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Finding Our Way

Biased

Dr. Jennifer Eberhardt’s powerful 2019 book Biased has been where I turned over the past week when I had wanted to read more than New Yorker cartoons or internet comment boards. And it has been worth the investment of time.

As an African American scientist helping to teach and train groups as disparate as the Oakland Police Department, prisoners in the San Quentin penitentiary, and Silicon Valley tech companies, Dr. Eberhardt is helping us understand the way that prejudice hides below the surface of polite society yet shapes so much of what we see, think, and do. She calls on the latest neuroscience to track how our brains develop, react, and think. Then she lays out stories and studies that establish the pervasiveness of unconscious bias, even in those of us who work to fight tendencies toward prejudice.

The widely-hailed book looks at bias against a range of individuals and communities, yet Dr. Eberhardt speaks most often about our prejudice towards African Americans. “In this country,” she writes, “blacks have become a reminder of the racial bias that we refuse to see. Indeed, blacks have become symbolic of the unwanted.”

Many of Eberhardt’s stories are personal, including the “you can’t make this up” episode of being with a female friend when she was pulled over, handcuffed, and arrested by a group of white cops in Boston. The police showed up with five cruisers for Eberhardt’s “crime” of having a slightly expired license plate on her car…the day before she was to carry the flag for the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences during Harvard’s 1993 commencement exercises!

So the race researcher was seeing first-hand what bias looks like the day before she received her PhD and was recognized for her exceptional work at one of the country’s top universities. She used her one call from jail to reach out to the Dean of the Graduate School. After a short (and probably spirited) conversation with the officer in charge, Eberhardt and her friend were released without having to post bail (showing the all too infrequent occurrence for blacks of having someone in power vouch for them when they are arrested.) Eberhardt and her friend did have to go to court a few days later, however, where the judge became more and more incredulous as she read the police report. “It’s not against the law to sit in the car” she thundered from the bench, before banging her gavel to signal that all the charges were dismissed.

Biased is, in many ways, a troubling read. But Eberhardt spends the last half of this very accessible book thinking through concrete ways out of our challenges in the areas of housing, elementary and higher education, and employment practices. Her examples come from real life, and it is clear why she co-founded her research lab at Stanford as a “do tank” as opposed to a “think tank.” This recipient of the MacArthur Genius Fellowship is interested in bringing together practitioners and researchers to address real social issues.

Near the end of the book, Dr. Eberhardt notes that, “It’s true that we are wired for bias. But the problem with narrowly settling for that perspective is that it can lead us to care less about the danger associated with bias, instead of more. When something is regarded as the norm, people cease to judge it as harshly.”

“Bias is not something we exhibit and act on all the time,” she continues. Instead, it is conditioned, so we begin to battle bias by understanding the conditions — especially speed and ambiguity — under which bias is likely to come alive. The hopeful message of this book is that “we all have the capacity to make change — within ourselves, in the world, and in our relationship to that world.”

Asian Americans on PBS

As I completed Biased, I began watching the five-hour PBS series Asian Americans. The series, which is available for streaming on the PBS video app, examines the significant role of Asian Americans in shaping American history and identity.

The story of prejudice against Asian Americans harkens back to bias against other people of color in the United States. In our understanding of American history, we too often forget (or never knew) that Asian Americans were lynched with the same type of “mob justice” applied primarily in the South against African Americans. The Chinese Americans who helped build the trans-continental railroad were omitted from pictures and histories at the time. More of us may know of the Japanese internment camps of WWII, but we turn our gaze from the atrocities committed there in our name. I found that my buried memories of the LA riots following the acquittal of the murderers of Rodney King and the subsequent burning of Koreatown were resurrected by this documentary.

The story of the Asian American contributions to this country are varied and remarkable. Contributions in construction, engineering, and technology are well chronicled by now. What is less appreciated is the role Asian Americans have played in the push for equality and justice.

As much as I valued the stories of overcoming challenges to realize the American Dream, I found myself drawn even more to other accounts of how the children and descendants of those who lived in the internment camps are now fighting the horrible separation of families at the southern boarder by the Trump administration.

How Filipino immigrants joined with Mexican farmers to fight injustice for migrant workers in California in the 1960s.

