The Ties that Blind

Re-publishing this from the original writing on February 4 of this year.


We are imploding, self-devouring and it’s only a matter of time, it feels before we are required to wear badges which denote our political affiliation of choice. Race is no longer as dividing a topic as politics — despite the fact that we can choose not only our affiliation but how we approach and manifest it — but we are not given the ability to choose the color of our skin. I was brought up in a city that is majority African-American, yet I am cotton ball white, blonde hair, green eyes and all. I never, though, really give it much thought. In the city of my birth we are blessed to have things which unite us like our NBA team, music, food and spirituality; of course, we are different and thank God for that. I’ve always felt that our city is more interesting and — unlike that bastion of white hipsterness in the center of our state — possesses a soul and a heartbeat all its own because of not only our African American population, but because of the similarly, wildly diverse influence of the considerable Jewish, Greek and Italian communities with which we are blessed. I read on the Twitter profile of someone last night who was tweeting about our team during their game (yes, OUR team), something along the lines of “Memphis born. Wherever I go, Memphis always.” To understand that, I suspect you would have to have been born here or at least have lived here for a large part of your life. I’ve lived all over the world, but Memphis is home. It is inexplicable, gut-wrenching, liberating, unique and at times frustrating. The first time I came home after moving to London almost 20 years ago, I remember flying over my alma mater on the descending flight path, as so many planes do, and the tears welling up uncontrollably and without warning in my eyes. I could not wait to get out of here, both as a child and in the early years of adulthood, so this unconscious reaction to returning to the city which I now recognize holds my roots — the true source of my spirit and fire as an individual — took me by surprise and caused me to question all that I had thought I knew of my home’s influence on me as a person.

I am a Grizzlies fanatic, often flying home from cities distant to make it to important games and always finding a way to watch, regardless of where I am in the world. I am also, as my son would tell you, at times embarrassingly passionate, yelling at refs for what I see as biased calls or scolding our players for blowing a screen or squandering a full shot clock with an attempt at a 3 when everyone knows your strength is defense (Ahem, TA). When we sit shoulder to shoulder, as close to floor level as we can get, I never give a thought to the tone of the skin of the person sitting next to, in front or behind me; the only thing I notice is whether or not they are wearing the colors of my team or if they are an opponent import who is likely to wish me dead by halfway through the first quarter. We are not black, white, yellow, purple, gay, straight, whatever — we are Grizz fans and largely, we are Memphians. The same sort of dynamic can be seen in some of the best restaurants in town or in the church pews of any number of congregations, and it does not necessarily depend on generation. My son’s generation, I am proud to say – though rife with liberal faux righteousness – is as color blind as any ever born. My 70-year-old mom, born in rural Tennessee to a father who freely made use of the N-word, truly believes that Zach Randolph, Tony Allen and Mike Conley are her kids, despite her being a size zero white woman. I can tell you that she would, without hesitation, throw me over for any one of them on any given day and would nag them to within an inch of their lives with her motherly orders just as she has me every day of mine. She would also, it must be added, give a kidney to marry me off to Vince Carter. I am not saying we are immune to divisiveness or that it isn’t more prevalent for or to others than it is to me; I’m saying that there is a sense that the toughness that comes from having been brought up in a place like Memphis, — and the reputation we have amongst outsiders who have never spent time here — gives us the bond of a siege mentality; “Memphis vs. Errbody,” as our growl towels and t-shirts proudly state. Prejudice exists – I’m not denying that – but the transcendence of it is possible, if only momentarily, and it is often in spite of all other obvious attributes that would otherwise divide.

I am also a Republican. I make no secret of this and one need only click on other posts on this site to see that I am very politically aware and vocal. But I also state – and will reiterate here – that my reasons for being so are almost entirely to do with foreign affairs, national security and the economy. I do not believe that our government has the right to legislate morality, and what I do with or to my body is no one’s damn business. I also believe that the legacy of the Democrats is displayed in technicolor waste in the form of our inner cities and that what we need is real investment in the ability to educate those areas, provide employment opportunities, repair infrastructure and frankly — to whatever extent we can — community self-esteem. Co-dependence with a political party who patronizes a population only in return for its vote is no different from a drug dealer who extends you credit one day because he needs you to come back the next. It hasn’t worked, and as someone who loves their city, we desperately need for something to provide a solution.

On both sides of the political divide there have been in the past week several pundits who have referred to, both verbally and in writing, the alleged quote of an Islamic fundamentalist leader who said that in order to conquer “that greatest of infidels,” America, they would not need to invade, but rather would only need to sow discontent in order to divide from within; to set us one against another by spreading doubt and inciting rage. I cannot find this exact quote from or verify the original source, but even if this never was a plan, how can one disagree with how pleased the detractors of our nation and all for which it stands must be as they witness the levels to which we have stooped since the election of our President. Winston Churchill said, “When there is no enemy within, the enemies outside cannot hurt you,” so the concept is hardly a new one. Search for any quotes of the weakness bred by division and you will find countless more, reaching back centuries. “United we stand, divided we fall,” and fall we have, more precipitously than ever before to the edge of a chasm created more by a baseless lack of reason than by the presence of substantive conviction borne of objective thought.

