Happy Juneteenth! Wait, what? If you’re like me this is the first time you’ve heard that term. Well, there’s A LOT of things going on in the world right now so let’s dive right in! In this episode I cover everything from systemic racism to the War on Drugs. If you enjoy it, then please subscribe on any of your favorite podcast outlets — just search “Dougie Lux” — and consider picking up a copy of my new book, The Motorcycle & The Molecule. Transcript follows…
Transcript of first 30mins of podcast below…
It’s June 19th, 2020, and it’s been a little while since my last podcast because I’ve been heads down in a new project. I’ve had to pivot from my career in event production, and so felt the call back to my former skill set of web design, branding and graphics. In many ways it’s been a welcome change, allowing me to stay closer to my home, friends and loved ones, without having to fly around or expend such huge amounts of energy. I live in a sweet, rural community in southern Oregon with about twelve or so people ranging from four years old to sixty four. So in many ways, if I wasn’t staying up to date on the news that gets beamed in via satellite, I might never know that many parts of the world were currently experiencing so much turmoil. It seems that any hopes for a smooth end of our Springtime pandemic lockdown have been replaced by intense civil unrest and now even growing concerns of an impending second wave of COVID. These are strange times, my friends!
June 19th is also a day that is known as Juneteenth, something I had never even heard about until this year. So why was this year any different? Well, as I record this podcast a stunning amount of protests are going on in many cities, stemming from the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man from Minneapolis, Minnesota who was killed a few weeks ago, on May 25. He was killed by police during an arrest for allegedly using a counterfeit bill. An officer knelt on his neck as he called for his mother and tried to tell the officer that he couldn’t breathe, until he died from suffocation.
It was yet another example in a string of truly tragic police brutality toward people of color. The subsequent protests, riots and looting, have attracted global attention and hope to create enough traction to spark real change through police reform. From new laws against chokeholds, to companies changing questionable brandnames such as Aunt Jemima and Uncle Bens, things are already happening. Another silver lining has been that the situation has stoked discussion between many people of all colors, with many now educating themselves about of the history, challenges and complex layers of lingering racism that still exists in our country.
And so that brings us to Juneteenth, an annual holiday that celebrates the emancipation of those who had been enslaved in the United States. Specifically, it commemorates Union army general Gordon Granger announcing federal orders in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865, proclaiming that all slaves in Texas were free. Texas, being the most remote of the slave states, was one of the last places to enforce President Abraham Lincoln’s abolishment of slavery, AKA the Emancipation Proclamation, which stemmed from a rebellion against the Union, almost two and a half years earlier. By the end of 1865, a ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution abolished non-penal slavery nationwide, and so now Juneteenth marks this monumentous occasion, and for good reason, after all the emancipation of an entire subset of a society is no doubt a good reason for most rational, even mildly compassionate people, to celebrate. And yet up until recently I, like many people, had never even heard about it.
Up until sometime in 2019 I had always been in the camp of being quick to deflect racist conversations. Besides making me feel uncomfortable, it was a fact of life that really wasn’t really on my immediate radar. Of course I might have quietly acknowledged, even lamented to people in my progressive echo chamber, the remaining veins of racism in our country and around the world as “a terrible thing”, or “a real shame”, but surely something that a relatively small amount of cruel people do to people who I don’t personally know, and who are far removed from my personal sphere. Besides, I’d never felt particularly racist and had even made attempts to bring more diversity to all of my events when I was a producer in Los Angeles. Back in those days my efforts had been only mildly successful. Why didn’t more black people come to our events I had wondered. Why didn’t they seem to gather in any meaningful numbers within my immediate social circles? It wasn’t like we were actively making an effort to keep them out, and on the flipside it always felt a little disingenuous to make an active effort to focus on inviting more black people just so things ‘felt’ more diverse. I had given it some passing thought on a few occasions, but usually shrugged it off. Anyone is free to come. I’m busy, I have other things to think about. And so the pattern went.
