territory acquired from Mexico.
  • It has grown until it denies the right of property in slaves, and refuses protection to that right on the high seas, in the Territories, and wherever the government of the United States had jurisdiction.
  • It refuses the admission of new slave States into the Union, and seeks to extinguish it by confining it within its present limits, denying the power of expansion.
  • It tramples the original equality of the South under foot.
  • It has nullified the Fugitive Slave Law in almost every free State in the Union, and has utterly broken the compact which our fathers pledged their faith to maintain.
  • It advocates negro equality, socially and politically, and promotes insurrection and incendiarism in our midst.
  • It has enlisted its press, its pulpit and its schools against us, until the whole popular mind of the North is excited and inflamed with prejudice.
  • It has made combinations and formed associations to carry out its schemes of emancipation in the States and wherever else slavery exists.
  • It seeks not to elevate or to support the slave, but to destroy his present condition without providing a better.
  • It has invaded a State, and invested with the honors of martyrdom the wretch whose purpose was to apply flames to our dwellings, and the weapons of destruction to our lives.
  • It has broken every compact into which it has entered for our security.
  • It has given indubitable evidence of its design to ruin our agriculture, to prostrate our industrial pursuits and to destroy our social system.
  • It knows no relenting or hesitation in its purposes; it stops not in its march of aggression, and leaves us no room to hope for cessation or for pause.
  • It has recently obtained control of the Government, by the prosecution of its unhallowed schemes, and destroyed the last expectation of living together in friendship and brotherhood.

You know what’s coming next, it looks like their slavery is going to be taken away, so they’re out:

Utter subjugation awaits us in the Union, if we should consent longer to remain in it. It is not a matter of choice, but of necessity. We must either submit to degradation, and to the loss of property worth four billions of money, or we must secede from the Union framed by our fathers, to secure this as well as every other species of property. For far less cause than this, our fathers separated from the Crown of England.

Our decision is made. We follow their footsteps. We embrace the alternative of separation; and for the reasons here stated, we resolve to maintain our rights with the full consciousness of the justice of our course, and the undoubting belief of our ability to maintain it.

Same deal as South Carolina before them.  Although, arguably less nuanced.  They feared that they would lose their property (A.K.A people that they owned) so, they seceded.

Florida: January, 1861

Florida just left with a simple ordinance of secession.  However, they did draft a declaration of causes that was never formally published. Like the other states, the primary motivation for secession was that the north wasn’t upholding laws that support slavery and they just elected a president that would likely make it even more difficult be a slave-holding state.

The nullification of these laws by the Legislatures of two thirds of the non slaveholding States important as it is in itself is additionally as is furnishing evidence of an open disregard of constitutional obligation, and of the rights and interests of the slaveholding States and of a deep and inveterate hostility to the people of these States.

They equated abolition with being slowly tortured to death. Think of the children!

It is in so many words saying to you we will not burn you at the stake but we will torture you to death by a slow fire we will not confiscate your property and consign you to a residence and equality with the african but that destiny certainly awaits your children – and you must quietly submit or we will force you to submission

Isn’t it really the owners of all those people who were the real slaves?

…men who can hesitate to resist such aggressions are slaves already and deserve their destiny.

I understand the fear that must’ve come with the impending paradigm shift of abolition.  But that was a lot of hyperbole, even for old-timey politicians. There were also a few sections that reminded me of an  Oswald Bates skit from In Living Color.

Alabama: January, 1861

Alabama was substantially less overt.  They referred to the same presidential election and hostile attitudes from the north but, avoided naming why Lincoln was bad for them or what those hostilities were:

WHEREAS, the election of Abraham Lincoln and Hannibal Hamlin to the offices of President and Vice-President of the United States of America, by a sectional party, avowedly hostile to the domestic institutions and to the peace and security of the people of the State of Alabama, preceded by many and dangerous infractions of the Constitution of the United States by many of the States and people of the northern section, is a political wrong of so insulting and menacing a character as to justify the people of the State of Alabama in the adoption of prompt and decided measures for their future peace and security; therefore,

So, they too were leaving:

Be it declared and ordained by the people of the State of Alabama in Convention assembled , That the State of Alabama now withdraws, and is hereby withdrawn from the Union known as “the United States of America”, and henceforth ceases to be one of said United States, and is, and of right ought to be, a Sovereign and Independent State.

