Racial Slur

Now I was eight and very small,
And he was no whit bigger,
And so I smiled, but he poked out
His tongue, and called me, “Nigger.”

“Incident,” Countee Cullen

Earlier in the summer of 2017 during the controversy over Bill Maher’s use of a racial slur, I wrote a poem [1] that confronts the slur but also ends with an image that haunts me in the wake of Charlottesville and Barcelona.

The tyranny of the threat of being run over rests now in my bones after having been run over with a group of cyclists just 8 months ago.

But I have no direct personal understanding of what James Baldwin confronts about race in the U.S.: “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time. ” [2]

Along with the pervasive threat of  physical violence and death for any black body even or especially at the hands of the state (the crux of Colin Kaepernick’s protests), there remains the threat of the racial slur.

As Baldwin interrogated:

As witnessed in this video: Watch Out Loud: What Was It Like the 1st Time You Were Called the N-Word?

My first grandchild is starting 3K in a bit more than a week from now. She is a vibrant and affectionate child who happens to be biracial.

She appears at 3 on a path to mostly pass for white—that itself a horrible thing to still be contemplating or acknowledging in 2017. In the dead of winter, people praise her lovely tan.

And she is attending a school in my hometown where my wife teaches; it is a solidly rural small town in the South that is far more white than when I attended those schools.

And when I look at my dear granddaughter, the engine I hear revving is when she will first encounter that racial slur, directed at her—to be defined—or at her father, a tall black man with dreads who, when then dating my daughter, used to leave our house in a hoodie in the time around Trayvon Martin‘s killing.

There is a powerful thing shared between parenting (and grand-parenting) and teaching—spending our time in the care of children and young people.

Parenting involves watching a baby grow into independence and the inevitability of kinds of loss.

But teaching is an ever-refreshed group of children and young people—a sort of permanent fountain of youth.

In that parenting and teaching, then, is a kind of hope. Intoxicating hope.

However, my dearest granddaughter is walking into the world of Trumplandia, and I am nearly bereft of hope, consumed instead by fear.

I am haunted now by a question: What is the critical mass of good people who will act on that goodness in any organization or society for it to matter?

I am haunted now by a realization: The critical mass of truly awful people needed to matter is incredibly few, often needing only one dominant figure head to render the whole organization or society essentially evil.

I am terrified by my midlife understanding of the term “gunning an engine.”

I cannot hold my granddaughter tight enough, long enough.


[1] white folk (switchblade)

But all agon eventually reduces itself to human violence….
But then the world has always made violent use of children.
The Book of Joan, Lidia Yuknavitch

to apologists for Bill Maher

white folk carry “nigger” in their throats

like switchblades secreted in designer boots

there are no excuses for such dormant violences

like white men with slick-backed hair and dark suits

who will slit your throat in a white-hot second

like a volcano spewing lava swallowing barefoot children sleeping

beware these smiling white folk clearing their throats

like an engine cold cranking before plowing over you

[2] “The Negro in American Culture,” Cross Currents, XI (1961), p. 205.

First Days of Class: Who We Are, Why We Are Here

At least the first half of my career as a high school English teacher for 18 years was spent learning to be the sort of teacher I wanted to be. I often feel I should apologize to those early-career students, many of whom remain kind and even praising.

Along that journey, I came to realize that the first days of any class or course must be a clear and inviting message to my students about who we are and why we are here.

A watershed moment for me was somewhat an accident. My administration ended the long and tedious tradition of spending the first day or two issuing textbooks by having all students’ texts placed in their locker before they began the year.

With that freedom, I stopped the equally tedious roll call and dedicated myself to conducting class on that very first day in a way that told students what the class/course was going to be about.

As I start my 34th year as a teacher, now a professor teaching two first-year writing seminars as well as a couple eduction courses, I also dedicate the first days of class to practicing what I preach: incorporating one or two different strategies or changes each new course (what I call taking baby steps since no teacher should feel compelled to overhaul entirely their teaching when they feel the need to change).