How Korean American and African American activists are working together in LA to overcome the fears and misunderstandings that led to the burning of Koreatown.

How Asian American comics are using laughter to force all of us to think beyond our comfort levels.

There is so much to consider in these two important works. Both are excellent, worthy of your time, and highly recommended.

More to come.

DJB

Stiff-Necked

 

Planning A B C Image by Geralt from PixabayLast week I was reading the Daily Office.* (Hint to the non-liturgical: the Daily Office is not an e-newsletter about the five best ways to work from home.) There, as part of the tale of the Jews wandering for years in the desert, we find the Lord telling Moses to lead his people to the Promised Land. After saying he would send an angel ahead to drive out their enemies, God Almighty throws this rather peculiar curve ball: “Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but I will not go up among you, or I would consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.”

Whew! It’s pretty bad when even God can’t stand to be around you! Think about how you would feel if the CEO told your manager to have your team complete some task, but then threw in, “But I’m not going to be there with you, because I’ll lose my cool just being around you stiff-necked people!”

Stiff-necked is a term I heard my Grandmother use. It is a rather old-fashioned way of saying someone is stubborn, or perhaps haughty. Merriam-Webster has more than thirty synonyms for stubborn, running from arrogant to uppity. There are more than forty verses in Judeo-Christian scripture criticizing the traits of a stiff-necked people: the hardened heart, the refusal to be led, the haughtiness of certainty. Dealing with stubbornness clearly frustrates even the most powerful forces in the universe.

Stubbornness is different than persistence. We need the latter to see things through. Yet the refusal to move beyond Plan A or Plan B, even when those plans have clearly failed, moves us from persistence to stubbornness. Too often we dig in our heels, even when evidence is presented to the contrary.

Perhaps there are more than forty verses criticizing the traits of the stiff-necked because it is such a universal condition.

The challenges of working through my own bouts with stubbornness were front of mind when our yoga teacher announced to our online class that we were going to focus on the healing practices of Throat Chakra.** With Amy’s guidance we worked through various poses and breathing practices to open up the throat and loosen up the neck (there it is again). I learned through additional study that the healing practices of Throat Chakra are important when you are imbalanced. In that state you may talk excessively to fill space and to project a sense of security that is inauthentic. You may sound full of confidence and in control, but in fact you struggle with feelings of disconnection and loneliness.

If there is one thing that the pandemic should teach us, it is that we don’t control all that much in our lives. When simply leaving our homes can endanger us, how much, realistically, do we control? Stephen R. Covey considered this question in his discussions about our personal Circle of Concern/Circle of Influence. Those who focus on things they can influence radiate positive energy, causing their Circle of Influence to increase. Reactive people, however, focus on things they cannot control or influence with results that include blaming and accusing attitudes, reactive language, and increased feelings of victimization. Reactive people can be very stiff-necked.

We are at our most stubborn and inauthentic natures when we focus solely on ourselves. Stubbornness is clearly a trait to avoid for individuals. But with leaders, stubbornness can be toxic. It doesn’t matter what size team you lead, choosing to be stubborn, isolating, and without flexibility in a time of pandemic puts the focus on you and not on the productivity and well-being of your team.

So how do we get past the haughtiness of certainty and the toxicity of stubbornness? First, recognize that we each have a unique voice. That voice can be stubborn, isolating, accusatory, and full of certainty. Or it can be beautiful, supportive, inquisitive, and inclusive. Think of how you want to use your voice for the greater good. Excellent teachers and leaders also use their talents and tools to help others find their authentic voices. They instill courage in us and help us to develop our own strength.

Second, we need to nurture empathy, so that we are better equipped to appreciate the challenges others face. It is difficult to remain stubborn when you are empathetic to the needs of others. According to recent neuroscience, empathy is hardwired into all mammals. Our default — our authentic self — is to have the courage and strength to help others. In order not to help we have to actively suppress that urge. When we’re stubborn or stiff-necked, we’ve suppressed our authentic selves to focus on our needs and our grievances.

Empathy and helping others is at the heart of both leadership and humanness. Nurture that impulse. Otherwise, we become the type of stiff-necked person others want to avoid.