Lest we think they were leaving for reasons different from the others:

And as it is the desire and purpose of the people of Alabama to meet the slaveholding States of the South, who may approve such purpose, in order to frame a provisional as well as a permanent Government upon the principles of the Constitution of the United States

So, like the others, they believed the constitution afforded them the rights to own other people and that the north was violating the constitution by infringing upon those rights.

Georgia: January, 1861

Georgia just up and left in the first sentence:

The people of Georgia having dissolved their political connection with the Government of the United States of America, present to their confederates and the world the causes which have led to the separation.

Wondering why?  Well, because:

For the last ten years we have had numerous and serious causes of complaint against our non-slave-holding confederate States with reference to the subject of African slavery.

They go on to whine about everybody hating on them in the press and generally being treated with hostility by folks in the non-slave-holding states.  They reference the same struggles in establishing the original constitution that South Carolina did, and feel the need to point out that:

While the subordination and the political and social inequality of the African race was fully conceded by all, it was plainly apparent that slavery would soon disappear from what are now the non-slave-holding States of the original thirteen. The opposition to slavery was then, as now, general in those States and the Constitution was made with direct reference to that fact.

So, they knew what they were getting in to.  But, they figured they had the agriculture and that paid the bills, so they thought they were good to go. But then:

We had acquired a large territory by successful war with Mexico; Congress had to govern it; how, in relation to slavery, was the question then demanding solution.

Uh oh:

Northern anti-slavery men of all parties asserted the right to exclude slavery from the territory by Congressional legislation and demanded the prompt and efficient exercise of this power to that end. This insulting and unconstitutional demand was met with great moderation and firmness by the South. We had shed our blood and paid our money for its acquisition; we demanded a division of it on the line of the Missouri restriction or an equal participation in the whole of it. These propositions were refused, the agitation became general, and the public danger was great. The case of the South was impregnable. The price of the acquisition was the blood and treasure of both sections– of all, and, therefore, it belonged to all upon the principles of equity and justice.

They go on and on about conflicts over whether or not people could move to new territories and maintain ownership of their property i.e. slaves.  It’s a big history lesson about how they feel the north keeps trying to infringe on their constitutional right to own people.  No other property types or other inalienable rights are mentioned… just stuff about how they pulled their weight in blood and money and abolitionist sentiment is all they got in return.  Then, they end where they began, that the impending anti-slavery government which was elected by the north has:

…outlawed $3,000,000,000 of our property in the common territories of the Union; put it under the ban of the Republic in the States where it exists and out of the protection of Federal law everywhere; because they give sanctuary to thieves and incendiaries who assail it to the whole extent of their power…

Again, if they can’t trust that they can keep their slaves and the north won’t support them by respecting their property rights (of owning people), then they’re on their own.

Louisiana: January, 1861

Louisiana, like Florida, only had a simple ordinance of secession. I did a bunch of digging, looking for minutes from the convention or any other documentation which may have explained why they seceded. They did send a commissioner to Texas’ secession convention.  He gave a speech which one could assume was representative of the official opinion of Louisiana.  The speech was geared towards convincing Texas to secede from the United States and join them along with the other slave-holding states in creating a new union. In it he declared some of the following:

Louisiana looks to the formation of a Southern confederacy to preserve the blessings of African slavery…

and:

…both States have large areas of fertile, uncultivated lands, peculiarly adapted to slave labor; and they are both so deeply interested in African slavery that it may be said to be absolutely necessary to their existence, and is the keystone to the arch of their prosperity.

and this too:

The people of Louisiana would consider it a most fatal blow to African slavery, if Texas either did not secede or having seceded should not join her destinies to theirs in a Southern Confederacy.

TL;DR:

The people of the slaveholding States are bound together by the same necessity and determination to preserve African slavery.

Again, this wasn’t Louisiana’s official declaration and since the speech was a marketing pitch designed to convince Texas to join them, it may say as much about what Louisiana thought of Texas as it does about Louisiana.

Texas: February, 1861

Texas left the United States and joined the confederacy with their ordinances of secession.

She was received as a commonwealth holding, maintaining and protecting the institution known as negro slavery– the servitude of the African to the white race within her limits– a relation that had existed from the first settlement of her wilderness by the white race, and which her people intended should exist in all future time.