Here I want examine some first-days texts and activities, not as prescriptions but as models for how any teacher may take this same larger concept of how those first days establish who you are, who your students are, and why you all are on this class journey.

First, some of my new commitments are grounded in being more intentional about inclusive pedagogy, much of which will draw on the guidance of Dr. Anita Davis, Director of Diversity and Inclusion, Associated Colleges of the South, who is helping facilitate a year-long seminar for a group of faculty at my university this academic year.

These new commitments allow me to incorporate existing activities and texts in order to improve the inclusive environment of my classes as well as establishing the disciplinary grounding of the courses I teach.

Regardless of the course, I use several of these activities on the first days, but I also will include a writing-specific opening days activity toward the end.

A central message for my students in the first days is that we will be bound to texts, important texts, and then we will also be using those texts for our own discussions and to write. The key texts I currently use for the first days include the following, all of which also model for my students that we are going to explore diverse voices and writers in order to challenge and interrogate our own ideas and assumptions:

Who We Are

Anita Davis opened her first seminar by explaining that she includes full name citations on her PowerPoint slides, even though most citation styles require last names only and APA hides first and middle names in initials. Davis stressed that names matter, especially if we are seeking to be inclusive.

Over the course of the seminar we also examined that roll calls can be intrusive and even stressful for students who are struggling with gender identification, establishing on that first day a hostile environment counter to our efforts of inclusion.

Part of our goal to be inclusive, we must all be better equipped when our students must name and identify themselves—issues about gender identity and pronoun preferences.

“My Name” (Cisneros) and “Naming Myself” (Kingsolver) are powerful texts for helping students think about how to introduce themselves in the context of a new learning community. I read these short texts aloud to emphasize there will be a common activity in my classes, read alouds.

Then we discuss how the speakers in the novel chapter and the poem emphasize the importance of names and of being named; both texts ask readers to consider sex/gender and race.

As well, “My Name” includes a recognition of how children/young people come to understand themselves in their names while “Naming Myself” challenges social norms of women being erased through re-naming during marriage.

These texts and activities establish that our names matter, but that naming ourselves is more complicated than some students have considered. I also want students to know that I appreciate texts, the read alouds, but that texts are not simply fodder for the sort of narrow analysis they have done in their English classes.

Finally, we introduce ourselves, first in small groups and then as a full class. This semester, I will invite students to talk about their names, and their pronoun preferences if and when this is important to them. I will also stress that our learning community must be a place where we honor confidentiality; we are free to share outside of class the topics we explore, but we should avoid naming our classmates in ways outside of class that breaks confidentiality, that fails to honor each person’s right to speak for themselves.

On the first day, we have avoided the drudgery of calling roll—and engaged in the sort of class dynamic that characterizes my classes throughout the semester. But I now will also establish an environment that honors inclusion more intentionally than I have in the past.

Why We Are Here

While the naming texts and activities are entry points for introductions and creating an inclusive learning environment, that first day also begins a journey into disciplinary expectations—why we are here.

Another first days activity I use is based on Hughes’s “Theme for English B,” but I will now include an activity, “Save the Last Word,” Davis used in our seminar.

“Theme for English B” lends itself well to any class because it investigates the power relationship between teachers and students; like the Cisneros and Kingsolver texts, Hughes also confronts the role of race in that power dynamic.

When I have used Hughes’s poem in the past, I have struggled with students shifting immediately into the literary analysis mode, eager to analyze the poem’s structure and technique to the exclusion of engaging with what the poem’s speaker is saying about power as that intersects teaching/learning, race, and age.

“Save the Last Word” is a wonderful strategy for keeping students focused on what a texts says (not the how of literary analysis) and encourages student voice in the context of that text.