It wasn’t until last year that when sparked through a series of illuminating conversations, that I realized I was communicating and acting from a reactionary place. When the topic came up I began noticing I was a little TOO quick to say “I’m not racist, in fact why are we even talking about this? Everyone has problems, hell, I’ve got a whole bunch of challenges on my plate right now, and adding this additional stress isn’t helping.”
Over a few conversations I’m happy to say that it actually didn’t take too long for me to see the error in my thinking. All of a sudden I realized that I was being incredibly insensitive, and what’s more, the lack of sensitivity that I was expressing towards issues of race was even impacting areas of my life in how I communicated with others and even with myself inside my own head. I, like many people, was suffering from a serious case of compassion constipation. It was like suddenly this giant block was removed. It wasn’t like I had the answer to fix everything, I just had the ability to listen, feel and empathize more deeply.
During a meditation on the topic, I remembered my first memory of racism. I had brought a black friend over to my house after school when I was about five years old. I remember it caused a real stir in my household and when the boy was finally picked up by his parents I was scolded and warned that his parents “might be criminals”.He never came over to play again. That was the first time I recall suddenly noticing skin color, and even though I tried to not let it enter my judgement, my outlook was nonetheless tarnished on that day, and many days hence by influential forces in my life. And now, like so many of the neuroses most of us were blessed with during our formative years, the great unravelling continues.
So I’ve got a short story to share, but before I do I thought it might be useful to explore this important and timely topic a little further, since I’ve learned some interesting things in these last couple of weeks. Like any conversation it’s likely that some questions will be clarified while new ones will arise. After all, racism and its social effects are deeply entangled in our personal and collective history, so like a box of old christmas lights, the untangling is bound to take a while, but with patience and persistence, anything is possible.
So you may not think of yourself as racist, but Robin DiAngelo, the author of White Fragility, a book about why it’s often hard to talk to white people about racism, says that even “nice white people” still benefit from, and hence are complicit in racist structures. And that might be a little tough for most white people, hell for most everybody, to hear. After all, race clashes have always existed and while that is certainly a scourge on society, we don’t actively participate in racist practices. Or do we? DiAngelo posits that when social systems and governance are directed by a homogenous subset of humanity, in the case of the US, old, white men, it by its very nature does not reflect a balanced voice of the people. And so to accept that fact, is to be complicit and hence to be in effect, racist. But rather than let that ruffle our feathers to the point where we don’t even want to talk about it anymore, let’s explore how we can instead focus on becoming anti-racist. In a recent interview on NPR DiAngelo offered tips to help white people break from apathy, interrupt systemic racism and commit to anti-racist practices.
When asked how as white people we can help, she said a great place to start is to reflect on our whiteness and how it’s shaped our lives. We can start by actively reading black writing, watching their videos, attending their talks, learning about their history and in general, like any new field of study, educating ourselves from multiple angles on the topic. She also recommends two programs in particular: Dr. Eddie Moore’s 21 day Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge, which walks you through a daily practice, and Layla Saad’s “Me and White Supremacy Workbook”, a book she says you “do rather than read”. DiAngelo, a white woman herself, stresses to stay curious and keep learning, just like getting in shape, it takes time.
A big reaction that we’re seeing in the world is rooted in people’s defensiveness to explore the topic, even people that would identify themselves as non racist. The term is obviously very charged, and to this, DiAngelo says: “When you change your understanding of what it means to be racist, you will no longer be defensive…” She goes on to point out that it’s how racism has been defined that has been part of the problem. It doesn’t always look so overt. “[Relatively few people] would say that they’re consciously or intentionally mean across race…When you change your definition [of what it means to be racist], it’s actually liberating…it’s inevitable that I was socialized into this system, and it’s inevitable that I have blindspots, I’m going to focus on how I’ve been shaped by this system, not if…that question sets you on a lifelong process”
We can’t take ourselves out of the equation. We’re part of a broken system and we’re bound to hit some road blocks along the way. A big one that is coming up for some of those of us just beginning to take steps in the right direction is how can we check other white people when they’re exhibiting racist behaviour. DiAngelo asks us to consider how we didn’t know when we were being racist within ourselves? Why were we blind to it? How would we have liked it to be talked about? I know for myself when I feel attacked, my defenses go up and it can be a lot harder to make progress. Most people probably aren’t that different… so delivery and timing is important. And so is knowing when to take a break, and to come back to the conversation at another time. After all, cognitive transformation can take time.