Have a good week.

More to come…

DJB

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

*I’ll admit that I am not a regular reader of the Daily Office, which sort of defeats the purpose of daily meditation. However, I dive in on occasion and take what wisdom I can find.

**Chakra, in Indian thought, is each of the centers of spiritual power in the human body, usually considered to be seven in number.

Saturday Music: Eric Skye

Eric Skye

Fretboard Journal #45 story on Eric Skye

Making my way through the most recent issue of the Fretboard Journal (FJ #45*), I came across sixteen splendid pages on fingerstyle guitarist Eric Skye. The photos of a beautiful twelve-fret 00-sized Santa Cruz guitar were sumptuous, and I was soon to learn that this was the company’s signature 00-Skye guitar. Likewise, the writing catches you right from the beginning, with a story — and quip — about using a wedding band as a slide. (“It’s why I got married, man!”)

Skye was new to me, but the Portland, Oregon-based acoustic guitarist certainly has a devoted following, and not just from Richard Hoover and the folks at Santa Cruz Guitars. He has a very broad minded approach to music, which he explains came in part from a classical guitar teacher who turned him on to blues and jazz as well. As his website notes, while often billed as an acoustic jazz guitarist,

“Skye actually occupies a unique niche between traditional acoustic music, modal jazz, folk, and blues. With a technical approach that is somewhat informed by studying classical guitar reluctantly in middle school, being obsessed with Jimmy Page, bluesy jazz guitarists like Kenny Burrell and Grant Green, as well as being exposed to the ‘California style’ of solo guitar playing from the Windham Hill label that was happening around him as a young person in the Bay Area. Later in life Skye became interested in Europe’s ECM label’s sound, with artist like Ralph Towner. And he is currently very interested in the ‘New Traditional’ music scene going on in New England today with young bluegrass players exploring a mix of folk and classical music with improvisational spirit. A lifetime of eclectic interests has led Eric Skye to have a fully realized and identifiable original style and sound.”

Skye’s videos are of a very high quality, thanks to the work of his videographer and friend Richard Newman, who makes the trip from Monterey, California, to Portland by car to capture Skye’s music. And thanks to their good work together, there’s much to sample online. Some jazz pieces, like Herbie Hancock’s Watermelon Man, find a new sound in Skye’s hands. The Skye original Blues for Freida, like all his tunes, blends wonderful technique and passion.

The Skye album A Different Kind Of Blue is a solo acoustic fingerstyle guitar re-imagining of the 1959 Miles Davis record Kind Of Blue. You can find Davis’s compositions So What and All Blues online to hear the result. This album reached the Top 10 in Acoustic Guitar‘s 2012 best records list and drew special acclamation from Davis’ estate and his son Erin.

Skye can also flatpick, as seen in his original reel Kathryn By The Delaware played here with Jamie Stillway. Check out their wonderful interplay beginning at the 2:25 mark. His take on the country blues classic Ode to Billie Joe has one of the funkiest grooves you’ll ever hear on a small-bodied acoustic guitar. He explains how he came to record the song in the FJ story:

“I loved the old video of Bobbie Gentry, the girl with the big hair and little guitar. Also it’s kind of modal, just a two-chord tune. You can certainly go down the rabbit hole.”

And while you’re watching and listening to these tunes (and searching for more), pay attention to the beautiful 00-Skye guitar, which Santa Cruz says is among their top-five most popular instruments.

OO-Skye

The gorgeous Last Day of Summer has Skye playing his signature model, with pictures of the guitar in production interspersed throughout the video.

This is great music to put on your playlist where you can turn to it when you want a warm, beautiful sound to envelop and sustain you. Enjoy!

More to come…

DJB

*Also known as Guitar Porn magazine

American Patriots

The American Cemetery at Normandy

The American Cemetery at Normandy

Today — May 8, 2020 — is the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe (or V-E) Day, when the allies accepted the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany. World War II was a time when the countries of the world came together to combat bigotry, racism, fascism and hatred. I had a father, uncles, and aunts who volunteered to serve, one of whom was at Normandy on D-Day. Many men and women made the ultimate sacrifice in those years. Yet all went to war because of what happened when xenophobia and demagoguery supplanted real leadership.