My slight adaptation of the activity includes the following: (1) my read aloud of the poem, (2) asking students to read the poem again silently to themselves, (3) placing students in small groups (preferably of 3), (4) having students copy what they consider a key or challenging stanza on the front of an index card, (5) having students reflect on that stanza in writing on the back of that card, (6) after all students have done this each student shares out to the small group the key stanza so that the other two can respond to that stanza first, and finally (7) each person shares their reflection last for that stanza.

Through a whole-class discussion of “Theme for English B” following the “Last Word” activity, I will share with students why we are here: to take words, each other, and ideas seriously and carefully in the pursuit of our own growth through disciplinary moves as well as our developing literacy.

The course, like the activities around Hughes’s poem, will be both individual and collaborative as well as interrogating and investigating key ideas and concepts.

Why We Are Here (Writing Specific)

Finally, I want to touch on a first writing activity I use in order to highlight how to use the first days to stress the narrow goals of any course or class.

The first writing activity I do with students involves Cisneros’s “A House of My Own”:

  • I read the passage aloud.
  • Students are instructed to write their own versions of the passage, changing “house” to an object of their choice and then mimicking the passage exactly except for the content. I refuse to give more directions and urge students to trust themselves and complete a draft.
  • After most of the students have a full first draft, I ask for volunteers to share their versions aloud. During the sharing I ask the others to compare their drafts to the one being shared.
  • Next I ask other students to share or discuss how their version does something different in terms of mimicking Cisneros exactly.
  • Always students begin to re-think their mimicking as well as how carefully they read any text for the how (technique) and the what (content).
  • Finally, I invite students to revise their versions and send them to me by email for the next class meeting.

This activity stresses the importance of completing a full first draft (especially as a discovery draft not as a process to fulfill a set thesis), the value of peer conferencing and sharing drafts, and the necessity of revising all writing with purpose.

We also begin to look at the craft of language—sentence formation (the entire passage is a series of fragments), rhetorical and literacy techniques, vivid and specific details, grammatical and syntactic awareness.

One unexpected but consistent consequence of this activity is that students often email their revision to me and call the text a poem—even though Cisneros’s mentor text is a prose fiction passage from a novel.

This means the following class allows me to begin a conversation about genre awareness, how we determine the form any text takes (poetry v. prose, fiction v. non-fiction, etc.).

In short, an opening activity models why we are here and how we are going to proceed.

Throughout my career, I have rejected traditional views of the first days of any class or course needing to be about establishing teacher authority (don’t smile until Christmas) and classroom rules or management.

Instead, I am committed to making the first days of class about who we are and why we are here while remaining true to my larger critical philosophical and ethical commitments as an educator and a human.

The Vulgar Academic Pose of President Trump

Criticism of Donald Trump as a presidential candidate and then president has been intense among university-based academics and scholars across the U.S.

However, the great irony of that fact lies in how President Trump’s “both sides” approach to addressing the Charlottesville, VA, violence is merely a vulgar version of the academic pose found among those academics and scholars—the traditional call for professors and researchers to be politically neutral and objective.


second coming yeats


Having been a public school teacher for almost two decades in the rural South and now a university professor for 15 years and counting, I have lived the tyranny daily of being chastised as “too political,” as tarnishing my credibility as a teacher and professor by my writing-as-activism.

I stumbled through a bit more than a decade of teaching before I discovered an organized body of thought that defined for me what I had been practicing, although quite badly—critical pedagogy.

Critical pedagogy acknowledges two powerful and seemingly contradictory realities: (1) all human behavior, including teaching, is inherently political, and thus, the neutral/objective pose is itself a political stance, and (2) indoctrination must be avoided and rejected.


crit ped kincheloe


K-12 public education and higher education remain resistant to these concepts, continuing to demand apolitical teaching (or, actually, the appearance of apolitical teaching) and to bristle at teachers and academics as activists.

In fact, teachers and professors take great risk to their careers when stepping beyond the neutral/objective pose, even outside the walls of the classrooms where they teach.

That the norm of formal education remains entrenched in the same sort of “both sides” mentality shared by mainstream journalism is made more disturbing by the dishonesty of that expectation because educators at all levels of schooling do in fact take stances.