DiAngelo acknowledges the protests, and the actual changes that are happening as a result, but also wonders what will happen when the cameras go away? When it’s no longer “exciting or righteous to go down and protest”, she adds somewhat cynically, “in some ways those are the easier kind of actions. What are we going to do to sustain it when we no longer have that pressure and are back in our racial comfort zones?” She concludes that we’re going to have to remain a little uncomfortable for a while yet.
On a personal level, to be quite frank, at the start of the protests I felt pretty disconnected. First of all I live in Oregon, one of the least populated and most white states of the nation. What’s more I live in a small cabin in the wilderness. The community I live in ranges from very white to light brown. Like with my events, this was surely not through any active choice of excluding anyone, but a reality nonetheless. Throughout the COVID pandemic I had launched myself into projects, publishing my first book, creating a podcast and now working on launching a brand new design agency. Oh, how busy I am, no time for the problems playing out in cities far away from my rosey little bubble. And yet, thankfully I am not a complete shut in, mountain man in the woods. I read the news, I surround myself with people that inspire me, and inevitably the conversations found me. And once again I noticed a reaction. I’m not racist. I have also suffered. And I am WAY too busy with all my important projects to give this any more thought. That’s when I noticed that it was a familiar feeling, similar to the feeling I’d had back in 2019, but this time softer, more malleable. Why is my suffering a reason to not acknowledge the suffering of others? I noticed that there was this old, but still evident side of myself that felt concerned that if we all start caring for everyone else’s problems, who’s going to be left to care about me! I could tell you my theories on how I got it, but my problems are not the focus here. Wherever they came from, it was a classic scarcity of support mindset. Over the coming days, I remembered that like love, compassion is not a finite resource and the more we practice it, the more it expands for all our relationships including with ourself.
Yes I was a busy little human doing stuff, but surely I could find the time to begin educating myself. First of all I took something called the Implicit Association Test, a free online test developed at Harvard, that allows respondents to test their implicit biases against a number of variables including age, gender and in the case of the test I took, race. I took it next to my awesome girlfriend and was pretty sure she’d pass with flying colors, but after 10 minutes I was especially happy (as was she) when my test came back as showing no obvious signs of racial bias. And yet I still know that I continue to benefit greatly from being a straight, cisgendered, affluent, young and able-bodied white male in the United States. So I know I can’t just sit back and say: I took the test, and I’m good. Instead I have the opportunity to use my privilege to serve others who might not be as fortunate.
So on to education! I love documentaries, so I started watching a few in the evening. I started listening to podcasts on my hour-long drive into town to get groceries, and engaged in discussions with friends, and even braved the battleground of social media posts as a way to practice coming from a place of curiosity rather than reaction. Something has always intrigued me about learning how to better communicate with other humans. And just like that, I realized that it was time to start having the conversation within my family.
As I mentioned earlier, racism was a direct part of my growing up. Most of the time it was the sort of latent racism that can slide under ther radar for many people, and hence was never indentified as such. Well, now we’re now learning a clear lesson: subtle racism is still racism, and a lingering component of the social disease. Occasionally racism in my family was more apparent, such as in statements about my black friend. And it goes back in our lineage. My mother’s side is Italian, and there’s always been a legacy of Italian racism towards blacks. My father’s side comes from the south and it’s almost certain that our family directly profited from slave labor. I don’t even know what to do about the feelings wrapped up in that whole bag of worms yet. I am no longer in touch with that side of my family, but as we know we can’t just push the shadowy stuff underground and hope it all goes away, so it’s probably something I need to keep unearthing.
