travel, racism, and compassion

(And you thought they weren’t connected . . .)

Shortly after returning to the States in 2012, I wrote a post about people. “No matter where you go, people are people,” I said. “Can you believe that? See, I thought (when I moved to Taipei), that this dark-haired multitude would be somehow different than me. And of course they were: I mean, the things they liked to eat and the way they did their hair—that kind of thing. But when it came down to the REAL stuff, the stuff that makes people people, they were exactly like me . . .”

It was a silly post, really, but it demonstrated well mankind’s similarities. My students were a great example. Children in Taiwan are no different than children here. Kids aren’t born racist or culturally constricted. These are things they learn by example over time.

Now . . . Of course since we adults are so “wise,” we should easily understand this, right? Sadly, this is not always the case. Take, for example, the note I found on my rental car after a run last week.


Whoa? Really? A piece of trash, huh? Because I put my stuff in the trunk and because of my car? Wow.

I was really put off at first. I’ve never been called “trash” before, and I actually grew up not far from El Dorado Hills. If anyone was “trash” in this situation, it was the person who would leave this kind of note on another person’s car. And yet . . .

The more I thought about it, the more I wondered what would cause this person to do such a thing? What insecurities did they have? What pressure were they under? Why would they attempt to build themselves by tearing a complete stranger down? . . . Also, were they looking to rip off my “crappy” car? Nothing about the note made any sense.

As a matter of fact, a LOT of things in the world don’t make any sense. Another pertinent example of this is racism. I can’t comprehend what would cause someone to feel superior to others because of the color of their skin, but it’s an epidemic that’s gripped this nation since its inception. In 1968, not long after Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, educator Jane Elliott did an experiment with her white students in Iowa to explain racism. In the space of 15 minutes, she made her brown-eyed children feel superior to those with blue eyes and thus demonstrated the heinous effects of such attitudes. It’s something she’s been trying to explain—and destroy—ever since.

Please watch!!

“We live in the land of the free and the home of the brave. White people are the free, and people of color have to be brave. I want this situation to change.” — Jane Elliott

Jane’s life work breaks my heart and brings to light the systematic racism we see in this and many other nations today. It demonstrates how odious racism is and shows white Americans (like me) the truth of white privilege, which never should have existed in the first place. After all, as Jane so rightly says, there’s only one race: the HUMAN race. (Amen, amen!)

One thing Jane’s experiment doesn’t do, though, is explain what would cause a person to take racism to the next level. Extremist groups like the Ku Klux Klan have horrified me since I first studied them in grade school, and back then I thought they were a thing of the past. In the segment below, Sarah Silverman interviews Christian Picciolini, a former “skinhead” and reformed white supremacist, who helps explain why people are attracted to these groups and why rallies like the one in Charlottesville happen—and what we should do in response.

Please watch to the end!

Obviously this interview touches on many things, but what stood out to me most was the dialogue at the end. In response to Sarah’s question, “What advice would you give us?” the very wise and kind Christian says this:

“Because compassion is what changed me, I challenge your audience—go out there and find someone that’s undeserving of your compassion and give it to them. Because I guarantee you that they’re the ones who need it the most.”

Amen! Amen!

the kindness . . . quota?

“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Count your age by friends, not years. Count your life by smiles, not tears.”
John Lennon

“The best way to cheer yourself is to try to cheer someone else up.”
Mark Twain

motherteresahelpingI’m listening to the radio on my drive home tonight and a prerecorded host message comes on between songs. “Here at Radio 94.7, we think Sacramento is pretty awesome. But what if every person in Sacramento did just one random act of kindness per month? How awesome Sacramento would be then? If everyone did that, Sacramento would be, like, the most awesome city in the whole country!” (Or something to that effect.)

And I was like . . .

Well, okay. First things first: Random acts of kindness equal good, so — yes, intentions are good — and effort does count, so — “Yay, 94.7.”

But then I was like . . .

“Per month?!” Whoa, people. Let’s not aim too high here . . . Continue reading

huck finn: a hero for all time


Huck and Jim on the raft

I’m listening to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn on audiotape while helping a friend clean her house. It’s the part toward the end where Huck is deciding what to do about Jim, Miss Watson’s runaway slave. Huck and Jim have been rafting down the Mississippi for weeks now — Huck trying to escape his drunken Pa; Jim trying to find freedom — only they keep running into trouble. This time, a couple of vagrants have kidnapped Jim and sold him to Mr. Phelps, a local farmer, and now, Huck is confused: Should he do what’s “right” (and what he “shoulda done all along”) and tell Miss Watson where Jim is and thus betray his friend? Or, should he listen to his heart . . . ? Continue reading

just like you


October 1999

My sophomore year of high school, about six months before I got my driver’s license. My then boyfriend (a wise-beyond-his-years 17-year-old) was driving my little brother and I home from school. School let out early on Fridays. It was a beautiful day—a perfect day for ice cream.

“Mmm, that looks good. What kind is that?”

“Gold medal ribbonduhhh!” grinned 13-year-old Derek. Chocolate ice cream was dripping from his cone all over his hand.

“I should have guessed,” I laughed.

“What kind did you get?” my boyfriend asked, grabbing a chair in the sun. He had a strawberry cone.

“Peach.” I winked.


hells angels

Image: Jason Hunt (Pinterest)

Suddenly, we were distracted. A large group of motorcyclists had just roared into the parking lot. They were dismounting their bikes and walking heavily—clunk, clunk, clunk—towards our pleasant spot in the sun. Apparently they thought it was a good day for ice cream, too.

As they approached, I saw black leather and shiny boots. Their bronzed skin boasted jagged skulls and barbed wire and other fading tattoos. Their vests said “Hell’s Angels.” They smelled funny.

I wrinkled my nose.

“Don’t be rude, Jess!” hissed my boyfriend after the men had tromped into the store.

“I’m not!” I protested, but he cut me off. Continue reading

no man is an island


“Heyyyy! I thought that was you!”

I didn’t recognize the man who had appeared out of nowhere beside our table.

“How’s that arm?” He touched my shoulder. “Your dad was so worried about you—and not just about your arm, about your life! How long ago was that, anyway? . . . And how ’bout Hong Kong? Your dad told me you were over there. What were you doing there? Bet ol’ Placerville feels small now! I’ve never been to Asia. Born and raised in SoCal; moved up here and never left. Did a rotation in Dublin once, though. One of the best times of my life. What ya doin’ in ol’ Placerville?”

I wondered, briefly, how the man breathed. His lips hardly seemed to keep up with his mouth. Continue reading