For example, history taught through a patriotic lens is a political choice that is allowed to appear neutral, although it is clearly not.

And there are topics, such as the Holocaust and Nazi Germany, that are taught with a clear moral imperative—no “both sides” false equivalence afforded those who believed in exterminating the Jews.

No classes ever treating as equal “both sides” of pedophilia, child abuse, misogyny, rape.

None the less, activist-academics such as Howard Zinn have been and continue to be marginalized as merely activists.


neutral zinn


Particularly in higher education, many go about their work as if the real world does not exist, and thus, the ivory tower myth and scathing phrases such as “merely academic.”

But to borrow Zinn’s metaphor, to remain in a neutral/objective pose in the classroom as an inequitable and unjust world charges on is to endorse that inequity and injustice.

President Trump’s “both sides” pose in the face of white nationalism and emboldened racism is inexcusable, but to pretend that Trump somehow sprang out of thin air is an ugly lie, a delusion.

The rise of Trumplandia confirms there is blood on the hands of neutral academics and scholars, just as there is blood on the hands of “both sides” mainstream journalists.


lady macbeth


Trump is capitalizing on a vulgar academic pose that must be refuted, but it is equally inexcusable that traditional academic neutrality remains entrenched as if it has no consequences beyond the walls of schools and universities.

The U.S. needs Trump’s vapid logic repudiated: Good causes will always have some flawed and even bad people, as well as bad decisions, but causes dedicated to hatred and racism never include good people.

If educators, academics, and scholars are somehow excluded from taking ethical stands, we have little room to point fingers at Trump and his reign of white nationalism.


See Also

white folk (switchblade)

False Equivalence in Black and White

It is well documented that marriage has many benefits for any person, including economic, health, and longevity [1]. Divorce, then, should pose a question about the consequences to both parties.

Even in cases of 50/50 settlements of divorce, an important dynamic exists:

Ultimately, the overall economic quality of a man’s life, based on earnings and amount spent on living expenses, increases after his divorce. He continues to earn more but bears fewer family expenses. The overall economic quality of a woman’s life, post-divorce, decreases. (Rosen, 2009)

While the factors in this inequity are complicated, they are all under a clear difference in gender: after a divorce men retain male privilege and women continue to suffer the consequences of misogyny and sex discrimination (both of which may be mollified or masked while a woman is married).

This example allows us to wade into how people often assume equivalence between two situations or arguments that appear superficially equal; that assumption is a logical fallacy known as false equivalence.

Discussions of logical fallacies, I believe, often feel as if they are much ado about nothing, or merely academic—the stuff of college composition, rhetoric, and philosophy courses.

However, the careful naming of ways people think and communicate are witnessed daily in how we live; currently, the destructive power of false equivalence is on display in the wake of the violence spurred by a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, VA.

One of the most bitter aspects of the U.S. as a current state of Trumplandia is the racial animosity emboldened by Trump, what has been characterized by the mainstream media as white pain or white angst (often oversimplified and whitewashed as working-class pain and angst).

Just as gender distinguishes the consequences of divorce, in the U.S., socially constructed race distinguishes pain and angst.

To be blunt, white pain simply is not equal to black pain since blacks carry daily the inequity of race through their lives while even struggling whites maintain some aspects of white privilege—just as men carry their male privilege even in challenging situations such as divorce.

The false equivalence, then, created with political and public speech about “all lives” or “both sides” or “many sides” fails to address the substantive differences, for example, in Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests (or Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling) from the white nationalists’ rally in Virginia over the removal of a Confederate monument.

BLM and Kaepernick are protest against inequity and calling for integrating all people into the same privileges that whites experience. White nationalists are railing against a false loss (symbolized by the removal of an offensive statue that represents oppression) and promoting racial inequity and segregation.

Again, simply put, two protests are not equal simply because they are protests, and one (BLM) has a moral imperative and a goal of expanding equity while the other (white nationalists) is clinging to an inequitable status quo and a romanticized oppressive past.