Last month we passed the 155th anniversary of the surrender of Robert E. Lee and the Confederate Army on April 9, 1865. The victory, while complete on the battlefield, was not capable of eradicating 250 years of racism. So we all soldier on for a better, more just world. Abraham Lincoln said it best when he spoke of the reasons for the Civil War — and our unfinished task as Americans — at the dedication of the Union cemetery at Gettysburg:

“It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

This nation fought two wars to combat bigotry, hatred, and enslavement of other humans. We won both wars at a terrible cost of life.

Real American patriots don’t gather in public spaces with paramilitary-level weapons intended to sow chaos and promote white nationalism, knowing full well that if people of color did the same, they would be immediately arrested. Real American leaders don’t normalize such activities, calling those who are involved “very good people.” Real American leaders don’t support those who promote intimidation and the threat of physical harm to stir up fear and feed rancor.

I am a son of the South, and yet my belief in this one point is deep and unwavering: Real American patriots don’t walk around flying Nazi and Confederate flags. Period.

More to come…

DJB

COVID-19 Claims the Life of the Last Surviving Monuments Woman

monuments-men-600x400

Motoko Fujishiro Huthwaite (center) at Congressional Gold Medal Ceremony for Monuments Men and Monuments Women

Motoko Fujishiro Huthwaite had — by any account — an amazing life.

Born in Boston on August 24, 1927 to Japanese citizens, her father was a prominent dentist and professor at Harvard. As noted on the Monuments Men Foundation website:

“The family was befriended by Langdon Warner, the legendary scholar of Asian art and future Monuments Man in Japan following the end of World War II. The Fujishiro household became the center of the Japanese community in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Japanese students, professors, and scholars from the many universities surrounding Boston would flock to parties expertly hosted by Motoko’s mother.”

She and her mother and brother were forced to relocate to Japan following the attack on Pearl Harbor, however, while her father was arrested for espionage and put into an internment camp. He later returned to Tokyo a broken man. Motoko survived the war and became one of 27 women who worked for the Arts and Monuments Commission — popularly known as the Monuments Men. After the war, she reinstated her United States citizenship, lived in both the U.S. and Japan, served as John D. Rockefeller III’s personal secretary on his trips to Japan, and had a rich and rewarding life.

Motoko Fujishiro Huthwaite died of COVID-19, on May 4th. As Robert M. Edsel, Chairman of the Monuments Men Foundation says in his tribute to Motoko,

“It is no small irony that this new war the world is waging against COVID-19 is taking place exactly seventy-five years after the end of the last world war, and that the people who are most susceptible are the heroes whose sacrifices helped build the world and all its freedoms that we enjoy today. To those who, shamefully, say, ‘Well, they were old; they would have died soon anyway,’ I have this response: ‘You have never known, as we have, the mettle and dignity of these aged warriors. Their loss is society’s loss. Their loss is your loss, for they take with them knowledge and virtue our nation, in fact the world, needs now more than ever. They are our nation’s treasures, and we should protect them accordingly.’”

Thank you for your service to the country and the cultural heritage of the world, Motoko Fujishiro Huthwaite. May you rest in peace.

More to come.

DJB

Belonging

Puzzle Image by Clker-Free-Vector Images from Pixabay

During this pandemic, many of us are feeling vulnerable. Some may be wondering if or where we belong in a world that has dramatically changed.

Brené Brown says that our belonging to each other can’t be lost, but it can be forgotten. She came to understand the simple yet profound answer to the question of the difference between fitting in and belonging out of a conversation with a group of middle school students. “Fitting in is when you want to be a part of something” they explained. “Belonging is when others want you.”

With my background, Brené Brown’s thoughts on vulnerability and belonging led me to think about history, storytelling, and our use of selective memory to keep others out of our narrative, to ensure they don’t belong. If we confront our feelings during this pandemic, we may come to realize the ways that we have made others feel vulnerable in the past, perhaps by omitting or erasing their stories as if they don’t belong.