They too complain about the north turning a blind eye to abolitionist activism and even in 1861 it looks like they would have supported a wall:

The Federal Government, while but partially under the control of these our unnatural and sectional enemies, has for years almost entirely failed to protect the lives and property of the people of Texas against the Indian savages on our border, and more recently against the murderous forays of banditti from the neighboring territory of Mexico;

Mostly, they were big mad about slavery and, like many other states, referenced the attitudes in the non-slave-holding states which were:

based upon an unnatural feeling of hostility to these Southern States and their beneficent and patriarchal system of African slavery, proclaiming the debasing doctrine of equality of all men, irrespective of race or color– a doctrine at war with nature, in opposition to the experience of mankind, and in violation of the plainest revelations of Divine Law. They demand the abolition of negro slavery throughout the confederacy, the recognition of political equality between the white and negro races, and avow their determination to press on their crusade against us, so long as a negro slave remains in these States.

It goes on and on complaining about emissaries from the north are sending pamphlets, poison and weapons to their slaves… burning towns and everything.  They very much believed owning people was not just their constitutional right, but their divine right:

That in this free government all white men are and of right ought to be entitled to equal civil and political rights; that the servitude of the African race, as existing in these States, is mutually beneficial to both bond and free, and is abundantly authorized and justified by the experience of mankind, and the revealed will of the Almighty Creator, as recognized by all Christian nations; while the destruction of the existing relations between the two races, as advocated by our sectional enemies, would bring inevitable calamities upon both and desolation upon the fifteen slave-holding states.

There you go.  Texas very firmly believed that ending slavery would end the United States  and they were willing to secede and fight for their God-given right to own other human beings.

Virginia: April, 1861

Virginia’s ordinance was also short.  They basically stated that the constitution gave them powers along with the power to leave if the United States government was causing them injury.  They did make the point that the injury was common to themselves and the other slave-holding states:

The people of Virginia, in their ratification of the Constitution of the United States of America, adopted by them in Convention, on the 25th day of June, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eight-eight, having declared that the powers granted them under the said Constitution were derived from the people of the United States, and might be resumed whensoever the same should be perverted to their injury and oppression, and the Federal Government having perverted said powers, not only to the injury of the people of Virginia, but to the oppression of the Southern slaveholding States.

So, they left.  But, it’s anyone’s guess what the slave-holding states all had in common and what the north was doing to oppress it.  There was a letter from the governor of Virginia read at the convention which happened to be all about slavery.  Maybe there’s a clue in that.

Arkansas: May, 1861

Arkansas’s seceded after the battle of Fort Sumpter officially started the civil war.  Their ordinance of secession was quite straightforward and did not reference slavery.

However, the convention during which it was adopted contains much discussion about slavery, its impact and necessity to the agricultural economy of Arkansas and even a reference to how the inhabitants of the non-slave-holding states have become a different people.  There’s 522 pages of archived documents for your reading pleasure.

Tennessee: May, 1861

Tennessee also had a straightforward ordinance of secession which simply stated that they were leaving the United States and took care of a couple of other logistical issues.

Interestingly, Tennessee was fairly divided on the issue with secession supporters in the west where slave labor was critical to growing tobacco and cotton and Union supporters in the east where slave labor was not so critical to their economy.  Apparently, East Tennessee even had their own conventions in support of the Union.

North Carolina: May, 1861

I think North Carolina’s ordinance of secession may have been the shortest of all.

I found an interesting speech January of 1861, back when a few states had seceded and the movement was getting underway. Prior to reading this speech, I thought of anti-secessionists and abolitionists as sharing overlapping views of slavery.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.  The author of the speech is apprehensive about secession because it would effectively

…be bringing Canada down to the borders of the South. Our slaves would only have to step across the line, and they would be free.

Not only that, but:

…although all the Southern States are alike interested in the preservation and protection of the institution of slavery, yet, the interest of the cotton States, and our interest in that institution, are in one particular diametrically opposite. Our interest in the slave is his price, theirs his labor. We estimate him by what he will bring in market, they value him for the cotton he can produce. We sell slaves, they buy them. It is to our interest that slaves shall be high, it is to their interest that they shall be cheap. Many persons think that to carry out this favorite idea of getting negroes cheap; the cotton States would like to re-open the African slave trade, and we all know how destructive to the value of our slave property such a measure would be.