Just as expanding the marriage equities to gays never took anything away from advocates for so-called traditional straight marriage, expanding the promise of a just and equitable U.S. to everyone regardless of identity is not some assault on or removal of America but a long overdue path to fulfilling of America.

White nationalism in all its forms—from “Make America Great Again” to the most virulent Neo-Nazis and the KKK—is a plague on the U.S. It must not be equated to demands for equity in our justice system and liberty for all, which are the goals of BLM and counter-protests to white nationalism rallies.

The only thing whites are at risk of losing is their privilege, the false advantages of race that currently disadvantage people of color, the “peculiar benefits” Roxane Gay confronts that work invisibly to those who enjoy them:

We tend to believe that accusations of privilege imply we have it easy and because life is hard for nearly everyone, we resent hearing that. Of course we do. Look at white men when they are accused of having privilege. They tend to be immediately defensive (and, at times, understandably so). They say, “It’s not my fault I am a white man.” They say, “I’m working class,” or “I’m [insert other condition that discounts their privilege],” instead of simply accepting that, in this regard, yes, they benefit from certain privileges others do not. To have privilege in one or more areas does not mean you are wholly privileged. To acknowledge privilege is not a denial of the ways you are marginalized, the ways you have suffered. Surrendering to the acceptance of privilege is difficult but it is really all that is expected.

White nationalism is a denial of white privilege and a calloused clinging to the injustice and inequity that are represented by the monuments and flags white nationalists protect and flaunt.

Black Lives Matter and white nationalism are both bound by race, but they are in no way equal—the former is a call for equity and justice for all and the latter is the gross necrophilia clutching the ideologies that bred the Holocaust and American slavery.

False equivalency is a master’s tool, a rhetorical lie to distract a people from the hard but good work recognizing the unity of all humanity.


[1] Note that this may also be more about gender inequity, however.

Navigating Self-Worth through Middle Age: Every Single Moment

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.

“Do not go gentle into that good night,” Dylan Thomas

As far as I can tell
I’m nothing like a princess…
Take these girly arms
And ever keep me

“Thirsty,” The National

The last thing my father said was a request for me to help him to the bathroom. He was wheelchair bound, and his breathing had been labored for months.

I suggested the bed pan, but he added he needed to have a bowel movement.

When the nurses came to help him, he became unresponsive there on the toilet of the rehabilitation center he had just moved into with my mother, and within a hour, he was declared dead at the nearby hospital.

What an awful way to slip from this earth, simply asking for help to have a bowel movement.

My father died in the bathroom like Elvis Presley, who my parents idolized throughout my childhood—a cultural phenomenon that should have signaled for me the horrifying leveling of death.

My father’s death, possibly as any man’s father’s death, has forced me to examine again how I have navigated self-worth my entire life, measuring my masculinity always against the unspoken monument of my father.

This summer of my 56th year, then, continues my battle with self-worth, a life of anxiety driven often by insecurity and low self-esteem.

When I first moved to higher education in 2002, I soon secured my first book contract with a respected academic publisher, Peter Lang USA, because of the kindness of a colleague and then a distant but treasured scholar-mentor, Joe Kincheloe.

When the hard copies of that book arrived at my office, the colleague came by to see what I was doing to celebrate. I was working frantically at the computer and hadn’t thought once about the book or celebrating.

“You never enjoy a single moment do you?” she said, matter-of-fact from my doorway.

Self-worth and low self-esteem intersect in ways that push us to ignore our accomplishments and dwell on our failures.

In a half-year scarred with a pelvic fracture, the end of my life as a road cyclist, my mother’s stroke, and my father’s death, I have been passed over for a new position, received a few rejections of submitted writing, and struggled mightily to become the sort of mountain bike cyclist I had accomplished as a road cyclist over 30+ years of intense riding.

