Saturday, April 10, 2021

How to Ruin a Walk

Time for another confession. I, of the Mary Oliver “Pay attention, be astonished, tell about it” club, don’t always practice what I preach. Since discovering Audible, I often take my daily 5-mile walk with my phone in my front pocket with an engaging story playing. One could think of it as a healthier way to read/ listen, getting the exercise people reserve for treadmills, but out in the open air passing Spring flowers. Or one could claim it as a distraction, the ear/eye/ attention engaged in a story that brings me into another time, place and reality and blinds me to the stories happening right here, right now, around me. The fact that I sometimes walk without it helps balance things out, but you know how these things go, that addictive quality of being entertained, always more effortless than entertaining oneself. In short, I’m a modern person, a product of my time.

But today I made the mistake of beginning the book Mediocre by Ijeoma Uluo. I’ve been feeling lately that I’m so tired of reading about the next white guy refusing to honor his office or trying to sidestep his sex scandal or sully the screen with his triple-chin and ugly words. Sometimes I think in astonishment, “How do these people get elected to the highest offices in the land?” But of course, I already know how and the opening to the book affirmed my sense that none of it is an inexplicable accident, but the logical outcome of centuries of misguided thinking about what it means to be a functional human being, someone worthy of a human birth and justified in using precious resources. It’s crystal clear that centuries of “God is on my side and I don’t even have to do anything to earn it!” produces people with small hearts, narrow intellects, dead-weight bodies who use their power to hurt those with larger hearts, expansive intellects and elegant bodies—especially if their skin is darker and their gender is not-male. Then they proceed to fool the powerless white men into thinking they’re in the club simply because they’ve been told those “others” are below them and even though their piece of the pie is not on the shelf of any store within ten thousand miles of these poor folks’ reach, they’re still tricked into thinking it’s waiting for them. And if they can’t reach it, it's definitely because one of those “others” stole it. 

Sigh. It’s maddening to see the same old story at work doing its maddeningly effective work of duping the whites, hurting the blacks, protecting unearned privilege and making sure the women stay in the kitchen while the good ole boys smoke their cigars. It was bad enough to be reminded of this while walking through a beautiful park on a sunny day passing women and men of all colors so happily roller skating or playing volleyball or picnicking. But then it got worse.

Because the first chapter, starting with her close-to-home family member overflowing with Fox News brainwash, went back to the days of Buffalo Bill and the determined and successful calculated and government-approved-and-sponsored campaign to exterminate the Native people’s food (60 million bison dwindling to 300 in a shooting rampage by the ancestors of Don Jr.) and the ongoing genocide of the people themselves. Some revealing facts about Teddy Roosevelt (put up there on Mt. Rushmore with three others of the “good ones” who didn’t turn out to be quite as good as we thought), who we praise for the National Parks without considering where that land came from and how he got (stole) it. And then it got worse with the story of the Bundy’s in Utah and their so predictable light sentences for crimes that would have been a mass slaughter if black folks or Native Americans had done it. And the jury is still out—literally—on the consequences for the Capitol insurrectionists and Derek Chauvin and Matt Gaetz. Sigh.

These were not good people to share my walk with. These are not good people to share the planet with! Of course, I need to keep learning yet more gory details (and I believe I know much more than the average historically-challenged American citizen), but I don’t need to take them with me on a walk. I’ll save them for some dismal rainy day and then wash myself clean with a couple of hours of listening to Billie Holiday or John Coltrane. But you, you should absolutely read this book making clear how “mediocre” became the standard of “good enough of white male America,” made so clear by every member of Trump’s in-and-out cabinet and the continued presence of Republican sleazeballs in the halls of Congress. Not only does this accepted and glorified mediocrity block the path to social justice, but it brings the national psyche to its knees. Such a contrast to the extraordinary achievements of the jazz musicians I’m talking about in my Jazz History class. Like make an effort, people! Just the fact that they feel excused from the simplest charge of trying to be at least a half-inch better than they were ten years ago is the ultimate sign of how devastating white privilege is. 

Okay, I’m rambling. Tomorrow, I’m walking without my phone. Promise!

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