Now too, it seems, we are not only being asked to take sides in how we vote with our democratic rights but also with our wallets and our eyeballs. Yesterday Nordstrom announced that they are dropping Ivanka Trump’s clothing line, but said that it is more due to the need to rationalize the number of brands they carry more so than for any political impetus. What else are they going to say? By phrasing it thus, they can have their cake and eat it, too. The left will see it as an activist stance, while the right will have no solid evidence that it wasn’t because of an economic reality. Neiman Marcus has done the same with a similarly, conveniently vague explanation. Earlier this week, Twitter made two separate announcements which really aim at the same end: one being that they are developing new automatic means of censoring content, and the second being that they are making a substantial donation to the ACLU. They already regularly ban accounts they feel stray a little too far to the right, whilst leaving active others which spew hatred in the form of ISIS, or death threats from activist groups inside our own country. It isn’t bad enough that our media is profiting from the encouragement of division, but now the companies with and by which we live every day are deciding for us on which side of the growing divide we should stand. It has to stop.

We are a nation already divided — by race, by politics, by economic inequity and much more —  and we are in many ways both defined by it and richer for it. But as I and many others would argue, we are far more alike than different. On Sunday, somewhere between 110M-115M Americans will come together to watch the Super Bowl. It will not matter if you are black or white, right or left, straight or gay: this contest is between the Falcons and the Patriots and I wish that we could leave it at that. Our sports are one of the great mediums in our world for togetherness, for building bridges and melting differences. Similarly, our retailers are places where we mindlessly mingle and shop and our social media platforms are (meant to be) places where we can freely exchange thoughts, ideas, photos, and milestones. What happens if that disappears? I do not want to go to a Grizzlies game and wonder if the person next to me leans left or right, and nor do I want to cut up my Nordstrom card because they’ve decided that the way I voted means I’m no longer their preferred clientele. I do not want to start (keep) editing my thoughts on Twitter because I fear I will lose my account and have to start over, simply because my 140 character thought offended the delicate sensibilities of a person in Twitter tower I’ve never met and at whom my messages were not directed.

I began this essay attempting to demonstrate my view via sports as an analogy of that which brings us together. Tom Brady has been singled out repeatedly for his friendship with Donald Trump, though when asked pointedly, he changes the subject back to that of football. Whereas many on my side are furious with him for not having — or at least not expressing — the courage of his convictions, I for one am glad. Whether his motivation is cowardice or wisdom, our leisure institutions need to be spared the vitriol and hatred of our current political environment lest we should all stop watching, shopping, and talking, existing thereafter in place of common discourse and interaction only the divide of discord and taste of bitterness, ripe for the picking of an outside force. Colin Kaepernick can protest to his heart’s content, but in doing so is proving only his ignorance of the privileges being born in this country have provided him. Kaepernick has worn, on more than one occasion, a t-shirt bearing the image of Che Guevara, a Marxist rebel of Argentine birth. Come to Moscow with me, Colin, and we’ll see what a history of Marxism, Stalinism, and Communism can teach you about what your prospects would be if you had been born there. His protests single out the anthem and flag of our nation. He once said via his Instagram account that we should “make America great for the first time.” Protest race inequality – or more poignantly, how about aiming your resources at opportunity inequality based on race –  but in doing so, do not forget to ask yourself what provides you the right to kneel. To this question, there is only one answer. It isn’t the flag you have to blame; it’s this country you have to thank for the right to protest on a national stage and be paid millions of dollars while doing so. But again, how about keeping it out of our sports altogether. You’re a national figure with a large following, so use the platforms at your disposal for sharing your thoughts and refrain from bringing it into what is otherwise one of the few, pure unifying experiences we have left; help preserve the juxtaposed irony that contact sport is one of our last preserves of mutual respect and camaraderie.

So what comes next? As with all quickly escalating conflicts between two parties or groups in which there is no central voice of reason or point of reference, there are only three possibilities: 1)  It de-escalates naturally because the cacophony of noise becomes too loud and distracting, the commercial impact too great, and the ability to make any headway too impossible and, like we do as Americans, we grow bored and distracted and move on. 2) It continues at the speed at which it has already progressed and we become irreparably divided, blocking progress, choosing sides, making it impossible to effectively govern or conduct guilt-free commerce and interactions, at which point we become choice prey for external forces. Or there is option 3) The one, perhaps most obvious choice that these anarchists on both sides and their dystopian supporters are too blinded with fury to see: just as people in my hometown of Memphis are bound by our toughness and attitude, developed as a reaction to what we see as unfair treatment and impressions of our beloved city from the outside, the best and most rapid way to unify a country is via the establishment of a common enemy. It’s Memphis vs. Errbody; it’s us vs. them. How many wars throughout history have begun as a way to both quell disquiet at home and reignite stalled domestic economies?. There is perhaps no more effective a method of making a nation forget its ills at home than to initiate conflict abroad. Is that what we want?

They’re already winning, America, whoever “they” are, and we are helping them do so. By taking sides and by asking our institutions, both public and private, to do the same. I am no better, with my snarky takes on my view of The Left, and though I poke fun to bring levity to an otherwise overwrought topic, I’m sure others will say it still divides. I will always be opinionated, to be sure, but in doing so do not have to be divisive; I will also always be a Republican, though I now days more often than not disagree with the agenda. But I was born as none of these things. I was born an American, and so were you.

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