Each of these has proven to me my deepest fears about my self-worth—as if my many accomplishments otherwise haven’t happened at all.

The hardest part has been the transition to mountain biking and leaving road cycling behind.

After a good 20 years of being a mediocre road cyclist, in my 40s and early 50s, I had finally established myself as a relatively elite local recreational cyclist, book-ended by breaking the 6-hour mark in the Assault on Mt. Mitchell in 2007 (at 46) and then having my highest placing, 58th, in 2014 (at 53).

Throughout my adventure in trying to be the macho athlete I believed my father represented, I adopted surrogate father-models among my cycling friends; I simultaneously admired them and used them as the bar I could never attain—to prove to myself I was right about my low self-worth.

But I was a ride leader and typically finished official rides and weekly training rides with the best cyclists, the front group.

Shifting to mountain biking certainly wasn’t helped by a six-week down-time for a broken pelvis, or being 56 while trying to recover from the fracture and regain fitness.

However, this new adventure in claiming my self-worth through athletics has been beyond humbling to humiliating.

Over three decades, I acquired both the fitness and road cycling skills needed to ride essentially effortlessly, even as I pushed myself to physical extremes in our attack zones, on mountainous centuries, or during the annual 200-mile-plus one-day ride across South Carolina.

Mountain biking has proved itself much more than fitness and the skill requirement has an added problem—many elements of cycling on trails trigger my anxiety. Rocks, boulders, roots, steep inclines, and creek crossings have more often than I like to admit flushed my system with anxiety and left me nearly incapable of riding.

In road cycling, I controlled my place in the pack; I pulled when I wanted and drifted to the back to monitor the ride as needed.

Mountain biking has shuffled me to the back, and off the back. And there is little I can do about it.

Before being hit by the car on Christmas Eve and before my father’s death, I lived with a lingering and awful fear of when my life as an avid athlete would end. It had to end, of course, simply because with age we lose our physical selves in increments.

Now I am faced with having much of that taken from me in a dramatic intrusive way, and then, in that space, having to re-evaluate what all that means anyway.

Before the pelvis fracture—and living always now with the sensation of being hit from behind and slamming into the pavement—I was already growing weary of the hyper-macho bullshit of road cycling. I was doing fewer large group rides, I had decided to stop entering the Assault (which I participated in about 20 times over thirty or so years), and I was less and less likely to bury myself in the pain of the zone rides.

But I was no better able to negotiate with myself about my father and our many contradictions, about my father and the imagined necessary requirements of my masculinity as the failed athlete.

By college I had abandoned athletic dreams and transitioned into being academic, a writer and poet in my bones and a teacher by profession. Yet in that transition I had also become a serious cyclist and continued the self-flagellation in pursuit of self-worth that had defined me throughout childhood and my teen years.

How do we know we matter to someone else? How do we know we matter to ourselves?

Increasingly, I come to realize how powerful my early adulthood fascination with existentialism has proven to be—my being draw to recognizing Being as a journey without a destination.

Nothing will click, and then I will know I matter to someone else.

Nothing will click, and then I will trust my self-worth.

My father haunted me while he was alive. His last words and moments aimed at simply going to the bathroom and leading him to the great beyond have done nothing to change that, except for the space left where he no longer exists.

My self-worth has never been about my father; it has always been about me.

I was mountain biking the other day with two friends who ride away from me on every ride. We were caught in a horrible thunderstorm.

One friend had a flat and the other rode further ahead, but I stopped to be sure the friend with a flat was ok.

There in the din of the rain through the trees and the periodic crack of lightning, I was about as alone as I have felt in a long time. I thought for a moment about people I love and reminded myself about my father being gone and my mother recovering still from her stroke.

I was terrified of the lightning as I stood with my left foot in the trail that looked more like a creek.

That moment in the storm triggered the morning of Christmas Eve as I lay in the road, stunned and staring at my swollen bloody left hand.

Again as I had there in the road, battered, with lightning cracking, I wanted to be safely back at the car, able to go about the rest of my day, the rest of my so-called normal life because there was so much to enjoy.