History isn’t what happened. It is a story about what happened. Those stories are often intertwined with place. In the study of history we learn that the one who tells the story controls the narrative. Whether intentionally or not, the storyteller may omit key details or confuse the context. Thanks to selective memory, a richer, layered history — someone’s story — is erased and forgotten.

All of a sudden, they don’t belong.

I was thinking of forgotten or erased history and the idea of belonging when considering the origin story of my wife’s family. Everyone has an origin story and many revolve around places. But what happens when someone erases you out of the story?

A cousin sent my wife, Candice, an article entitled Once More to the Old Barn about the indoor training facility for runners at Lincroft, New Jersey’s Christian Brothers Academy (CBA). The training facility is in an oval barn, or galloping shed, constructed in 1926 by the Whitney family of New York at their Greentree Stable farm. This unusual structure provided a space for the thoroughbred racehorses to train during the brutal winter months. CBA bought the property in 1958. And just like the racehorses, the runners at CBA found that having an indoor training facility led to championship outcomes.

So far, so good. The problem is that CBA, in its online history and in stories like the one above, glosses over the fact that the school did not buy the farm from the Whitneys. And why not? Donors and alumni will want to hear of the school’s connection to a wealthy and famous family, and the Whitneys did build the oval barn. CBA also mentions that the well-known cardiologist and running guru George Sheehan was a key factor in ensuring the sale took place. That story, however, leaves out a family that has meaning in our personal history, as well as the reason that Dr. Sheehan had connections to this particular property. That family belongs in the story.

The farm where CBA now sits was known at the time of the 1958 sale as JC Farms. Candice’s maternal grandfather, Charles Valentine Holsey (the C in the name), along with his oldest son, Joseph Holsey (the J), bought the farm in 1949 from a Mrs. Sherman, who had purchased it from the Whitney family. Mrs. Sherman did not retain ownership for long. As a Jew, she felt unwelcomed in the Lincroft community, so she sold the property to the Holseys.* JC Farms remained in the Holsey family for almost a decade until it was sold to CBA. Most importantly from our personal history, it is where my future father-in-law met the young woman who would become his wife, my wife’s mother, and my mother-in-law.

The Holseys — including a young Irene Ann Holsey — lived at JC Farms, where they stabled and trained their own horses. They would also rent out stables for others looking to race at nearby Monmouth Park when the track’s stables were full. One of the horsemen who came looking for space was Joseph J. Colando of Point-of-View Farm in Yardley, Pennsylvania, along with his son Andrew, a young equine veterinarian recently graduated from the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Colando was training his father’s horses, including the improbably named Uncle Miltie, and they rented stables at JC Farms so their horses could run at Monmouth Park. Dr. Colando met Irene Holsey while training at the farm and in 1950 they were married. Candice was born in 1951, the year Uncle Miltie was an early Kentucky Derby favorite. LIFE magazine took pictures of the horse in anticipation of a significant Derby-related story.** But Uncle Miltie came up sore, finished 8th in the Wood Memorial, and was subsequently pulled from the Derby field.

Candice has fond memories of JC Farms as a child, and we have heirlooms that date to the family’s ownership. And it was the Holsey connection that brings Dr. Sheehan into this story. His sister, Lorretto Sheehan, married William Holsey and they were known to my wife and all the family as Uncle Billy and Aunt Honey. Both were full of life, and I fondly remember Billy and Honey dancing the night away at our wedding. George Sheehan — it turns out — very likely knew of the property through the Holsey family.

I had the same feeling of erasure of history with a house connected to my family. When the Heritage Foundation in Franklin, Tennessee bought a house on Second Avenue just before it was to be demolished, they recognized it as the Bearden-Brown House. Bearden was my grandmother’s maiden name and she married George Brown. They lived here for a number of years. It is the house in Franklin where I went to visit my grandparents until my grandmother came to live with us several years after Granddaddy died. But the family that bought it, and did a wonderful job of restoration, decided they wanted to add their name to the house…so they just dropped the Brown and suddenly it became the Bearden Robertson House. Just like that, decades of Brown-family connections to the property disappeared.

As forgotten histories go, CBA’s gentle erasure of Mrs. Sherman and the Holsey family connections to their historic campus isn’t overly egregious. And the Robertsons were certainly justified in wanting their part of the story attached to my grandmother’s house. The storytellers have decided that these other eras don’t fit in their narratives. That decision doesn’t, of course, erase the family’s memories, but it does disconnect the written histories of these places from the families who cared for them for years.

