Search Results for: How to live

The Frightened Tennis Shoes of Black Kids

Dear Mom,

You were here in Seattle when the grand jury decided not to press charges against Darren Wilson for the shooting death of Michael Brown. Isabella mentioned that you two saw protestors when you were downtown. What was that like? By the time the grand jury made it’s decision in the Eric Garner case you had gone back home.   We have had more protests here, and heard from friends who attended a youth-led protest this past weekend. Have there been any protests in Buffalo?

I read an interesting article in the Seattle Times last Saturday that struck a chord. In it, police officers were quoted as saying “Everyone is just demonizing the police” and went on to say that many “feel demoralized, misunderstood and ‘all alone.’ “ While politicians, protestors, and even the President are calling loudly for change, according to Patrick Lynch, president of the NYPD police union, officers “feel like they are being thrown under the bus.”

black lives matter

I get the protests. I empathize with the need to get out and vent your frustration. I think some of it will in fact do some good. But how much time and energy can we spend trying to convince one another that racism exists? It does. Of course it does. Anyone who suggests that police departments are not filled with policemen and women who sometimes act out of racist beliefs is just talking from a position of privilege and power.

While I understand the need to protest, I also understand the defensiveness coming from the police officers quoted in that article I read. As a public school teacher, I can empathize with other public servants who feel the weight of having to correct right now the collective injustice of a privileged society that we live. I think that we have both felt the weight of being blamed for the incredible harm perpetuated by a small percentage of the bad apples in our profession.

We have talked at length about the achievement gap that exists in our national public schools system around race. (There are also huge disparities that exist in public schools for those who identify or are even suspected of being LGBT, or for those who are poor, and for those who need special education services—but those are conversations for a different day.)

Teachers are consistently blamed for not doing enough to address this gap. We are told—by building and district administrators, by college researchers and academics, by pundits and politicians—that we are not doing enough, or not doing the right things, or just not doing anything, to address the inequalities in our system. And they are all right. We are not doing enough. We need to keep trying. We need to figure out a way (as our district says) to work smarter and change our practices and evolve our perspective.

But where is the time? Where are the resources? How can we really be expected to effect meaningful, lasting change when we are only a part of the problem? Patrick reminds me—and again, he’s right (there, I said it baby)—that doesn’t allow me, allow any of us teachers to sit back and say “it’s not all my problem so it’s not my problem at all.”

There are teachers out there—I am fortunate to work with so many of them in my district—who care deeply about social justice, who spend time considering their own internal racist attitudes, and who struggle each and every day to combat the achievement gap. Sadly, it’s just not enough yet. We still are not making enough change. But we do try.

It’s hard to believe that after all we have seen in the past few weeks, months, years and decades that there are police out there who are also trying, but I am sure they are there. Of course their mistakes and shortcomings can lead to much more dire consequences in many ways than mine or my colleagues. If I fail, or the education system fails, the consequences are not as immediately drastic. For police, as we have seen, the consequences can be deadly.

constance rice

Constance Rice, a civil rights attorney who has worked extensively with the Los Angeles Police Department on how they treat minority populations, offered her perspective on NPR’s Morning Edition last week. She spoke about how the overwhelming response she heard when she interviewed over 900 cops over 18 months was that they were scared of black men. According to Rice, “when cops are scared, they kill and they do things that don’t make sense to you and me.”

Fear isn’t a justification or an excuse, but Rice believes that the simple admission of those she interviewed hints at a starting point:

“So what I’m saying is that for people who have to be in the business of solving this dilemma you have to be able to step into the frightened tennis shoes of black kids; black male kids in particular. You have to be able to step into the combat boots and scared cops, and racist cops, and cruel cops, and good cops. You have to be able to distinguish between all of those human experiences and bring them together. On a single platform of we’re going to solve this by empathizing. We’re going to solve it with compassion and we’re going to solve it with common sense.”

Listening and seeking to understand seems like a possible way forward. We need to find a way to stop yelling at one another, and move beyond protests, beyond the 24-hour news cycle, and beyond the blame and helplessness. It sounds like a tough path, and not especially quick. But it just may make some change.