Every single moment.

Exceptional?: “the right to criticize [America] perpetually”

The U.S. is exceptional.

Exceptionally hypocritical.

Exceptionally delusional.

In a country where patriots are apt to wave fervently the nation’s flag, we are witnessing (mostly passively) in 2017 a professional athlete who took a knee in nonviolent and silent protest become a professional and public pariah.

Yet we in the U.S. routinely express pride for having been birthed out of protest, the Boston Tea Party, and revolution.

It is 2017, and the home of that seminal protest, Boston, remains the most racist fan base in the U.S. and city for a professional football team with owner, coach, and quarterback all supporting Donald Trump—but without any negative consequences for their overt politics.

Free speech in the U.S. is increasingly circumscribed by nationalism as a proxy for race—”Make America Great Again” as code for preserving whiteness.

Adrienne Akins grounds her examination of national and racial identity in the following:

In Notes of a Native Son (1955), James Baldwin poignantly captured the nature of his intense feelings for his nation of birth in stating: “I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually” (9).

Baldwin, like Muhammad Ali, represents the living ghost haunting Kaepernick’s nightmare—a contemporary resurrection of praise that was contradicted while Baldwin (and Ali) was most prominent and confrontational.

Only in his waning years and after his death did the U.S. begin to concede Ali was the greatest. (Associated Press).

The country that pushed Baldwin into exile issued a stamp with his image only well after his death. See Adrienne Rich’s moving essay on Baldwin and the stamp.

Richard Nixon was elected, many seem to ignore, in the wake of 1960s social unrest, anchored in the Civil Rights movement as well as the counter culture often stereotyped as Hippies.

Nixon’s law-and-order race/class baiting spoke to those most afraid of losing their privileges to the “others”—white America.

Trumplandia is the logical extension of that history—where American exceptionalism, our hypocrisy and delusion, has moved beyond empty political rhetoric (“by gorry/
by jingo by gee by gosh by gum”) to crass nationalism fueled by rhetoric-as-truth (regardless of the evidence otherwise).

The tribalism of crass nationalism denies, as Judith Butler explains, “We are worldless without one another”:

What worries me is that many of us form our sense of obligation toward another on the basis of feelings of identification. If someone else is like us, and that likeness is readily recognizable, then we are more inclined to respond in the way that we would have others respond to us. The harder task is to maintain an obligation to those by whom we feel ourselves to have been injured, to those we fear, or to those whose difference from us seems to be quite severe. This is why I do not think that global obligations can rest on identification, even expanded or expanding identifications; they have to claim us quite regardless of whether or not we feel love or sympathy, for the simple reason that the world is given to us in common and that without each other the world is not given. If the self is the basis of sympathy, our sympathy will be restricted to those who are like us. The real challenge occurs when that extrapolation of the self is thwarted by alterity.

Butler’s insistence for cohabitation feels akin to Baldwin’s refrain about love, a powerful element of his work too often glossed over. Butler argues: “I suppose it is first important to honor the obligation to affirm the life of another even if I am overwhelmed with hostility. This is the basic precept of an ethics of nonviolence, in my view.”

And this bring us full circle to Kaepernick, nonviolent and protesting for equity, ostracized as Baldwin and Ali were in their lifetimes—reduced to “unAmerican” in order to cast him among the Others and to render invalid his refusal to separate his personal and professional ethics (or better yet, his recognition that no one can separate them).

Maybe my opening claims are ill-founded, however. Not that the U.S. is hypocritical and delusional, but that these qualities are somehow exceptional.

Maybe beneath the glitz of consumerism, Americans are merely victims of the worse aspects of being human.

Democracy hasn’t failed, but quite possibly humans are incapable of reaching the high ideals of democracy, equity, and justice.

We have created words for ideas that are just too far beyond our reach as living creatures.

When does one move from “This isn’t working” to “This cannot work”?