But to start with I just decided to no longer let the racist conversations fly within my family. I have one particular member who is incredibly insensitive, but can’t seem to see it. They have always been more comfortable with having black people in a more subservient rule in their lives, as good maids or jovial delivery boys. They laud black doctors or professors with the sort of acknowledgement that indicates they are impressed that they’ve somehow risen above the shortcomings of their race. And it’s not just about racism. This person is quick to call all homeless people lazy drug addicts and that the #metoo women should stop whining, keep their legs closed and learn how to kick guys in the balls. And now it might surprise you to know that this person is actually a woman herself.
Anyway, the point is, that for too long the rest of the family let the comments slide. It was probably not worth disturbing the peace, we thought, so we either laughed them off, sat uncomfortably silent over dinner or flat out ignored them on text message threads. I might not be in a big city on the forefront of the protests with a picket sign, but there’s always a way to support, so I decided that my fight was in educating myself and confronting racism at home.
I’m happy to say that I have already broken ground, calling out the person after they sent an audio snippet they made while drinking martinis and lamenting the deplorable situation with “the blacks”. I decided to at first take a gentle, but definitive stance. I attempted to show them where some of their comments were pretty insensitive and sounded a little racist. When they were apparently unable to see how their comments were inappropriate and continued the tirade I told them that we don’t have to agree, but if they insisted on making comments like that in the future, be prepared for me to say something, or otherwise leave me out of the communication. A few days later I decided to follow up with an in person call, in which they once again tried to convince me why their opinions were well grounded. I didn’t give up ground, and got them to agree that George Floyd’s murder was a tragedy and that police brutality should be addressed. Finally, I knew when to call off the offensive, instead opting to leave the conversation with some laughter about a less charged topic. Like DiAngelo says, it will be a process, and in my case it didn’t all have to get solved on this immediate call.
Since then I’ve been engaged in some other discussions with people from various backgrounds. A few immediate questions came up that I thought would be useful to explore in this podcast, in case it’s helpful to any of my listeners.
First of all, what makes people racist? While I like to think that there’s relatively few truly evil, sadistic people out there, it’s still mind boggling how so many seemingly good people can be so cruel and insensitive? After all, this person in my immediate family is an amazingly creative, spiritual and vibrant person, so where does this shard of harshness coming from? Had they actually been subject to direct abuse, or more likely had it just been what they had been taught by their parents and media? I wondered if it might be stemming from the similar mindset of support scarcity that I’d experienced? Perhaps they feel like they’ve had to struggle in life just as much as anyone else, so why should some people get extra support just based on skin color? I can understand this, after all I’d been there, but the eye opener for me was to realize that yes, while it’s true everyone struggles and my life certainly has had it’s challenges, being black hasn’t been an additional one on top of all my others.
But there’s good news. I mentioned it earlier, but it bears repeating; an immediate benefit that I’ve felt for jumping on the path of more deep listening and empathizing, has been that by practicing compassion for someone else and their suffering, it has opened up more, not less, compassion for myself, generating more healing on all sides. By logical extension, this carries beyond race, and I believe that by practicing more compassion for even our most prickly of family members, we will all glean the benefit.
Our thoughts turn into words, which then turn into actions. So looking at the language that we’re using can be hugely helpful in both identifying and expunging system racism both within ourselves and in our world. I recently read an anonymously shared post on Facebook that offered a few other things to notice about language as conversations on this topic continue. Here are a few highlights:
- “It’s awful but…” – No. No buts. In the English language, the word “But” is often used to deflect or to justify behaviour. Police murdering black people in the street is awful and it doesn’t need justification.
- “I support the movement but not these disruptive protests…” – No, you don’t. Right now, the movement is taking the form of disruptive protests. They’re the same thing. You either want police to stop murdering black people, or you don’t. If you do, then support the protests — even if you find them disruptive and frustrating — because this is black people fighting for their lives.