It appears North Carolina ultimately needed to join with the rest of the slave-owning states because it was becoming increasingly clear that to remain in the Union was to give up the economies of slavery.  However, its not yet entirely clear to me that they would have seceded had war not already broken out.

Final thoughts

So, there you have it. Do your own research (I gave links). Some states were vague and some had more to say but, slavery was at the root of why all of them left.  One could argue that the war itself wasn’t about slavery because the north was fighting to preserve the union and abolition was a side-effect of the north winning.  However, one must also acknowledge that the war only occurred because the south seceded and that the primary reason the south seceded was to preserve the institution of slavery.

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Dave Chappelle, Sticks & Stones

meh

I’ve written before about comedy and how it can be entertaining, eye-opening and even used as a weapon.  Dave Chappelle may have been trying for all three with his Sticks & Stones special on Netflix, but I think he missed.

What some would call the “PC Culture” in the United States has reached the point where it’s trendy to get offended.  There are certainly ways in which we can all be more respectful, less dismissive and just all around better humans to each other.  But, now it seems like we’ve reached a point where people take pride in being offended while also being oblivious to what a crappy human they themselves are.  So, I get why Chappelle was trying to play upon people’s sensitivities and it’s even in the title.  We all remember “sticks & stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me” right?

Early on in the special, he does an impression to establish that we, the audience and consumers of his entertainment product, are the intended target of his jokes.  He literally sets us up in a way that tries to shame us into not being offended while he hammers on offensive tropes without actually doing much to dismantle them.  He doesn’t provoke any new thought, he doesn’t even say much that’s actually funny.  We’re just expected to laugh at how fragile we’ve become.  Now, that is a social commentary in and of itself.  So it’s not a complete waste of time.

He also drops a few bits of his personal successes into the mix which gives the whole thing an elitist vibe.  Perhaps that was intentional too.  Like, somehow the power dynamic of being taken to task by an unapologeticly privileged entertainer with a rags-to-riches backstory is supposed to make us feel uncomfortable.  I missed whatever it was, but I’m also aware that maybe it wasn’t for me.

Here’s the thing. I personally know people that do this exact same thing in their social medias.  They are irritated by the idea that they should evolve and would rather not be bothered to learn about and respect those that are not just like themselves.  These folks have tried to avoid the N-word and telling jokes about handicapped people and stuff. But, they see the volume of potential missteps and the disproportionate, career-ending, reactions to those mistakes and they’re overwhelmed.  So, they deliberately post offensive things to social media in an attempt to provoke the sensibilities of their friends and laugh about the perceived overreactions.  In the end, they’re really working to de-sensitize people to offensive behavior and hoping to get back to where they need not be worried anymore.

So, in the end, I found the special to be no different than browsing a bunch of deliberately offensive Facebook memes designed to provoke and desensitize.  Maybe he wrote it for the people that post those things.  Maybe he’s just rich and bored and thought it would be fun to be a Netflix troll.  Whatever his goals were, I’m not sure that creating a laugh-out-loud comedy special was one of them.  It wasn’t completely un-funny though.

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Hello, Privilege. It’s Me, Chelsea

So, I watched Chelsea Handler’s latest documentary and I suppose my view is that you should probably watch it yourself before casting judgement.  In a lot of ways, it’s no different than the self-reflective garbage I post on my own blog that nobody would really be interested in unless I were a famous personality.  Ok, that sounded harsh which isn’t fair because I did like the documentary.  It was entertaining and even had a few laugh out loud moments.

Here’s the thing.  Chelsea Handler used her privilege to make a documentary about that privilege in which she acknowledges that she’s completely aware of the potential irony of that fact.  I’ve struggled with this kind of thing before, whether or not White people need to center ourselves in order to reach other White people when fighting racism. Because, let’s face it, Whiteness is at the core of racism.  So, yeah, there’s a part of me that cringes at my own writing as well as several awkward moments in Chelsea’s film where it really seems like we’re watching epiphanies happen in real time. But, those epiphanies that happen when I connect the dots as I formulate my posts, or responses to others, really do help me grow.  I assume it’s the same for Chelsea, just that her financial privilege and stardom gives her access to a different media and a broader audience.  In the end, maybe we’re both better human beings because of it and can help jumpstart others within our spheres of influence.