Erasure in history is much more serious when it is intentional and comes with an agenda to distort a story. That intentionality in our nation’s past comes into play in dealing with those often seen on the margins of life. Selective memory is used to forget about all those who truly belong. It took institutions like New York City’s Tenement Museum to tell a fuller, richer, layered history of the millions of people who moved to and around the United States in pursuit of the American Dream.

Four decades after beginning my work in historic preservation, the effort to tell the full story in the places where it happened has expanded in countless ways. Yet there is still much to do.

Places connect with our lives through emotions and memories. Old places always have countless personal stories intertwined with the wood, brick, stone, and mortar; stories holding these places up, literally and figuratively, embedding the connections from the past into our lives today and in the future. Stories such as the one about a place where a family that originally immigrated from Ireland joined with another family that had its roots in Italy, to make a new life in the United States.

Those narratives should not be erased simply because it is inconvenient to tell the full story, or because we want to elevate only those who have wealth and fame. In the end, we’re all richer for understanding those connections and how ordinary places are nothing but extraordinary.

Have a good week.

More to come…

DJB

Image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images from Pixabay.

*The update on the ownership by Mrs. Sherman was provided by my mother-in-law after the original story was posted.

**The pictures in the body of this post of Uncle Miltie are from the LIFE photo shoot. Instead of a major Derby-related spread, the magazine published a small article commenting about the horse’s unusual name. (Uncle Miltie was the nickname for popular comedian Milton Berle). My mother-in-law still has many of the stunning photographic prints from the shoot in her possession.

Saturday Music: John Hiatt

John Hiatt from JohnHiattmusic

John Hiatt (photo credit @JohnHiattMusic)

One of my all-time favorite rock singer-songwriters is John Hiatt. Described as “a master lyricist and satirical storyteller,” Hiatt “weaves hidden plot twists into fictional tales ranging in topics including redemption, relationships, growing older and surrendering, on his terms.”

Hiatt has been at this for a long-time, with 23 albums to his credit. His songs have been recorded by artists as diverse as Bob Dylan, Bonnie Raitt (Thing Called Love), Emmylou Harris, Iggy Pop, I’m With Her, Rosanne Cash (The Way We Make A Broken Heart), and New Grass Revival and the Jeff Healey Band (both for Angel Eyes).

The acoustic Crossing Muddy Water shows how Hiatt can tell a sad tale of loss with beauty and depth. Perfectly Good Guitar about rock stars who smash their very expensive guitars onstage as part of their act is typical of Hiatt’s clever writing. This version from Austin City Limits has great leads with Mike Ward of The Guilty Dogs doing some awesome guitar shredding.

My all-time favorite Hiatt song is Tennessee Plates, described by one of my favorite music bloggers as “probably the most oblique and powerful tribute song to Elvis Presley ever composed.” You may recall the tune from when it was featured in the iconic film, Thelma and Louise. But rather than reading my thoughts, please take some time to mosey over to Thom Hickey’s fantastic The Immortal Jukebox (I’ll still be here when you return) and read his in-depth take on what Thom describes as:

“A complete movie with; a love story, criminality, cultural commentary, eyeballs out playing from the band (especially Sonny Landreth on guitar) and a twist at the end – all in under three minutes.”

Now that you’re back, let’s end with Hiatt’s anthem that seems so appropriate for these times: Have a Little Faith in Me. And for this version, Hiatt improves on the original by adding that gospel choir at the end!

“When the road gets dark / And you can no longer see

Just let my love throw a spark / And have a little faith in me

And when the tears you cry / Are all you can believe

Just give these loving arms a try, baby /And have a little faith in me

Hiatt and another singer-songwriter legend, Lyle Lovett, were scheduled to play at Strathmore Music Hall in Bethesda on May 13th, but due to the coronavirus crisis the entire tour was cancelled. For now we’ll have to be content with videos and memories of their last area concert on what I call, “the last full day of sanity in the United States.”

Enjoy!

More to come…

DJB