- “All lives matter..” – no one said they didn’t, and the conversation is specifically about black lives right now. Until police stop murdering black people, and until white people stop dismissing it, it’s not “All lives matter,” it’s “MOST lives matter.” It’s not “ALL Lives” until Black Lives Matter too.
- “There are good cops…” – No one said there weren’t. Let’s consider the three chief categories of cops; Good cops, bad cops and complacent cops. Good cops are marching with the protesters. They’re sharing the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter. They’re trying to change the system from within the system. Now there are MANY levels of Bad cops. The most obvious one is those officers that are commiting unjustified murder. Bad cops are also sharing the hashtags “blue lives matter.”, once again in an attempt to shift the focus. Bad cops don’t stop or report their colleagues for inappropriate or blatantly unlawful behavior. And finally, Complacent cops just show up, follow orders and try not to take sides. By extension, complacent cops are also bad cops.
- “I don’t support the looting and destruction…” – no one says you have to, but please stop acting like looting nullifies the entire protest. And definitely stop acting like looting is “just as bad.” That’s like comparing someone stealing your car to someone murdering your child. They’re not equally bad. Police murdering black people is definitely worse than someone robbing a Target.
- “Just because I’m white doesn’t mean my life has been easy…” Of course not. Everyone struggles. But if you’re white, being white has in almost all cases, never been one of those struggles. The same can’t be said for people of colour. This isn’t about how you have suffered in your life so stop trying to make it about you.
- “I really wish they would protest peacefully…” – of course you do. They’re easier to ignore that way. People of colour have been peacefully protesting for hundreds of years. It hasn’t been all that successful. The reason riots and violent demonstrations work is because it makes people — especially white people — uncomfortable. We can’t ignore them when they’re waving torches in our faces. It scares us. It puts us on edge, which is precisely where we need to be. People only pay attention to the extreme. If you have trouble recalling a single one of the hundreds of peaceful protests that Black Lives Matter held across North America last year, but you can still recall the 1992 Los Angeles riots, then you’ve just proved my point.
- “I don’t see colour…” — Congratulations, you’re lying to yourself. Of course, you see colour. And that’s good! Black people want you to see their colour. Their colours are beautiful and the very foundation of who they are. If you don’t see their colour, then you also don’t see their culture. If you don’t see colour, then you erase their very identity. If you don’t see their colour, then you also can’t see the pattern of violence they’re confronted with every day. If you don’t see colour, then you’re blind to more than just racial injustice. You’re blind to the world.
- “They shouldn’t have committed a crime…” – A boy who steals a can of soda from a 711 does not deserve to be shot in the back three times. A man illegally selling CD’s on a street corner doesn’t deserve to be shot to death in front of a record store. A man who runs a red light does not deserve to be shot while reaching for his registration. This isn’t about their crimes; this is about bad policing.
- “It’s not about race. We are all human beings…” yes, except people of colour often aren’t treated like human beings. For instance, they’re being murdered like animals. On video. While people watch and do nothing.
The post went to explore a whole bunch of other questions. That black people kill other black people and white people too, which of course while true didn’t really justify much and were obviously deflective responses to avoid having to talk about the chief topic of police brutality. The anonymous author, when pressed about how the looting and arson distract from their message and that the protestors should have controlled it, said that “blaming the oppressed for not better “controlling” their social unrest is asinine. The last few questions on the list came down to a straight out volley of statistics about who commits more crime and who kills who more, and I’m not going to get into all that here, but suffice to say people on all sides can use numbers in creative ways to promote anything they want. However, once again, it seems like a smoke and mirrors game as a means to avoid having to actually deal with the real, and topically relevant issue: police brutality, especially as directed at people of color.