Love, Christopher

Should These People Get Out? Readers Respond

Mom sent a copy of my last post to our dear family friend (and my high school religion teacher) Kathy Heffern. Here is her response to what I wrote: I’m delighted to know that Christopher cares what I think. Needless to say, I am conflicted, but not about what he is saying regarding the recent […]

Recommended Summer Reading: Double Life, A Love Story

Dear Mom,

We are on our way to Mark’s house right now, regrettably driving away from the Outer Banks after a week with Patrick’s family. We spent mornings at the beach, afternoons at the pool, evenings sharing dinner (a chaotic, delicious feast prepared each night—for all 28 of us—by a different family) and managed to dodge the hurricane. We laughed a lot and caught up on each others lives.


I was able to sneak in some summer reading, and finished up a book I had started this spring called Double Life: A Love Story, by Alan Shayne and Norman Sunshine. It is, in essence, a long-running conversation between these two men who fell in love in the 1940s while living in NYC and have been together ever since.

double lifeAlan was an actor who later became a stage manager and casting director, and then went on to produce TV shows and movies after the couple moved to Los Angeles. Norman worked in advertising and as a graphic artist and designer. Over time, he became an accomplished painter. The book is full of anecdotes recounting their relationships with celebrities from the last half of the 20th century (Lena Horne! Gore Vidal! Linda Carter!). But it was how their relationship played out against the backdrop of LGBT history from the same time period that I found most interesting.

While moving up the career ladder first on Broadway then in Hollywood, Alan writes about having to hide his relationship with Norman, attending parties, work functions, and awards ceremonies with women friends instead of his partner. Norman mentions an expectation in the 1970s and 80s that gay men should have multiple partners and promiscuous sex. Both men discuss early relationships with men that were fraught with shame and even violence, and how lucky they felt to find comfort and a sense of belonging with one another.

I couldn’t help comparing my life to theirs. I empathized with the feeling of shame, the hiding, and being a member of a community obsessed with physical beauty. AIDS became a huge concern for any gay man who lived through the 1980s. However, there are definitely many differences. For my generation, although we certainly knew people who were HIV positive, and many who died, I never felt like I was losing a whole generation of friends like Norman describes. Also, coming of age in a post-Stonewall world meant that we had had less hiding, more openness, a growing number of out and proud celebrities, and a media culture that—albeit slowly—embraced them.

The love story at the book’s core is its most compelling aspect. Our culture is saturated with love stories of straight people. Tales of love between men and women dominate novels, fairy tales, movies and television shows. Alan and Norman never had the benefit of hearing stories about other men who fell in love, made a commitment, and lived happily ever after. They had no gay role models to look to for inspiration or to inspire a possible course for their future. They were busy hiding, pretending, and trying to figure it all out on their own.

As we were coming of age, Patrick and I never had the benefit of hearing a story like Alan and Norman’s. There were a handful of gay characters on TV and in the movies, but there were no TV shows, movies, or novels that told stories exploring the ups and downs of loving relationships between men. Most of the messages we received were confused and conflicting—on the one hand, the assumption that gay men were designed to screw around remained, but on the other hand messages that sex could kill were coming through loud and clear. There wasn’t much about love, commitment or family.

Alan and Norman loved one another, and they created a family of two. They never discussed children; precious few did in their generation. They spent a great deal of their time together traveling the world, buying multiple homes and vacation property, and switching gears at the drop of a hat to do something completely different with their lives. We have friends—both gay and straight—who do the same thing. There are certainly times when I’m filled with envy, thinking to myself “Might we have been happy with that path?”

But, most times I am filled with gratitude that I have the opportunity to live the life I choose instead. Small moments when I am putting a band aid on a scrapped knee, or big moments like this week, watching Jordan score two holes-in-one at mini-golf, and jumping in the surf with Isabella and loving every moment of the huge smile on her face not unlike I remember enjoying myself at her age.

We’re on our way to you later this week. On our way to chaos, laughter, shared meals and sharing each others lives. If you get a chance at some point, I do recommend reading Double Life. Enjoy it for the behind-the-scenes peak at the lives of celebrities from yesteryear, but don’t overlook the inspirational love story at its core.