I know, that’s kind of random and not really a review.  So, here it is:  This documentary follows Chelsea Handler as she travels to a few different places in America engaging in conversations with varying people about White privilege.  She acknowledges her own, even though it sometimes seems as if she does so performatively.  She engages with people of varying races and socioeconomic statuses and it’s honestly the subjects of those interviews which I enjoyed most.  She reveals some intimate details about her own history and while it’s not necessarily a story that we can all relate to, it does point out that one of the easiest ways to get people acknowledge the existence of privilege is to have them search their origin story for a situation or two that they think might have turned out differently had they been a person of color.  Almost everyone has that moment in the teen-aged years where an interaction with an authority figure could have gone very badly, and if it had, it would have changed where they are today.  This is a documentary about Chelsea’s unique circumstances that have afforded her to take her journey very differently from my own, but through it all, she’s no longer reflexively denying her privilege.  Hence the title is appropriate.  It feels very much like how a rich White Netflix star might grapple with awakening to the realities of her own privilege and complicity in the racist systems that are at the very core of Whiteness in our country.  Complete with her sometimes awkwardly narrating her own story and failing to notice when the Black people around her are working to make her comfortable.

In the end, if you’re a White person that doesn’t yet recognize White privilege, I don’t think there’s much, if anything, in this film that will change that viewpoint.  If you’ve already begun your own journey into understanding the impact of your Whiteness, then you may gain some insights or perspectives you didn’t have yet, reaffirm some that you knew and perhaps even feel encouraged by seeing where others are making progress. There was even a moment, though it was glossed over, where Chelsea reached a woman she was speaking with.  It was very subtle, but something she said made it through the force field of reflexive denial and the interviewee became open to a perspective she hadn’t previously considered.  It seems small and insignificant in the film, but I’ve seen firsthand that’s how it starts.  One little seed is planted that opens a person up to process the things they hear with more openness and before you know it, they’re actively seeking new perspectives and information, alienating their Facebook friends and publishing their own blogs, podcasts, books and documentaries.

That’s the real reason I cannot hate on Chelsea for airing her journey for all of us to witness.  I do believe that the continual drip, drip, drip of information yields gains one person at a time.  Yes, that’s absolutely not good enough, things aren’t happening fast enough, and it’s completely unfair.  But, convincing our own and winning hearts and minds or whatever is something White people must do in addition to actively lobbying for legislated equality to force the hands of those we don’t reach.

I don’t know… I’m not sorry I watched it, but I’m not going to tell you it’s a “must-see” film either.

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The 1619 Project

Print copy of The New York Times 1619 Project.

I first learned of The 1619 Project through an email I received from Baratunde Thurston who I first heard while listening to a podcast called About Race.  I immediately clicked a link and read one of the essays.  The next day, I learned about the ability to order print copies from Mary Burrell who has commented here as well as being a frequent commenter on another blog I read, “Abagond“.  In fact, it was Mary who first turned me on to the About Race podcast so, huge thanks to her.  In the weeks that followed, I heard, watched and read quite a bit of buzz about the 1619 Project.  Much of it seemed to revolve around negative pushback from others.  I can’t say I was surprised.  Work like this never seems to sink in for those that need it most.  It always amazes me how controversial the truth can be.  Nevertheless, I don’t believe the naysayers have actually read more than a few paragraphs, if even that much.

Initial Thoughts

The 1619 Project is a lot to take in.  I’ve spent years reading about, researching, discussing, visiting locations, and viewing movies, short films and documentaries all related to  African American history from 1619 to today.  Still, upon opening the paper and the magazine to begin previewing them both, I’m left feeling overwhelmed in the same way I was at the NMAAHC.  That’s a good thing!  This is not a simple skimmable collection of essays and stories.  The compactness of the magazine and paper disguises the vastness of the collection inside.  My initial look left me feeling as if I’d visited a paper museum with carefully curated exhibits meant to intrigue and inform.  The variation of typefaces, the mix if modern and historical imagery, the carefully chosen quotes that are as much about who spoke them as what was said… It’s all simply amazing.  It’s also going to take me several “visits” to really absorb it all.

Stay Tuned…

I was planning to read it all and write a review.  But, I feel like it might take me a little bit of time to digest and I wanted to get this up while there’s still a chance for people to order print copies of their own.  I’ll come back to this post with an update.  Until then, if you’ve read it, please share your thoughts!

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