The author concludes by saying, “if any of us are guilty of saying any of the above, then we are part of the reason it’s come to this. We are the reason peaceful protests haven’t worked. They haven’t worked because we haven’t been listening. We haven’t been learning. These violent riots are happening because we have left people of colour no other choice. These riots are happening because no matter how people of colour have said it, taking a knee, marching the streets, bumper stickers, banners, signs, or chants, we still don’t get it. That doesn’t mean we’re bad people. That doesn’t mean we’re racist. It only means we’re white. And that’s not a crime, any more than being black is. The difference is, police aren’t going to shoot you in the street for it.
Woooo, take a breath. So obviously there’s a lot to unpack here. What started as just a couple of paragraph journal entry turned into something far more and I feel it’s only still just skimming the surface! Lastly, before I hop into my short story, I wanted to bring up a couple of final questions that I’m still pondering as I wrap this intro up.
First of all, there’s a real danger in making white people feel too much on the offensive. Like I say, people can get their backs up and dig their heels in. The last thing we want is to have white people too terrified to even be able to discuss this topic, a reality that is unfortunately playing out in many forums. As soon as a white person speaks, they’re teared down. Personally I don’t think that style of discourse is the most effective at building, getting results. It usually just leads to more fighting. But we can’t be too soft either and allow inappropriate behavior or comments to continue. There’s going to be fights, we just all need to be strategic about how we engage. Is it promoting real collective transformation, or just a continuation of separateness.
I’ve also heard stories of black people not wanting to be labeled as victims and that by doing so threatened to keep them locked into a subservient story, and that much harder to write themselves into anything else. Some have even expressed that by doing so, their efforts and all that they’ve achieved despite their skin color are minimized. While it’s hugely important to get the blame out, to have, express and process all the feelings, and perhaps most crucially to have your feelings acknowledged, especially by those who’ve hurt and oppressed you, the only way to true liberation is by taking personal responsibility for your emotions, for your actions and for your life, and by not doing so you will forever remain the victim, locked in a blame game that will continue to shape your life.
I recently heard that in his final days Martin Luther King Jr. expressed concern over his quest for desegregation. Would it have been more beneficial, he apparently wondered, for some aspects of segregation to actually remain. After all, racism didn’t just disappear as integration happened and equality became lawful, much of it remained, just getting pushed deeper under the surface of our social fabric. We’re left to wonder would black owned and frequented businesses, black run services and financial institutions have served the black community better than the way it has turned out?
Finally, if you’re a good person who’s worrying whether you’re doing enough, consider this: there’s many different roles to play in a revolution. Some people use their words, others their art, others their fists. Some situations call for peace, while others call for a style that often attracts more attention. Some roles play out on the front lines in cities, while others play out on the front lines of your own home. There are those who are promoting change from within the existing system, while others are imagining entirely new ways of living, or tear the old ways down altogether and start anew. Change sometimes happens frustratingly slowly while at other times it sweeps over a culture like a tsunami. It can happen through subtle conversation or enforced legislation, but perhaps most importantly, it starts with self transformation. Don’t abuse yourself for not doing enough. But don’t stand motionless either. Do something, anything that pushes your comfort zone. Educate yourself with illuminating content, develop your emotional intelligence, work on your communication skills in all your relationships, protest, write, make art, sign petitions, go to therapy. Hell, eat some mushrooms and go commune with nature. Whatever you do, healing yourself needs to be part of the process if you really want to heal the world. Getting in touch with our individual humanity is a huge step, and from that foundation we can reach out and effectively help others, bringing them on this great ride of collective awakening. Rise up, my friends, it’s time to decolonize our minds.
Alright, to stay on theme, and hopefully at least provide a few moments of levity, I wanted to share a chapter from my new book, “The Motorcycle & The Molecule”. In the story I’ve just been given an unexpected psychedelic gift, which prompts an array of mischievous adventures throughout the rest of my journey. However, before that I decide to take a little detour into my own experience with illicit substances, as well as jumping into a few historical tangents including the bizarre, murky and corrupt War on Drugs. So sit back and I hope you enjoy my tale 🙂